Up until the final moments of Wednesday (Dec. 8) night's "Survivor: Nicaragua," it remained unclear which of two rechristened castaways would be going home.
For a while, it looked as if Ben "Benry" Henry had successfully abandoned his former alliance and convinced new power players Holly, Jane, Chase and Sash that he'd be willing to vote Jud "Fabio" Birza out of the game.
The editors tricked us and the vote went against Benry. It wasn't a dramatic exit, but it might have been appropriate for a 24-year-old player whose goal was to be strong, but socially under the radar.
My full interview with Benry is after the break. Somehow I forgot to ask Benry about calling Alina a "dirt squirrel." I'm not sure how that happened...
HitFix: So how'd you watched your "Survivor" departure?
Ben Henry: I sortta celebrated last night, had a few drinks. I drank some Flor de Caña rum, right out of Nicaragua.
HitFix: I guess that seems appropriate. Anyway, it was hard to tell from last night's episode what exactly went down. Have you been able to piece together how it was that you ended up leaving instead of Fabio?
BH: Yeah, I have. I think Sash had his mind made up. I think he was gonna go with Jane and Chase and Holly the entire time and I think those four just mutually agreed that, I guess, I was a bigger threat than Fabio. They'd seen me do better in challenges. I think they thought I was maybe a little bit more aware and intelligent than Fabio was at the time and they could get rid of him next. I think they thought it was very possible that I could win Individual Immunity and win my way into the Final 3 and I wouldn't be the best person to sit next to in the Final 3 because I haven't made that many enemies on the Jury. I think they all mutually agreed to send me home over Fabio.
HitFix: You understand the decision, but do you think they probably made the right move?
BH: I took it as a compliment, but I don't know if they made the right call. We'll see.
HitFix: You mentioned that they might have thought you were more "aware" than Fabio. This has been an ongoing debate all season: How much of Fabio's Fabio-ness would you say is an act?
BH: Absolutely. Somebody just asked me who I thought the dumbest person in the game was and I said that I wanted to make something clear, that it definitely is *not* Fabio. I think it's definitely a huge part of his game and his strategy. He's a very intelligent kid and he knows exactly what he's doing. He's not as dumb as you'd think.
HitFix: But is he *smart*?
BH: Well, I mean... He's not the sharpest tool in the shed, but he knows what's going on. He's playing dumb for a reason. He's got his feet in every alliance and he hasn't really had a solid alliance the entire game. He's kinda like me, he's got eyes and ears in all places.
HitFix: It felt as if you were stuck in a default alliance with Dan and Fabio. You couldn't really have been confident that that alliance was going to last you very long, right?
BH: Yeah, that alliance just sorta happened. It just sorta formed. I was never really extremely confident about it. It's tough to say now, but at the time, I really trusted Chase, and Holly always told me that I gave her new life in the game when the tribe switch happened. And I did! She was next to go home, so she always compared me to her son. So I always felt like I had Chase and Holly in my back pocket, so I felt like I could have eyes and ears in all places and then maneuver my way back into an alliance with Chase and Holly, but it didn't work out that way.
HitFix: As a very physical player, what do you make of the fact that Dan is still in the game?
BH: I'm really just as surprised as you are that Dan's still in the game. He was definitely holding us back in numerous challenges. Thank God he had to sit out for that "Gulliver's Travels" challenge, because whoever he was sided with would have absolutely lost. That being said, I don't think they showed how much he talked about what he has -- his mansions, his millions, his Ferrari. I think people wanted to take him to the Top 3 knowing that he wasn't going to get any votes.
HitFix: Do you think there's been something strange about this season, the voting? Normally a guy as weak as Dan gets voted out immediately. Normally you pull the things NaOnka pulled and you get voted out immediately. Instead, both of 'em just lingered... Do you think there was a reason why that was happening?
BH: I think think there a lot of rookies, for sure. It was a lot of people definitely not knowing what they were doing and just getting a feel for the game. There's been a lot of talk about that, "What's going on this season?" You know, when we were on La Flor, we were like one big alliance. Everybody really did talk to everybody and everybody talked about everything, but I don't know...
