It’s the last hurrah for the somewhat disappointing “Survivor: Nicaragua” season, and one of our three Tar Heels, Chase Rice, is still in the running.
A strong physical player, Chase's main weakness is his wishy-washy behavior. His alliances with Shannon, Brenda and a fellow North Carolinian, Jane Bright, ended with him helping vote each of them out. "Chase has angered so many people that it is a wonder he is still in the game," host Jeff Probst notes as the finale begins.
Of course, the others in the final five also have their problem spots. Holly Hoffman, the swim coach who is the last woman in the game, initially flipped out and tried to quit. Then she made a lot of enemies on the jury. So has Matthew "Sash" Lenehan, the real estate broker who had side deals with just about everyone.
Jud "Fabio" Birza, the student, is likable but seems a little too goofy to win. Meanwhile, Dan Lembo, a real estate executive, hasn't made any enemies. Mainly because he's barely played the game. In challenges, Probst notes, Dan has been "ineffective or didn’t participate at all."
So can Chase, right, a former UNC football player, defeat Holly, Sash, Fabio or Dan?
As the episode opens, Fabio is trying to figure out a way to break up the alliance of Chase, Holly and Sash. But he wants to do it discreetly. “I can’t let on that I’m playing the game,” he says. (Anyone who saw Fabio's goofball antics in the first 20 or so days would never think he was playing the game. So no worries there.)
Sash continues the slippery play that has gotten him this far. He tries to align with everyone still in the game. "I’m trying to find as many avenues to make the final three as possible,” he says.
Still, it's pretty clear that Fabio is in trouble unless he wins immunity. In fact, producers hammer the point home so clearly, you think -- foreshadowing alert! -- Fabio may just win immunity.
The Immunity Challenge involves answering questions about Nicaragua. Once a contestant answers correctly, he gets a bag of puzzle pieces. After three bags of pieces are collected, the puzzle must be solved. Chase, Sash and Holly all get out to a huge lead. Fabio falls behind when he gets an answer wrong. Poor Dan is so far behind he's barely in the same camera frame as the other four.
But Chase drops one of his pieces on the ground, and Sash and Holly get stumped by the puzzle. Fabio stages a huge comeback and wins immunity. “I got my necklace and I’m lovin’ it, man!” the surf dude says with a smile.
Dan, left, does a little scrambling, trying to explain that Holly is a threat at the end of the game, particularly with a lot of women on the jury. Dan says he's a threat to no one (that's true), so they should want to take him to the finals with them.
But in the end, everyone votes for Dan. Dan votes against Chase because, he explains, he doesn't like Chase. (Hat tip to my friend Damon: "Often I find myself in the same position on Election Day.”)
Back at camp, Chase, Sash and Holly note that they will have to turn on each other should Fabio win the final Immunity Challenge. (Hmmm, there's that foreshadowing again.)
But before that we get the worst part of any "Survivor" finale -- the Walk and Remember the Fallen Comrades segment (aka, the Do We Have Any More Beer in the Fridge? segment.) We get snippets of each contestant already voted out, along with some lame remembrance: Wendy Jo -- “She glowed.” Jimmy T. -- “He loved the game.” Kelly Bruno (our third North Carolinian this season) -- “What an inspiration!"
The last Immunity Challenge involves balancing a sword on a shield, then stacking coins atop the sword. If any of your coins fall, you're out. It's like the most tense game of Jenga you’ve ever seen. Holly, right, is out first, followed by Chase. Sash hangs in for a little bit, but ultimately, Fabio wins again!
Fabio can't stop grinning around camp, and Sash immediately tries to suck up to him, noting, “I feel like you’re my best friend in the game.” (One of the more random, from-out-of-nowhere lies in "Survivor" history.)
At Tribal Council, it looks like Sash will be voted out because he is so obviously lying to Fabio. But in a surprise, it's Holly who goes. She would have been formidable before the jury, as both the only woman and only member of the older tribe still in the game.
So, it's Chase, Fabio and Sash who will face the jury seeking to win the $1 million prize. Each offers an opening statement before the questioning begins. Fabio says his strategy was to be himself at first, then "turn it on at the end." (True, he did win the final three Immunity Challenges.) Chase tells the jurors to bring on the questions -- he'll be completely honest. (There's a first for everything, I guess.) Sash says the friendships he has formed are more important to him than the game. (It sounded even lamer and less sincere than this.)
Some of the jurors are obviously still angry at being voted out. Jane lashes out at Sash, calling him a "New York City river rat." She said she's still ticked at Chase, but acknowledges that he did make her days on the show more fun.
In answer to a question from Jane, Chase says he would use $100,000 of the $1 million, if he won, for cancer research. He also said he would take care of his mom. (Fabio quickly jumps in to say he would take care of his mom and dad, too.)
Fabio, left, turns emotional when talking about his family. His crying brings Brenda and even Benry to tears, too.
Marty, still as smug and obnoxious as ever, tries to get Chase to alienate one of the jurors by saying which contestant was "dumber than a bag of hammers." Chase refuses to answer, complaining, "I think this is a BS question." Marty calls Sash a cerebral player and snidely adds, "Chase, that means smart."
Dan lashes out at both Sash and Chase, noting "beauty fades -- dumb is forever."
Chase tries to explain again why he isn't really wishy-washy. Sash contends that he really outplayed and outwitted Fabio and Chase. Fabio notes, "I knew a lot more than you guys gave me credit for."
It's time to vote. We see Alina and Brenda voting for Chase. We see Dan and Marty voting for Fabio. "Chase is the dumbest player to ever play this game, and Sash is a weasel," Marty says.
The scene switches to the live show, and all the contestants have cleaned up and gained weight. Though Probst, for some reason, is still wearing his clothes from the jungle. He reads the votes. Sash is clearly out of it. There are four votes for Chase and four votes for Fabio. And the final vote goes to ...
Fabio! The student/surfer, at 21, becomes the youngest "Survivor" winner ever.
Though Chase didn't bring the "Survivor" title back to North Carolina, there was some good news for the Tar Heel state on the reunion show that followed the finale. Jane easily takes the Sprint "Player of the Season" award, voted on by fans, as their favorite contestant. That comes with a nice $100,000 consolation prize for her.
Check this blog later for our final thoughts on the reunion show and this season.