The season ends on a satisfying note, but where does it rank compared to other installments?
Credit: CBS
SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols
S21 E15
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He did nothing for close to 39 days, but just when it looked like he was going to go down as another forgettable Survivor contestant who made it far but not quite far enough, he showed us just what he was made of. He made us all stand up and take notice with a dramatic display that had to be seen to be believed. I’m speaking, of course, of Dan. Where did all that hate and bile come from? He may have been one of the lamest contestants ever to make the last episode, but Dan finally showed a spark in defeat, turning from useless old man to grumpy old man. After getting voted off, he blasted everyone to kingdom come, and then he viciously went after Sash and Chase again at the final Tribal Council. Welcome to the show, Dan! You’re just in time to congratulate 21-year-old Fabio on becoming the youngest winner in the history of Survivor!

Fabio had to win three straight immunity competitions to get to the end, and that is exactly what he did. There is something to be said for someone who comes up that big that many times with their back up against the wall. Combine that with his absurd likability and he was a slam dunk to take home the million dollars. In fact, the most shocking thing about this entire season may have been that Chase somehow managed to make the outcome so close with four votes. Sash, a pure gamer who lacked the warmth to make any personal connections, was shut out with a goose egg.

For me, the end result was satisfying enough, but where will Survivor: Nicaragua land in my updated Survivor season rankings. The answer may shock (and upset) you. But before we get to that, let’s run through the finale.

We started with our final five on day 37. In a familiar scene, Fabio was scrambling to try to make and break alliances. In an even more familiar scene — in what has turned into a reverse jinx of sorts — someone (in this case, Chase) was busy telling us that if Fabio didn’t win immunity, he’d be going home. So that’s exactly what he did — winning, I mean. In a challenge that forced the contestants to correctly answer Nicaraguan trivia questions and then use puzzle pieces to form the Survivor: Nicaragua logo. And after Fabio came from behind to solve the puzzle the fastest (on the heels of him winning last week’s memory challenge) I will never make fun of Fabio’s intelligence again. At least not until the reunion show because I have NO IDEA what he was talking about there.

If anyone’s intelligence is going to be questioned, it should be Dan, who later had to ask, “How many votes do we need” to vote someone out? Three, Dan. Three is the magic number, just like De La Soul said. Once again, Fabio tried to convince Sash and Chase to vote out Holly. The big questions heading into the first Tribal Council was whether they’d do it, and what kind of volumizing shampoo Jane got her hands on at the jury house, because her hair looked simply fabulous!

NEXT: Beware the Fallen Comrades tribute{C}

When all was said and done (and not much was said that didn’t involve Dan and Holly arguing whether being from South Dakota made her a “threat”), Dan was voted out, leading to his out of nowhere rant: “I switched my vote tonight to Chase to tell him how much I dislike the guy. I want nothing to do with you. Holly, you’re a crook. You stole my shoes. They ought to cut your damn hands off. Sash, you’re just like a whining little girl. And you’re a liar. I wish them the worst. And I can’t wait to cast my vote.” Dan, you just got interesting! Vindictive and petty, sure. But interesting as well.

With four players left, everyone started making final three plans with everyone else. But my mind was too distracted trying to guess whether the Fallen Comrades tribute would be by land or by sea. By land, of course! Because the surf in Nicaragua is too rough (not to mention the fact that the show appears to have completely jettisoned its entire marine department).

Regular readers know how much I hate the Fallen Comrades montage. For one thing, even writing the words makes me feel Russian. But mostly it’s because my heart is black and I don’t get weepy looking at slow motion footage of contestants I was more than happy to have already forgotten about. Of course, there are always one or two things that make you shake your head, and this time it was NaOnka claiming, “I always had a smile. I was friendly.” If that is “friendly” for NaOnka, then I am truly frightened. For her. For me. And for all humanity, really. ( I will say that although I — like pretty much everyone else on planet Earth — was really upset about NaOnka and Purple Kelly being allowed to be on the jury, I was pleased to see they gave them X’d out shields instead of the color of their tribe. Nice touch.)