HitFix: Obviously your goal was to come in and be the sorta strong, amiable provider, but we didn't really see the strategic side to your game. Were you really just content to have that one big alliance with La Flor, or did you have other goals in mind?
BH: I get along with any and everybody, all types of people. That was my strategy going into the game, was to lay low and create an immediate alliance and just befriend everybody and keep quiet. And I did. I definitely didn't talk much. I was a solid asset to my tribe, both my tribes, I was bringing back rewards and winning challenges and was definitely a solid extra set of hands for every tribe that I was on. That brought me to the Merge and come Merge time, I had a big target on my back, being a physical threat. Like Sash said last night, I was giving 110 percent. I'm a competitive person and I was giving 110 percent in every challenge that I did.
HitFix: How dangerous did Sash suddenly become? He was in charge. Then he was on the outs. And then suddenly he became this all-powerful swing vote. Was it uneasy for you to watch him suddenly become that powerful?
BH: Yeah, it was. I put faith and trust in him, I thought, when we had him back at camp and those other three were on their reward. I thought that we'd done a pretty good job of persuading him and obviously he did a pretty good job of persuading us that he was gonna jump ship and vote with us. There's a lot that the viewers didn't get to see when we were talking with Sash and cleaning off our mud. He made it pretty clear that he was going to vote with us and he wanted to ride it out with us. He's definitely a shifty little guy. He's a smart guy. It's frustrating to watch his interviews, though, with the arrogance and the cockiness. It really bothers me.
HitFix: Do you admire his strategy or not?
BH: I think he played a solid game. It's fine. There's something about him that just bothers me, but he's played a good game and he's a smart player and it was sortta fun to watch how everything unfolded.
HitFix: Did the loss of the two quitters last week shake up the game at all in terms of strategy and whatnot? Or was there no impact at all?
BH: I don't think it really hurt me that they quit. It still would have been odd numbers. Kelly and NaOnka were very close with Chase, Sash, Jane and Holly, that whole alliance. They were a lot closer with them than with me, so that's why it didn't hurt me to have them quit. The whole time there was talk of them quitting, I was sitting there saying, "Let them quit. That's two less people we've got to go through for the million dollars." But then you have Chase and Sash sitting there comforting them and trying to talk them into staying. That was obviously them being strategic, but I never really thought it would be valuable if they stayed.
HitFix: I take it you don't agree with their decision to quit, but how hard did it get out there? What did we not see?
BH: They'd show a rainstorm here or there, but it was frickin' miserable, man. We were in the middle of a rainforest at peak rain season. I've seen it rain before. I've been in some rainstorms. These were some serious monsoons. It would rain for two or three days straight with no sign of sunshine. It got pretty brutal and there was definitely a point in the first week of the game where I was in my own head like, "Benry, what did you get yourself into? There is no amount of money that's worth this." It was miserable. But never did I contemplate quitting. Like I said: Winners never quit, quitters never win. I stand by that and I live by that motto. I never would walk away, but it was pretty brutal. It was rough. There's not enough palm fronds that you can weave. With rain like that, it's getting through. You're getting wet. That's why it was frustrating to have to go to Espada the day after I won that tarp.
HitFix: Last question: You've had plenty of time to rehash this experience, how far you made it and how close you came... In retrospect, is there a move or two moves you could have made that might have taken you all the way to the end?
BH: There are so many coulda-woulda-shouldas and I hate looking back and wishing I'd done something differently, but yeah, there are differently things that go through my mind. Like even last night, I could have worked harder to persuade them that Jane is a bigger threat than me and I might have gotten through one more Tribal and then it would have been even numbers and I felt close with Holly and Chase... But I think my fate was sealed. I think I was cornered and I knew my days were limited.
A long-time member of the TCA Board and a longer-time blogger of "American Idol," Dan Fienberg writes about TV, except for when he writes about movies or sometimes writes about the Red Sox. But never music. He would sound stupid talking about music.