Another Feature Article is coming your way today as New Zealand’s number one Survivor fan, Nick Chester, returns to give his view on Survivor: Nicaragua. Often regarded as a disappointing season, Nick argues that Nicaragua had it all; good, bad and ugly. In his article, Nick takes a deeper look at what went right, want went wrong and what cost Nicaragua from being a highly memorable season. In typical Nick fashion, he delivers a highly persuasive article that’s sure to leave you questioning your views on the twenty-first season! Don’t forget to leave us those views by commenting below!
Survivor: Nicaragua. One of the most polarising seasons in the history of the show. Ranked twenty-second out of twenty-six seasons in the the 2013 Oscars, it appears Nicaragua has few fans. It was described as one of the most disappointing seasons and a reason why seasons featuring all new players are rare. Yet there is defiantly a cult following for the season, and for good reason. A re-watch highlights some great characters and moments. But there are some bad moments that give justification for the views of many. And there are also some thorny issues, that are neither good nor bad but do have a large bearing on how the season is viewed, and I’m calling them the ugly. So let’s take a closer look…
Nicaragua actually has a lot of good moments. Tribal Council was generally a pretty volatile place and Jeff had his work cut out for him, and he is even left speechless on a couple of occasions! There is the Shannon meltdown in episode two, and then after the Switch, the Marty-Jane feud kicks off and doesn’t let up until Marty is voted off several episodes later. The Brenda blindside and Tribal Council where Jane leaves are also highlights. The season has this kind of mark on it of players not trying to do their best to win, with two quitters and Brenda not willing to scramble to save herself. There is also a good case to be made that Jimmy Johnson got more than he bargained for and essentially quit as well, and of course Holly had an early season meltdown and expressed a desire to quit. This made it easy to forget how many players were in it to win it, and fought tooth and nail to stay in. Marty, Alina and Sash are good examples of this, but Brenda and Holly are actually both players who were fighting hard, despite some errors along the way. This in itself make the season worth another watch, as there is more thinking and strategy than perhaps is noticeable on an initial watch.
Marty came to play, as did many of the Nicaragua cast.
One aspect where Nicaragua does well is it has clearly defined heroes and villains along with people the audience can easily decide whether they like them or not. NaOnka is the first the comes to mind, bullying an amputee, stealing food and quitting the game isn’t likely to make her a fan favourite. But she was extreme and therefore it was easy to have an extreme reaction to her. On the other side was Fabio, who for all his goofiness, was pretty hard to dislike. No, he may not have had the greatest strategy but he did have a great attitude and enjoyed himself, which made him fun to watch. And of course there was Jane and Marty. A great rivalry and most people had to pick a side here. I was a big Marty fan, and even though he made a lot of errors in the game, I wanted him to succeed and felt he did incredibly well to get as far as he did with the chips down. However, many people were big fans of Jane and therefore didn’t like Marty. I was really shocked that Jane won the “player of the season” award. This was partially due to timing, (being blindsided the week before the finale is a good time to put you as a frontrunner for this award), but also because she had an appeal to many fans as a pretty normal person who won challenges against much bigger, stronger people and endured. Jane to me was hard to like, as I felt she didn’t have much of a long term strategy and played with her emotions a lot, but I can certainly understand why she had fans. Having these players made the season fun to watch as we all had our favourites and those we hated too.
Nicaragua also finishes in a good way. A lot of seasons recently have been interesting at certain points, but a lot of the heat goes out once you get to the finale. The winner seems obvious, and often the Jury questions don’t have the spark you hope for. No such problems existed in Nicaragua. Once the NaOnka and Purple Kelly quits happen, the season is fairly unpredictable from that point on. Benry gets booted, and Fabio goes on an Immunity run, forcing players to change their plans constantly. Although he isn’t a well remembered or liked player, I have to give special mention to Sash. It seems clear his plans were to take NaOnka and Purple Kelly to the end, and when they quit he was in serious trouble and had to make a lot of deals to go further. He may be thought of as slimy and disingenuous, but I’m not sure what other options he had at this stage and totally earned his spot in the Final Three. Even though it was three years and seven seasons ago, Nicaragua was the last time there was a genuine contest for Jury votes at the Final Tribal Council, and the last time the winner was decided by one vote. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Chase throughout the game, but he put in an exceptional performance in his final speech and answering questions honestly and thoughtfully. It seems he may have even won himself a couple of votes, but not quite enough to win. And you cant forget Fabio’s performance, which was pretty impressive, given he received his fair share of criticism from both the Jury and Sash and Chase.
My biggest complaint with Nicaragua is to do with the cast. This may seem strange, seeing that I talked about how great some of the players were, but the good, interesting players were the minority unfortunately. I think many of the players selected for the season were good picks on paper, and I can understand why they were chosen but they just didn’t click when the game started. Many of them were either unlikeable or uninteresting and this didn’t make for great viewing. Its pretty hard to like this cast when their first impression of Kelly Bruno is that she will be too much of a threat for sympathy votes at the end, so she needs to go now. Holly stealing shoes may have made for a great television moment but it didn’t make audiences like or dislike anyone. Many players were given so little screen time that their roles were made to feel irrelevant. Survivor took the silent edit of players to all new areas with how Purple Kelly was shown on the season. Regardless of her choice to quit, it really is unfair that she was given so little screen time; but she wasn’t alone. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Alina, both Kelly’s, Yve, Jill, Tyrone, Dan and Benry were all under edited to the point that it was really hard to have any kind of emotion one way or another about them leaving. If the audience doesn’t invest in the players, the season just wont work. The weather didn’t help as players were cold and miserable for most of the time, which didn’t really encourage them to go out and strategize. There also seemed to be very few players who were well acquainted with Survivor. This isn’t a prerequisite for a good season by any means, but it doesn’t seem to hurt and when most players don’t know what the hell they are doing, it just makes for frustrating viewing. Strangely though, there are many players who I would have no complaints with seeing come back from the season. This indicates that the players themselves weren’t really the problem, but the chemistry amongst them just wasn’t there and they never really meshed as a group in a way that made for compelling television.
