Over the next few weeks, Inside Survivor is counting down all forty Survivor seasons from worst to first. As always with these kinds of lists, it’s entirely subjective, and we’re sure many fans will have different opinions. This is simply Inside Survivor’s ranking. Join us each weekday for a new entry.
Season No: 21
Broadcast Date: September 15 – December 19, 2010
Location: San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
No. of Castaways: 20
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Survivor: Nicaragua was a shaky start to Survivor‘s second decade and Jeff Probst‘s tenure as showrunner. The season’s creativity left a lot to be desired; it’s not even that the ideas are downright awful (which can sometimes be unintentionally funny), more so dull and uninspired. The age divide doesn’t exactly create the compelling dynamic the producers were hoping for (something akin to the competitive men vs. women theme of seasons past). On top of that, it makes for an imbalance that sees the older Espada tribe losing most of the pre-swap challenges.
The much-maligned Medallion of Power—which offers a challenge advantage to the tribe that uses it—is meant to level the playing field between the tribes. However, the results of this ridiculous-looking device (a large bronze flowery lanyard) just make the challenges that much more predictable. Even Probst himself later declared it as one of the show’s worst twists. The Medallion of Power was retired at the tribe swap and hasn’t been seen again since (not even in the cursed advantage graveyard of Ghost Island).
That said, a great cast can overcome even the most terrible of twists; sadly, Nicaragua lacks in that regard too. The Espada tribe, which includes former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, is mostly comprised of curmudgeonly old guys bickering over control. While the younger La Flor tribe is marred with bullying and nasty personal conflicts. Shannon Elkins’ homophobic attacks on Matthew “Sash” Lenahan make for uncomfortable viewing and sets the season off on an ugly tone. And the unpleasantness only continues with NaOnka Mixon’s obsession with triathlete Kelly Bruno and her artificial leg. That the season’s most memorable moment is NaOnka and Kelly Shiin quitting at the same time with only 11 days left sums up Nicaragua‘s horridness.
The bright spots are few and far between. Jud “Fabio” Birza’s goofy obliviousness can be charming in small doses (if you find someone peeing in the pool charming). Holly Hoffman has an intriguing journey from shoe-destroying crazy person to likable social threat. Brenda Lowe is a competent gameplayer surrounded by morons. Marty Piombo’s attempts to take strategic control lead to some dramatic confrontations with his mortal enemy Jane Bright. And, for as divisive as she is, NaOnka does deliver some funny confessionals. But you have to dig through mounds of dirt to get to the even the tiniest nuggets of gold.
While some fans might find enjoyment in the absurdity, Nicaragua lacks the spark and humor of other clusterf**k seasons, such as Survivor: Gabon. Unfortunately, for the most part, the gameplay is underwhelming, the twists mundane or pointless, and the castaways utterly unlikable.
Dan’s big chair — For all its faults, Nicaragua does contain one of Survivor‘s funniest images ever. Dan Lembo sitting on the giant Gulliver’s Travels chair, and swinging his legs like a toddler on Santa’s lap, is brilliantly absurd and hilarious.
Holly drowns Dan’s shoes — As mentioned, Holly’s game started off on the wrong foot. And, speaking of feet, after overhearing Dan calling her “crazy,” Holly decides to enact revenge by filling his $1,600 alligator-skin shoes with sand and dumping them in the ocean, like some sort of Mafia-killing… if the mob put out hits on footwear.
Marty the chess Grand-master — Following a tribe swap, Marty tries to lure in Fabio by claiming to be a chess champion trained by the great Argentine Grand-master, Guillermo Vilas. Fabio eats it up before Marty reveals in confessional that Vilas was actually a tennis player.
Fabio takes a leak — Mid-challenge, Fabio tells his tribemate Chase Rice, “I’m gonna pee real quick.” Probst clocks this and calls Fabio out before asking if anyone else pees in the pool. Everyone just stands there looking dumbfounded.
NaOnka and Kelly quit — As referenced earlier, Nicaragua is the first (and only) season to see two players quit at the same time. The fact that it happens so late into the game makes it all the more shocking… and frustrating.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which season placed at number 38. You can check out the previous entries here.