From the outside, this season of Survivor may have seemed just like any other. There were backstabbings, blindsidings, a tearjerker of a family day, and lots of ridiculously skinny people walking around in as little clothing as possible. But for those paying closer attention, Survivor: Nicaragua has been chock-full of big firsts (Jimmy Johnson's strategy) and surprising turns. (Who would have thought the Medallion of Power would actually end up meaning absolutely nothing?) As host Jeff Probst prepares to name the 20th winner in Survivor history on Sunday, we thought it would be a good time to look back at the good, bad, and outright crazy things Survivor: Nicaragua taught us this year.
Don't Underestimate the Mom Factor
When it was first announced that Survivor: Nicaragua would pit older players (age 40 and above) against the young (under 30 years old), anybody's best guess would say the older men, with more physical strength than the woman and more wisdom than the kids, would have the best shot. Aside from an injured Dan Lembo, who managed to make it to the final 5 simply by keeping his mouth shut, it was a duo of fearsome older women who ruled the roost. Jane Bright showed surprising strength in physical challenges, and Holly Hoffman demonstrated keen manipulative powers. Both used their age to their advantage, employing their maternal instincts to butter up the younger men — particularly Chase Rice and Sash Lenahan — and forge strong alliances.
The Dark Side of Fame
It seemed like a story too good to be true. Not only would the teams be divided by age, but the oldest player in the game would be none other than NFL Super Bowl-winning coach (and longtime series fan) Jimmy Johnson! Yes, Survivor's first celebrity player showed off his skill set from Day 1, mentoring his team before challenges and giving them a semi-heartfelt speech on why he didn't want to win the $ 1 million prize. But for all of his inspirational words, Jimmy's familiar mug also made him a no-brainer target, and he was the third person voted out.
A Gimmick Is a Gimmick Is a Gimmick
Survivor producers tried many times this season to pull a fast one on viewers and gained a lot of criticism in the process. First, they introduced the Medallion of Power, which was advertised as a big game-changer and a huge advantage for the winning team, but probably would have been better used to keep the fire going. Then there was the laughable product placement for the upcoming movie Gulliver's Travels. Fans have had to endure many tireless product plugs for Sprint over the years, but at least they were rewarded with emotional and heartfelt family reunions. (Just you try holding it together after watching Fabio Birza meet up with his mom). But the blatant movie ad disguised as a challenge (players had to carry a larger-than-life Gulliver doll through an obstacle course) and the winners' over-the-top comments about the movie ("Jack Black is funny as hell;" "That was a good flick!") was too much to bear. A little bit of subtlety goes a long way, even in the jungle.
The Game is Still as Unpredictable as Ever
Long before the season began, Probst warned TVGuide.com about the poor food supply and bad weather in Nicaragua. But even after more than twenty days on the barren, cold beach, seeing two players quit the game on the same night was something no one could have prepared for. Yes, NaOnka Mixon's dirty tricks and selfish tactics were surprising, but seeing her walk away from the prize money after she went to such deplorable lengths to stay in control was far more of a shock. From Jud's new name (he'll always be Fabio to us) to Shannon Elkins' homophobic tribal council tirade, Survivor continues to be full of twists and turns, no matter how worn out the premise may be.
The season finale of Survivor: Nicaragua airs Sunday at 8/7c on CBS.