Then, it was time for the final immunity challenge. These used to always be straight up endurance challenges, but lately they’ve been making them just as much about balance. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The fact that this one involved swords automatically gave it extra points in the badass department. The players were tasked with holding the sword facing down while balancing a stack of coins on the end of it. It was mildly nerve-wracking watching Fabio’s coins constantly teetering, but in the end, the surfer boy won his third straight challenge.

And with that the balance of power shifted. No longer did Fabio have to come to Sash, Chase, and Holly pitching who should stay and who should go, but rather they needed to now sell him and why they belonged. Sash’s attempt was downright laughable as he lamely tried to convince Fabio that he was his “best friend in the game.” Fabio’s response? The same as mine: laughter. Chase and Holly tried a different tactic: the truth. In the end, none of it really mattered as Fabio took out the person that made the most sense strategically to take out — Holly. And in doing so, he also unmasked Sash at the second Tribal as untrustworthy and someone who was playing everyone against each other. That’s a good strategy if you don’t get caught. Translation for Sash: whoops!

NEXT: Dan goes bonkers: the sequel

The time between the last two Tribals is another segment I could usually do without. Unless someone is burning someone else’s hat (thanks, Sandra!) it just amounts to people eating breakfast food and talking about their “journey.” (Again, I have no heart.) Just get us to the final Tribal, which is exactly what I plan to do. This one was relatively uneventful. Chase kept telling people to “bring on the questions!” as if they wouldn’t have otherwise. Fabio made them all laugh and cry, which was ridiculously — if unintentionally — smart, and Sash said he treasured friendships more than alliances and absolutely nobody believed him. (It doesn’t help when it is abundantly clear to everyone that you don’t even believe yourself.)

The highlights: Brenda nailed Sash for saying Chase could have done more to save Brenda when he didn’t even bother to give her his immunity idol, Marty created a Dumber Than a Bag of Hammers award for which he apparently was ineligible to receive, and Jane informed Sash that “somebody sure as hell raised you good to be a New York City river rat and as far as I’m concerned you can go back to New York City gutters and crawl back into the black hole that you came from.” With this the Sash-bashing floodgates opened. Benry followed by mocking Sash’s fake smile and laugh, but his rebuke was mild compared to Dan 2.0. “I think you’re a lair. I think you’re a phoney. I think you’re spineless. And I hate that smile, and I think if I was you, I would go to the doctor tomorrow and get those eyes fixed so you stop doing the wink.” After all this, poor Sash looked like he needed a hug. Unfortunately for him, it was clearly established at the loved ones challenge that Dan is the best hugger out there, and he wasn’t likely to be giving up the goods. (But once he starts, watch out! He can’t stop! Kissing, too!)

But Dan wasn’t done — even if we wish he had been on about day 3. He then went after Chase, telling him “Beauty fades. Dumb is forever.” Which proved to be a perfect segue to the next Jury speaker, Purple Kelly. Of course, she had nothing interesting to say so we’ll skip straight to NaOnka, who oddly dubbed Fabio “my hippie friend.” Again, if this is how she treats her “friends” I am scared. For me. For her. For all humanity. And then there was Alina, who didn’t want to give the million dollars to a “boy”, and seemed to take a perverse joy (as did I) in watching the three finalists turn on each other.

Then it was time to vote. After treating us to one last gratuitous cleavage shot of Purple Kelly, the stakes were set by showing us two votes each for Fabio and Chase. (Brenda pulled an Eliza and pretended to agonize over her decision before finally casting her vote for Chase.) And next thing you know, Probst magically appeared in Los Angeles — bring back the jet skis, skydiving, motorcycles, and taxis please! — to read the final votes. The host started off by thanking the studio audience for their “loyalty.” Translation: “I know this season absolutely sucked, and we appreciate you sticking with us.” That cagey Probst started reading the votes, giving Chase a 4-2 lead. It wouldn’t last. Fabio took the last three and we had our winner.

