* = from fans in general, not just little old me….though obviously my opinion (and stomach) carries ENORMOUS WEIGHT
How He Won: Uh, well, he had a lot of good relationships with the people on the jury and was simply more liked than the other two members of the final three. Is there an echo in here? I’ve heard Nick described as a combination between JT and Stephen from Survivor: Tocantins, which is a pretty solid comparison. He has both JT’s genial, aw-shucks attitude* and Stephen’s more focused game-playing tactics, wrapped up into a pretty strong package. Nick is one of a handful of winners who never had a single vote cast against him in the entire game, which is impressive on a couple of levels. Firstly, it seemed like his David tribe teammates recognized immediately that he was a threat, and it seemed like he might’ve been targeted as the very first elimination had tribal council not been canceled due to Pat’s injury. It was an early portent of Nick’s ability that he was able to recover from that somewhat shaky start and then basically escape trouble for much of the game, despite being tribe-swapped into a 3-2 minority position and then being outnumbered along with the rest of the Davids at the merge.
* = I can’t stress this enough, I’m only referring to the JT from Tocantins, not the JT of his later appearances when he revealed himself to be a) rather a douchebag and b) kind of hilariously bad at Survivor without Stephen there to help. Stephen’s own failures in his own return appearance (Survivor: Cambodia) really underlined the strength of that partnership, as both really needed the other to thrive in the game.
More than a few Survivor winners (Yul Kwon, Natalie White, Chris Daugherty, Denise Stapley, or even Nick’s half-doppelganger JT) have come back from an underdog position to succeed, and in a way, it’s something of an advantageous position. It not only gives you a clear “winner’s story” for the jury, but it also almost gives you carte blanche to do whatever you want, gameplay-wise, since you can excuse it all as “hey, my back was against the wall, I had to do whatever I could.” As long as you’re not a completely obnoxious ass about it (i.e. Russell Hantz), a jury will respect someone who has to grind their way to the end, and obviously it helps that Nick just generally seemed to get along with everyone. Looking at the DvG jury members, it didn’t seem like any of them had a real bone to pick with Nick, with the possible exception of Christian — the show didn’t do much to highlight Christian and Mike’s friendship, so while it could have just been as simple as Christian voting for Mike because he liked him more, maybe Christian was also a little miffed that Nick turned on him.
Skillset: Nick didn’t get a target on him until late in the game, but he was able to win the last three immunity challenges to punch his ticket to the final tribal council. I wouldn’t call Nick a great challenge competitor, as it helped that many of the biggest challenge threats had already been eliminated, but obviously he was good enough to get it done in the clutch.
I’ve mentioned Nick’s social game already, and it was highlighted by his amusing tactic of forming final-two alliances with multiple people, all with a cutesy name — “Mason/Dixon” with Christian, “The Thoroughbreds” with Elizabeth, “The Rock Stars” with Mike. The latter may have been the most important, as it helped Nick evade the vote when he and Lyrsa were down 3-2 to the Goliaths on the Jabeni tribe. Nick was helped by the fact that Angelina and Mike were more than ready to turn on Natalie (who was incredible, yet somehow maybe only the third best “character” of the season), yet getting Lyrsa eliminated was Nick’s most underrated trick of the game. Going into a merge, you’d think Angelina and Mike would’ve been more intent on eliminating the more obvious challenge threat in Nick, yet Mike trusted Nick as a potential ally if Mike himself found himself in the minority amidst the rest of the Goliaths, so Nick escaped danger yet again.
While it seemed like everyone recognized Nick as a threat, he was never anyone’s first choice to be voted out, which gave him some room to maneuver. Christian was Nick’s big shield in this regard, as everyone universally regarded him as the biggest jury threat since everyone loved the guy. Christian was an instant classic of a Survivor character, initially seeming like only a non-tryhard, non-jerky version of John Cochrane, yet evolving into just a nonstop source of comedy and a unanimous fan favourite.
(And even then, he still wasn’t the best character of the season, thanks to Angelina. Oh, Angelina. “Nonstop source of comedy” is an understatement. If Christian’s humour came out of his genuine nature, Angelina’s complete and total delusion about almost all aspects of her game was nearly Coach-esque in its depth. Mike, ever the screenwriter, perfectly described her as Survivor’s answer to Tracy Flick. There is a 100% chance that Angelina and Christian will be back on the show if they’re interested in a return appearance, and this will be one time when Angelina can actually easily win a negotiation. “Jeff, can I come back on the show? Jeff? Jeff?”)
Could He Do It Again?: Well, if he’s really like JT, Nick will crash and burn in humiliating fashion the second time around. I can see his tricks not working in a return visit, especially with his multiple final-twos. I’m not sure if Nick strikes me as the kind to ever want to come back, though he did seem like a pretty big fan of the show who might get a kick out of playing again. Frankly, the DvG players had to suffer through such godawful weather conditions this season that I don’t blame any of them for not wanting to go through another Survivor experience.
Maybe the bigger question here is if Survivor can do it again, in terms of giving the fans another great season. I’m really hoping that DvG is the start of a revival for the show, since the recipe for a quality Survivor season isn’t rocket science — just cast good people and then make the show about the players, not about the arbitrary nature of the game itself. If you focus on the players, then we’re excited when, say, the Davids have a bunch of idols and advantages and can save themselves, since we’re all rooting for the likeable underdog tribe. If you focus on the players, we know why each and every vote takes place, why relationships evolve or crumble as they do, and we get a sense of what all 20 people are like. (And even in this season, there were still a lot of fairly generic players, though the rising tide of Angelina, Christian, Natalie and even second-tier good “characters” like Gabby or the Mayor Of Slamtown raised all boats.). I won’t lie, the gimmick for “Era Of Extinction” and the choices of the four returning players don’t fill me with a lot of hope for the upcoming season, but after DvG, I’m now willing to give the series more leeway.