The cast never really clicked
The reason Survivor has been on the air for thirteen years is that it has evolved and adapted, changing the way the game is played, and who is cast to play. This involves creating new twists to the game. some of them will work, and some wont. Unfortunately, the two big twists in Nicaragua failed pretty spectacularly. Dividing the tribes by age was a pretty good idea on paper, but it just didn’t pan out. The physical dominance that the young tribe had made for predictable outcomes in challenges, something that had to be compensated for by the Medallion of Power, one of the most pointless twists in the history of the show. This also had a knock on effect by making the Tribe Switch boring and predictable, with the younger players dominating on both tribes. I did appreciate that production made an honest effort to bring in some new challenges, partially to cater for the old vs. new dynamic. The result was a bit of a mixed bag. Some of the early challenges were just not that interesting but the individual challenges seemed to work quite well.
Challenges were hit and miss.
One thing that really disappointed me about the season was that production never fully committed to the conquistador theme. The Tribal Council set was one of the best, and many of the challenges had some elements of this, but the theme music in the opening credits was the original Borneo music, and a lot of the challenges were very generic and didn’t really speak to the theme at all. It was easy to forget the theme entirely. I know some people don’t think things like this matter, but I have always found it enhances the season. It seems a shame that this opportunity was never really taken. Added to this was a pretty uninteresting locale, (seen again the following season, Redemption Island). Nicaragua was just not a nice place to look at. Sure the jungles were nice and the volcano was pretty neat, but the beach where the players lived along with the challenge areas, (including the Fabio pee pool), were drab and uninteresting. The weather through the season didn’t help the season look any nicer either.
I have always felt Nicaragua got a raw deal from viewers, and a lot of this had to do with timing. Following hot on the heels of Heroes vs. Villains, an almost universally beloved season, Nicaragua was always going to have its work cut out for it. I think almost any season would have struggled in that scenario. However, its also forgotten that this was also the season that Survivor moved from the Thursday timeslot it had occupied for almost ten years into a new Wednesday timeslot. I’m not sure how big an impact this would have had on the show in America, but no doubt it was a new challenge to ensure the audience followed it to this new timeslot. However, there is a good case that Nicaragua had significant challenges that other seasons didn’t face. It was always going to struggle, and when you re-watch the season without these external factors in your mind, it is a much more enjoyable experience.
There is no doubting that many people judge a season by how it ultimately ends, and that the winner is a good gauge of the season’s quality. This can be a pretty harsh way of viewing things, but it is a reality. And Fabio’s ultimate win in Nicaragua was a pretty polarising one. Survivor Oz fans voted him the third worst winner of all time, and he is often sighted as the winner who knew the least about the game, and the win was something of a fluke. The main issue people seem to have with Fabio is his lack of understanding about strategy and constantly being caught off guard by what was happening around him. This makes for an unsatisfying ending as most viewers like to see a winner with at least some kind of strategic acumen and explaining Fabio’s win wasn’t easy in this context. However, on a rethink, Fabio’s win is somewhat refreshing, as we are becoming more and more accustomed to being shown in very obvious terms who the winner is and why they win. Survivor editing now seems to think its important to portray the winner’s game as flawless, and this is why they won. The shortcomings in Fabio’s game actually make him more endearing, showing a perfect game is not a requirement for winning. So if you are looking for a different style of winner, Nicaragua certainly delivers this and throws a lot of the theories about what it takes to win out the window.
Fabio’s win was very polarizing.
There is no denying that the NaOnka and Purple Kelly quits had a massive impact on the game, and worked against the overall impression of the season. I can sympathise with the producers and editors, because NaOnka was such an important character on the show, and finding a logical way to tell her story was never going to be easy. When the show has such a big villain, its very important to show their eventual downfall, be this through being voted out or losing at the Final Tribal Council. We never got this with NaOnka, and this made her story very unsatisfying for pretty much everybody. Can you imagine if Jerri had quit in Australia? People would have been so upset. Having never had our chance to revel in NaOnka’s downfall, its hard to enjoy the season entirely.
NaOnka’s quit denied us the opportunity to see an epic downfall for the season’s villain.
The legacy of Survivor: Nicaragua
It may seem slightly crazy to talk about the legacy of a television show that happened three years ago, but in the Survivor timeline, its actually a while ago. The season is one of the most interesting in terms of analysis. It provides a different sort of winner and has many more competitive players than most viewers probably remember. It definitely deserves more admiration than its place on the Survivor Oz Ozcars rankings would suggest. However, there are some serious flaws with the season in terms of casting and editing, and the theme of the show was hinted at rather than utilised well. What is actually a pretty solid season could have been even better if these aspects had been addressed and refined. I would highly recommend a re-watch of the season though. It does have its slow parts, but it also has some genuinely interesting episodes too. For better or for worse, Nicaragua is an intriguing season of Survivor.
Do you agree or disagree with Nick? Is there more to Nicaragua than meets the eye? Comment below to let us know!