NEXT: The reunion show — and updated season rankings!{C}

The reunion show was just…weird. I have zero idea what Fabio was saying so I’m not even going to attempt to decipher it. Next thing you know Chase was making like Sekou Bunch and performing a song from the stage, Terry Bradshaw was talking nonsense from the audience, and Holly was bestowing cowboy boots on Dan. In between all the madness — which also included Jane winning the $100,000 Sprint award, Boston Ron bragging about his new baby, and Shannon incredibly attempting to make himself look like even more of a jackass — Probst got off the line of the evening with “Marty, did you fluff off Jane?” (Please allow me a minute to wipe a disturbing mental image from my mind.)

And then Probst revealed the big twist to season 22: Redemption Island. I have plenty of info on that in a separate post (click over to read “Survivor: Jeff Probst explains the game-changing “Redemption Island” twist“). But without further ado, it is time for the updated Survivor season rankings. Where will Nicaragua fall? Well, fall is the operative word. Read on to find out:

1. Survivor: Borneo (Winner: Richard Hatch)

Think back to when this show first came on the air — and how we had never seen anything like it. The season may not quite hold up when watched next to some later ones, but nothing will ever be able to duplicate that sense of wonder and excitement…

2. Survivor: Micronesia — Fans Vs. Favorites (Winner: Parvati Shallow)

…although this one came damn close. It wasn’t just the most insane four-episode-run in Survivor history (with Ozzy, Jason, and Erik all getting blindsided, and then Amanda pulling out one last hidden immunity idol). It was also great characters (Chet and Joel are the 21st-century odd couple) and the perfect mix of solid and stupid gameplay.

3. Survivor: Heroes vs Villains (Winner: Sandra Diaz-Twine)

The Russell vs. Boston Rob feud made for the best pre-merge run of episodes ever. And the greatness just kept on coming. Filled with huge memorable moments like Tyson voting himself off, J.T. giving Russell his immunity idol, and Parvati handing out two immunity idols at one Tribal Council. Loses a few points for having so many three-timers, though, including a few (Amanda, James) that we simply didn’t need to see again. The fresh blood of Micronesia keeps that season one slot higher.

4. Survivor: Amazon (Winner: Jenna Morasca)

Probably the most unpredictable season ever from week to week. Some people hate on Morasca as a winner, but she won challenges and played a great social game.

5. Survivor: Pearl Islands (Winner: Sandra Diaz-Twine)

Rupert stealing shoes. Fairplay getting drunk at Tribal Council. Osten sucking at everything. It was all delicious. Loses points, though, for the awful Outcasts twist, which also led to a disappointing final two.

6. Survivor: Palau (Winner: Tom Westman)

I loved watching one tribe decimate the other, culminating with Stephenie becoming a tribe of one. And the challenges may have been Survivor‘s best ever.

7. Survivor: Samoa (Winner: Natalie White)

Russell’s controlling of the game (especially post-merge when his side was down 8-4) was truly a work of art. Evil genius art. He was robbed in the end, though, in the most controversial jury decision ever.

8. Survivor: Marquesas (Winner: Vecepia Towery)

An underrated season that saw the first totem pole shake-up: where people on the bottom got together to overthrow those on the top. Yes, it was a weak final two, but it also had a woman peeing on a guy’s hand. Plus: Purple rock!!!

9. Survivor: Cook Islands (Winner: Yul Kwon)

What a difference a mutiny makes. It was listless until that fateful moment when Candice and Penner stepped off the mat. Then, we finally had underdogs to root for. The Tribal Council fire-making tiebreaker between Sundra and Becky may be the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

10. Survivor: Australian Outback (Winner: Tina Wesson)

An overrated season. Probst loves it. I didn’t. Solid but unspectacular. Pretty predictable boot order as well. Dude did burn his hands off, though.

