10 seasons ago Jud 'Fabio' Birza was crowned the winner of Survivor Nicaragua by a 5-4-0 vote over Chase Rice and Sash. With just one vote separating first and second place, it's clear that many of the jurors thought the season should have had a different final outcome. So did the right person win? In today's feature article New Zealand Ozlet Nick Chester argues why Chase Rice should have won Survivor Nicaragua. Read on to find out the case for Chase.
There will always be plenty of healthy debate on winners of Survivor and whether or not they deserved to win. Some people will argue that whoever wins deserves it and there is no such thing as an unworthy winner. It’s a hard argument to battle. If you make it to day 39 and then win the majority of jury votes, you certainly did more than a few things right along the way.
However, most of us have our favourite winners – ones we think stand out from the pack. Often we talk about “overrated” or “underrated” players and winners, and if we have winners we like more, we probably have winners we like less. Usually when people try to rank winners (always a tricky and generally a pretty futile job), a couple of names rise to the top. Sandra, Boston Rob and Parvati are usually near the very peak. Whereas players such as Bob, Amber and Jenna may sink to the bottom. One player very often sited amongst the “worst” winners is Fabio, and his win does seem something of an anomaly. For all intents and purposes, Fabio was a strong physical player with very little grasp on the game. Some will argue that once he got to the end, he made a very strong case for himself to win and showed he actually did have some strategic skills.
For me, the story of Fabio’s win is more a case of watching others lose. There are seasons like this, where the winner’s story is more about how other players managed to mess up and hand the win to someone previously in the shadows. I think this is definitely the case with Nicaragua. I have always been a fan of Sash, and seen him as someone who unfairly took a lot of heat for being “slimy” and untrustworthy, but I also understand quite clearly why he didn’t win in the end.
However, I think little attention has been paid to Chase Rice and his game. It’s pretty much been written off as him being “wishy washy” and making too many alliances that he ultimately doesn’t keep. I think this gives Chase no credit at all and for one very specific reason, Chase may well have had a million dollars stolen from under his nose.
Losing Finalists – Can They Deserve It?
One argument I have heard a lot over the years is that if you make it to day 39 and lose, you cannot be considered as someone who deserved to win or “should have won”. The argument is that whilst people who get taken out after losing the final immunity challenges (Rob C, Kathy, Terry Dietz) can be considered as those who could or should have won, if you make it to the end, plead your case and lose, you can never be considered as playing a game worthy of winning. I understand this concept, and think in many cases, it’s true. But there are exceptions and I think this idea has really been built up as a way of arguing with Russell Hantz fans more than anything else. There are of course mitigating factors, the most clear and obvious is that someone goes on an immunity run that takes them to the end. Jurors are always going to be more willing to give players like this a vote – after all, someone who wins immunity is often the person least at fault for blindsiding those left, and people feel less grudgingly towards them. There are so many examples of this – from Jenna, to JT, to Fabio, to Mike. There are also other players who went on an immunity run that ended on day 38, that had they won, would have gone on to be sole survivor in large part because of their challenge prowess above anything else (Ozzy in S23 and Terry). So it’s fair to say that the best player can make it to the end and lose when someone with less blood on their hands as the result of a long immunity run gets to the end. I have to stress that I still think it’s rare – almost always, the best player still around on day 39 wins the game – and this isn’t just about strategy. Players like Sandra understand that getting to the end with two less likeable people is all you have to do to win the game. In fact, jurors seem to value strategy far less than social skills and challenge ability. So does the best player in the finals always win? Almost always, but not entirely. Which leads us to Nicaragua
Was Chase’s Game Really That Bad?
For a guy that came within one vote of winning the whole thing, Chase’s game has never really been analysed all that much and he’s not someone I hear a lot about, apart from the odd musical performance. The way his game was presented to the audience was that he was a flip-flopping, disloyal player who never really knew what he was doing. Quite frankly, I think this was a heavily distorted version of his game, presented to try and explain why he eventually loses to Fabio of all people. Chase made a lot of really good moves. He was open to aligning with many people earlier on, including Shannon but saw quickly that this was a mistake, so got rid of him. He was accused of being smitten with Brenda – but had the sense to vote her out when he did. He was happy to align with players that were disliked by others, such as NaOnka and saw the sense in keeping them close. Unlike a lot of people who play Survivor, Chase was able to keep a lot of options open, and for a physical and athletic guy, he was never targeted as a threat in challenges. For an “alpha male”, Chase was very soft spoken and this allowed people to gravitate towards him. In fact, I think Chase may have one of the most underrated social games of all time. This ability to be reserved allowed players like Brenda to falsely assume that Chase was dumb and would do whatever he was told. As she would later find out along with many others), this was a bad mistake. But Chase was also able to build bridges and keep people onside – lets not forget who NaOnka chose to give her hidden immunity idol to when she quit – yup, it was Chase. He was also great at making allies with the older people – Holly trusted him completely and he used his local connection with Jane to keep her close and then get rid of her when he had to. Whilst Sash was seen as a snake, Chase was able to recover from events where he betrayed people, and you can’t consider him a bad social player when he backstabs Jane and Brenda (and Holly to a degree), and still gets their votes. If Chase had managed to swing one more vote his way, we would have seen a completely different version of his game that would have justified a win. And I don’t think this would have been hard – the basis of Chase’s game was really good. It certainly wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty damn solid. In fact, it was only sunk by a series of unfortunate events that nobody could have seen coming.
