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'Survivor: Nicaragua': Winner Fabio reveals the secret to his success

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He had to win three straight challenges just to get to the finals, but once he did, Judson “Fabio” Birza poured on the charm to become the million dollar winner of Survivor: Nicaragua. His savvy social game combined with strength in immunity competitions propelled him over Chase and Sash, making the 21-year-old the youngest Survivor winner ever. We spoke this morning with a still clearly elated Fabio, even if he was working on only 25 minutes of sleep.

A lot of controversy last night, and I’m speaking, of course, about your new haircut. What made you chop the locks?

I had to do it, man. I had to give them my big-boy hair. Decided to get it cut Friday. It’s actually shorter than I planned. But I had my hair long for so long now I figured last night would be a good one to sport my new haircut. And it grows back, so no big deal.

Honestly, I have no clue what you were talking about at the reunion show. From color wheels, to human creative powers, to the government, to 55 percent or something. Were you just having an out of body experience right there?

It’s so easy for me to slip into that kind of talk, but I’m very progressive minded. I’m thinking about the future and globalization — basically communication of the mass media and world art culture. I just think science and art and religion are all kind of forming together.

Are they making an alliance?

Yeah! We’re gonna connect all the dots and make a human alliance to save mother Earth.

You guys aren’t supposed to talk about who voted for whom after the final Tribal leading up to the reading of the votes, but the reality is that everyone always does, and you seemed extremely confident — until Chase went up 4-2. You get a little nervous there?

Dude, yeah! Of course! I was like, ‘Wait a minute, this isn’t what I heard through the grapevine.’ What I think happened is that Alina said she decided to vote for Chase because she didn’t think he was going to get any votes, and Brenda did the same thing. So it was accidentally really close.

We know you got Marty and Dan’s votes, and I’m guessing Benry’s as well. Who were the other two?

I believe I got Marty, Benry, Dan, Purple Kelly and NaOnka. NaOnka’s was the one that had 420 and a volcano on it.

Wow. Who would have thought that NaOnka would have voted for you to win the million dollars?

I don’t know, but she is so off the wall that I didn’t put it past her. Obviously I needed every vote so it had to go down like that.

I asked you before the game began why you were going to win and you said, “I like to have fun. And I think that’s going to go a long way in this game.” Is that what got you the votes?

Exactly. For sure. It’s not only the gameplay. It’s also “Who do we want to have the million?” So my whole fun attitude in the game weighed in the jury’s mind. And I said in my final speech, “I think I deserve the million dollars because I could have a lot of fun.” And it got then kind of laughing, so hopefully my spirit did it.

You had them laughing and crying. That’s a pretty unbeatable combination if you can do that to the jury.

They asked what my strategy was and improvisation is a huge pat of it. And then you can manipulate somebody emotionally. You can do things that aren’t straight up strategy talk.

What do you think would have happened if you had brought Holly to the finals?

Dude, I think NaOnka would have voted for her. I would have brought her instead of Chase. I think she could have grabbed a lot of votes actually.

What about if you hadn’t won those last three challenges and the Chase-Sash-Holly alliance had made it to the finals? Whom would you have voted for to win?

I probably would have voted for Chase. Because I connect with him really well on music and I do know his family history. I do like Chase. And he’s not a mean guy. He just doesn’t know what he’s doing sometimes. And I like Holly and stuff — I just don’t know if she and her husband need a million dollars. Sash — I just don’t want to give him a million dollars.

No one wanted to give him a million dollars apparently.

That’s why I brought him to the final three!

So that didn’t surprise you at all that he got shut out.

I was surprised at how people were just going for it, man. They just let him have it. I was just sitting back, like, damn!

Let’s be honest, you don’t exactly give off an Einstein vibe. So how nice was it to win those two puzzle challenges at the end to show people — people like me, I might add — that you indeed really do have some smarts?

Yeah, man. I’ve been in a gifted program since I was five-years-old and that one Survivor puzzle was like spatial recognition stuff.

Finally, what’s more difficult, winning Survivor or going five minutes without saying the words “dude” or “man”?

Dude, that’s a hard one.

I think we have our answer!

Man, I don’t know. Winning Survivor was hard. I can’t believe I actually did it. That is going to go down, obviously, as the best day of my life so far. I’m going to watch that episode every week, man. It will fill me up with enough inspiration for a while. So I would say that winning Survivor is definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done and the most rewarding.

Check out an exclusive deleted scene from the finale in the video player below as well as our pre-game interviews with Fabio and the rest of the top five. (And below that you can click on the audio icon to hear Jeff Probst on the latest edition of the TV Insiders podcast: or download it here.) Also, make sure to read Jeff’s take on the finale as well as what the host has to say about the new Redemption Island twist and how it is different from the Outcasts. Then head on over to read Dalton Ross’ Survivor: Nicaragua finale recap.