11. Survivor: China (Winner: Todd Herzog)

Really good cast. Really bad location.

NEXT: The bottom 10 seasons, and where Nicaragua lands{C}

12. Survivor: Tocantins (Winner: J.T. Thomas)

Okay, you may roll your eyes at Coach. But imagine for a second this season without him. Bo-ring! His unintentional comedy single-handedly lifts this into the middle of the pack. Seriously, other than Tyson getting blindsided, were there any memorable moments that didn’t involve the Steven Seagal wannabe?

13. Survivor: All-Stars (Winner: Amber Brkich)

Overall, a letdown, but man, were there some hate-fueled fireworks at those final few Tribal Councils. Plus: Best. Reunion Show. Ever. (Remember Jerri getting literally booed off the stage?)

14. Survivor: Panama (Winner: Aras Baskauskas)

Ah, just writing the word Panama gets me daydreaming about Survivor Sally and her intoxicating knee socks. Terry was robbed on a final challenge that may or may not have been completely fair. Another unmemorable final two.

15. Survivor: Gabon (Winner: Bob Crowley)

It got a bit better near the end, but it was still a case of too little, too late. The fact that so many unworthy players went so far is simply too damning.

16. Survivor: Africa (Winner: Ethan Zohn)

Some great challenges. Not that much else was great.

17. Survivor: Guatemala (Winner: Danni Boatwright)

One of the more unlikable casts so far. (Remember Judd? Jamie? Stephenie’s evil twin?) Rafe was good for a few laughs, though. Especially on rope obstacles.

18. Survivor: Vanuatu (Winner: Chris Daugherty)

I don’t blame producers: The battle of the sexes worked well the first time around.

19. Survivor: Thailand (Winner: Brian Heidik)

The fake merge and brutal last challenge (where the final three had to hold coins between their fingers in a crazy painful pose) keep this dud out of the bottom spot. Barely.

20. Survivor: Fiji (Winner: Earl Cole)

With the exception of Yau-Man and Earl, a true bummer of a cast, and the ”Haves Vs. Have-Nots” twist was one of the worst creative decisions in Survivor history. Speaking of awful creative decisions…

21. Survivor: Nicaragua (Winner: Jud “Fabio” Birza)

Yep. It’s at the bottom. The worst ever. For now, at least. I need to let it settle and see how it feels with a little distance, but it’s at the bottom now for a few reasons. 1) Splitting the tribes up by age and the Medallion of Power were both enormous flops. 2.) Like Thailand and Fiji, just two many unlikable players. 3) Two people quitting with only 11 days left. 4) No big memorable moments. Even Thailand had the fake merge and Fiji had the big Yau-Man/Dreamz free car deal gone bad, but what was Nicaragua‘ signature moment? Unfortunately, it was people quitting, and that was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

It’s odd putting the show last as I’m satisfied with the final result of Fabio as winner. But I have a feeling when I look back on Survivor: Nicaragua in a few years, the whole season will merely be a blur of badness and blandness. What about you? Where does Nicaragua rank on your list of best and worst Survivor seasons? Also, are you happy with Fabio as a winner? And what do you think of the Redemption Island twist? Hit the message boards and let us know. Also check out an exclusive deleted scene in the video player below as well as my interviews with 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.) Make sure to come back Friday for my interview with champion Fabio, and for more news about the upcoming Survivor: Redemption Island, make sure to follow me on Twitter @EWDaltonRoss.

As always, thanks so much for reading and being a part of our Survivor community. We may not always agree on things, but that’s what makes Survivor so great. There is no right answer in terms of whom is better than whom or which season is better that which other season. It’s all about what it means to you and what you take away from it. Thanks for playing along and I’ll see you soon enough when we go through the whole thing again for season 22. Happy Holidays and all that jazz!

Episode Recaps

SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Strangers starve themselves on an island for our amusement in the hopes of winning a million dollars, as host Jeff Probst implores them to "DIG DEEP!"

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