I hope you don’t have a problem with me poaching part of this from last season’s “Previewing the Finale” post. My attitude on Survivor finales hasn’t really changed in the last seven months. If you already read that post, just skip down to the first bold headline.
Tonight is the season finale for Survivor: Nicaragua, and even though this has been, by nearly every measure, a disappointing season, I would describe my excitement for this evening’s proceedings as embarrassingly high. Survivor finales have regularly amped me up more than the finales of any other drama. This is for two main reasons. First, they provide closure in a way no other series does, for I think the obvious someone-wins-and-there-ain’t-no-cliffhangers reason. Second, most of the great dramas I have watched recently (The Wire, The Sopranos, Dexter, Mad Men, and Lost), I have watched either online or on DVD, meaning I can watch the finale immediately after the penultimate episode. This is one of my least favorite things about watching shows on DVD.
I love the Survivor finale because, no matter how clearcut it seems going in, you can never rely on the fickle psychology of the jury. You can’t predict which players will graciously vote for the person who caused their elimination because he was the best player, which ones will remain loyal to their alliances long after they’ve died, and which ones will hold long-term grudges. These questions are only amplified by the ambiguity of watching a season of Survivor: We the viewers only see so much, and it’s no secret that the editing plays a big role in the portrayal of different characters.
“The wrath of Jane will break out tonight.”
Survivor: Nicaragua’s penultimate episode finally gave us what we’ve been waiting for all along: shots of Dan’s grown son kissing him repeatedly. The last episode before Sunday’s finale was the traditional family show, with castaways meeting family members—or in the Survivor parlance, “loved ones”—before competing for a chance to spend even more time with them. The family episode is always an interesting one because it provides us with glimpses into these contestants’ home lives, teaching us things like Dan’s grown son is overly affectionate, JudFabio loves his mom even though he doesn’t get to see her, and that Jane works on her farm only with her daughter. It’s also an overly sentimental one, with plenty of tears and emoting, which to be frank grows tiresome to the loyal Survivor viewer since we see the same emotional outpouring each season.
“This Is Going to Hurt” opened with a “Previously on…” that established Chase as a capricious villain. JudFabio was on “high alert” after thinking he would be voted out at the prior Tribal, and Sash reassured him that it was Benry who tried to get him out—right before Sash told the camera that JF is definitely gone provided he doesn’t win immunity.
“I’ve been a little flighty throughout the game.”
“That kid’s been shifty.”
—Benry on Sash
We kind of knew last week how this episode would shape up, and if we didn’t, the “Previously on…” made sure we did: Sash was going to be the pivotal swing vote between one established alliance of Chase, Holly, and Jane and the loose collective of Benry, JudFabio, and Dan. Sash had seen his own alliance—with Brenda, NaOnka, Purple Kelly, and at times Chase—collapse over the last few episodes, and with his help (in voting Brenda off). Still, he held a lot of power. Each alliance knew they needed Sash, and with the Hidden Immunity Idol, he was pretty much the only person we knew wouldn’t be voted off last night.
With that in mind, he gathered Chase, Benry, and JudFabio to tell them that he was going to play the idol at the next Tribal Council to get any target off his back and be a “free agent” between alliances, which was a refreshingly candid way to put it. He didn’t attempt to pretend that he had lasting ties with either side, something Dan comically tried to call him out on later in the episode by acting surprised Sash would be shopping himself around to BOTH alliances. Dan also says at one point that he doesn’t trust Sash after what he did to Brenda and Marty;* it’s true that Sash can’t be trusted, but who is trustworthy by now in the game? And as we’d find out, Dan was pretty much the pot calling the kettle black here.
*Really? What he did to Marty? That was shrewd.
“I’ve been sucking it up for 28 days. There’s nothing left for me to suck.”
“Realistically, you think you had a shot at this game?”
“Based on what?”
“Based on my drive, once upon a time…”
“This is amazing. Regale me with a story, woman.”
—Probst and NaOnka
How am I supposed to feel about Wednesday night’s Survivor? On the one hand, we finally saw NaOnka have her torch “snuffed” out, and in about as selfish a way possible. On the other, we saw TWO castaways quit within the final nine in an unprecedented show of wimpiness that drew about as much of the show’s editorial ire as possible. This is to say, it was complicated, like watching Boise State lose to Nevada or LeBron James return to Cleveland.*
*What? That WASN’T complicated for Cavaliers’ fans?
“It does look like a king and queen situation. But Sash is more a queen and I’m more a king.”
—Brenda, apparently channeling Shannon
“What do I have to lose? Something has to change, and it has to change soon.”
We finally got our shakeup episode of Survivor: Nicaragua, coming one week before I thought it might* and two weeks before it did last season. “Stuck in the Middle” was a classic case of an alliance crumbling, precisely because it failed to properly buttress itself.
“Stuck in the Middle” started with a “Previously on…” that was careful to mention the two Hidden Immunity Idols still in play and an image of stars that, like Kirsten Dunst, was crazy/beautiful. That’s what we call scene-setting, kids, what with Holly and Jane sneaking away from camp in the middle of the night to discuss their big strategic maneuver: what would later be referred to as “Operation: Take Out Brenda.”* Holly had some quick takers. With Marty gone, Jane could finally vote for someone else, and she considered Brenda “a villain” by this point.** Benry called Holly’s idea “a wake-up call,” which is odd considering Marty basically told Benry the same thing last week, and it was presumably a wake-up call then, too. NaOnka was the biggest possible get for Holly, with Na referring to her one-time closest ally Brenda as “Marty, Jr.” The one person who was resistant was Chase, who thought Benry should be the next to go.
*Ooh boy, I’d like to take out Brenda…to like a nice dinner, maybe a romantic comedy. I hear that Morning Glory is good. We’d have a nice time.
**Jane’s last non-Marty vote was for Dan, and she did it because “that’s what Coach wanted” one week after Jimmy Johnson had been eliminated.