‘Survivor’ 21 was all about playing dumb

Time and again during “Survivor: Nicaragua,” fans of the show complained loudly that this latest batch of contestants was by far the dumbest group to ever play the game. And during the finale, the proof of that was in the win.

Pretty boy Jud Birza, better known to fans as Fabio, beat Chase Rice by one vote to take the title of Sole Survivor and the million-dollar prize. He also became the youngest player at age 21 to win the game. It was interesting that it came down to these two guys — Sash Lenahan didn’t get any love from the jury — because it almost seemed like a contest between dumb and dumber. (Jury member Marty Piombo even suggested a Dumber Than a Bag of Hammers Award, most likely for Chase, whom he couldn’t stand.)

The show and the contestants regularly reminded viewers how stupid Chase was in his strategy. He repeatedly befriended and earned the trust of other contestants, only to backstab and vote them out each and every time. All that flip-flopping, backstabbing and playing based on his emotions rather than his head should have made it next to impossible for him to earn any votes, yet he received four.

Did he play the game that much better than strategist Sash? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps the fact that he received four votes to Sash’s zero had something to do with the final Tribal Council. When asked what he would do if he won the million dollars, Chase replied that $100,000 would be going to charity, and that he’d be taking care of his mom. It’s hard not to want to reward good intentions.

As for Fabio, he kicked off the season playing the role of “the dumb blond,” as Shannon Elkins, who was voted off the second week, said. It was hard to argue that, as week after week, the student and model did things that many would qualify as dumb, from peeing in a pool everyone had to swim in to running around barefoot in a rain forest and getting stabbed in the foot by a branch. Were it not for his three consecutive immunity-challenge wins at the end of the game, he would’ve never had a shot. Lucky for him, he did win, and it didn’t hurt that — as he reminded the jury — he played a friendly game and never had to hurt anyone’s feelings to get where he was.

But like Chase, his answers during the final Tribal Council may have tipped the votes in his favor, even if they didn’t believe his fly-under-the-radar-to-advance strategy. When quitter NaOnka Mixon asked Fabio if seeing his mother helped ignite the fighter in him, the model started getting teary eyed. He said that from the very beginning of the game, he “daydreamt what I could do for my family.” After a few tears and a little bit of swearing, he admitted that the thought of his mom got him to the end. By the conclusion of his speech, he had jury members Benry Henry and Brenda Lowe wiping away their own tears.

Playing the role of the goofball may have actually been a smart move by Fabio, making others underestimate him. Who would ever think such a goof would be a threat? “I always knew I was going to wait to the last minute to be aggressive,” he said. And he was. After winning the final two challenges, Fabio played the other members against each other, forcing the alliance of Chase, Sash and Holly to break, and getting them to reveal their lies and plans not only to him, but to the jury.

And that may have been the final nail in Sash’s coffin. He broke so many promises to so many different people and alliances that even Purple Kelly, who was always on his side, gave her vote to someone else. At Tribal Council, he apologized for playing the way he did to get to the end, but it was too little too late. Jane Bright, who was once a part of his alliance, declared him a “New York City river rat,” and Dan called him a liar and a phony, not to mention spineless.

But it wasn’t all about the final three in the reunion show. There was of course plenty of talk about NaOnka’s bad attitude (her mom apparently wasn’t surprised by her daughter’s behavior), not to mention the fact that she and Purple Kelly quit the game. Probst announced that thanks to those two ladies, going forward, the show has the option to not include quitters in the jury.

And perhaps in the least surprising reveal of the night, the “Survivor” host revealed the fan-favorite winner: Jane. It was the biggest landslide win in the history of the show, he said, and the dog trainer took home $100,000 for being the most likeable person of the season.