My big issue with the Nicaragua jury is it includes NaOnka and Purple Kelly. I have nothing against them quitting – I have never played Survivor and don’t know how tough it is, and they made it further than I ever will. They have every right to quit. I just don’t think they should have been on the jury. And not for any kind of moral reason, but purely from a game perspective. At the final tribal council, Jeff talks about how finalists are accountable for their actions and must answer to the people they had a hand in voting out. Well, this isn’t the case with these two women. Their view of the finalists is completely skewed by the fact that they didn’t go through the trauma of being voted out of the game, and their perspective is not formed by this at all. The whole idea is that finalists have to convince people they have betrayed to reward them. NaOnka and Purple Kelly were never betrayed, and so had no ability to vote through this perspective. Their votes should have been invalid – in fact they should have been sent home and not on the jury at all. And if this is the case, their two votes for Fabio disappear and Chase wins the vote 4-3. Chase has taken a lot of criticism for his game, but one area where he definitely excelled was in front of the jury where he was open and honest and justified why he played how he did. He seemingly convinced a couple of people he betrayed that he had to do what he did to advance in the game, and they rewarded him with their votes. The key perspective of being voted out was missing from the minds of NaOnka and Purple Kelly – they should never have been given a vote. The fact that this was almost a universal opinion and there simply wasn’t a clause in the player’s contract covering such an event confirms this. It seems that if a similar situation was ever to arise again, the player wouldn’t be on the jury. This is a good thing, but it’s of cold comfort to Chase who would have a million dollars if this had been considered earlier.
The most frustrating thing about NaOnka and Purple Kelly’s quits is that they were probably both odd-on favourites to be taken to the end as goats when they left. NaOnka was disliked by most, and whereas Kelly was nice enough, I’m not sure her game would have gained much respect from the jury. Their quits completely changed the dynamic of the game. Its impossible to know what would have happened, other than to say that if Fabio was still to make it to the end he would need to have won two more challenges, because at the time of the quits, he was very close to the next target anyway. If the two girls don’t quit, it’s pretty likely that Fabio gets nowhere near the end and he is nothing but a slightly amusing footnote on an otherwise boring season. It’s pretty hard to know what would have happened after that, given Chase would now be the biggest physical threat in the game, but I suspect that Holly and Kelly are seen as social threats to get jury votes. I think Chase easily could have still made the final 4 – and even final 3 with Sash and NaOnka, which he wins handily. Its of course impossible to know for sure, but with Fabio much more likely to be gone, Chase would be the best shot to win challenges in a group of people who were not well liked by the jury. Those quits really did blow the game up for everyone by specifically giving Fabio a get out of jail free card for 2 weeks. This would end up being just as valuable as the immunity wins he would later get – 3 immunity challenge wins in a row is impressive – no one has ever done 5. Even Mike in Worlds Apart didn’t achieve that. So you have to think that had these two women not quit when they did, Fabio’s chances of making it all the way to the end are significantly reduced – and in turn, Chase’s chances of winning increase.
An Unlucky Loser
For my money, Chase is the most unlucky finalist in Survivor history. The guy played a pretty straight up game. No, not perfect by any measure but I think there is plenty there to like about his game. However, it ended up being sunk by three unlikely blows – a double quit of two of the game’s biggest goats, then production’s decision to allow them to be on the jury. The third event, Fabio’s immunity run was not just a fatal blow but one that was accelerated by the quits as well. Fabio essentially won three immunities and was given another two through the actions of NaOnka and Purple Kelly. Not only had that, but they then become the swing votes to give him the game, where the majority of the legitimate jury members wanted Chase to win. It must have been a bitter pill to swallow. and it just goes to show how unpredictable, and often unfair Survivor can be at times.
What do you think of Chase’s game in Nicaragua? Was he deserving of the win? Leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts!
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