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Survivor: Nicaragua

Monty Brinton/CBS

"I just got a pep talk from Jimmy Johnson!"

Call it Survivor serendipity—the few minutes I spent visiting the elder Espada camp on location at Survivor: Nicaragua this summer happened to coincide with the famous coach's "team huddle."

It was a goosebumps moment for everyone...but could Johnson rally Tyrone and his tribe to win their first challenge?

Not this time.

In a decidedly nonphysical contest, Espada handed victory—and immunity—to the younger La Flor tribe and sent home age-obsessed Wendy DeSmidt-Kohlhoff.

Older, Not Wiser: Even if Espada had cashed in their Medallion of Power for blue water, they still would have been stymied by the puzzle. Just yards away from where I stood during the challenge, plodding Jillian looked like she was shopping for lumber at the Home Depot—and even when she managed to free the puzzle pieces from the bag, she left them (and the clues) facedown. The Antiques' (thanks for that, Chase!) biggest mistake was having brilliant strategist Jimmy Johnson maneuver water instead of puzzle pieces. Apparently they make the same mistake in next week's challenge: Previews show the coach diving in the mud (a challenge I competed in—and won!—while in Nicaragua) and not leading the puzzle solvers.

Alpha Male Alliance: From my viewpoint during filming, I could not see which members of La Flor were participating in the silly war dance (really, couldn't Miami Dolphins cheerleader Brenda have choreographed a better routine?), but I vowed at the time that I'd be rooting for the nonjoiners. Fortunately, one of those is the honorable ChaseJeff Probst's pick to win it all. The other, unfortunately, is the misogynistic and possibly homophobic Shannon. Chase's "dumbass" decision to hook up with this questionable character could prove he's as "clueless" as Brenda believes—or it could prove as brilliant a pairing as Shannon imagines Boston Rob and Russell could have been last season. Their motivations may be different—something tells me Chase isn't worried about having a woman president—but in the end, the strong only survive in Survivor through alliances and immunity.

Jud-head: Trust me, Shannon is not exaggerating when he called Judson "a dumb blond" and dubbing him Fabio. Even before the game started, Yve told me, "The boy out there with all the hair—he spends more time on his hair than I do." Jud himself acknowledged to me, "I'm gonna seem pretty innocent and goofy"—and insulting him is like hating on puppies. So please, Survivor producers, protect this puppy by taking that machete away from him.

Ty-Cam: Tyrone at Tribal Council is like frosting on a cupcake. With his eye rolling, raised eyebrow, open disbelief and general mockery, the man deserves a dedicated video feed running throughout the show. Survivor: Nicaragua will suffer a devastating blow if Tyrone doesn't at least make it to the jury.

Survivor Standouts: Based on my observations in Nicaragua, this season's strongest contestants include firestarter Jane (aka Survivor MacGyver), Chase, Shannon, Brenda, Tyrone, Marty and Jimmy Johnson—mostly because I am enraptured, but I think his rivals (even Marty) are enthralled, too. Holly is both crazy and—judging by next week's previews—mean, Dan has a bum knee (and no shoes?), Na'Onka and Jimmy T. can't control their tempers, and the rest are either weak, vulnerable or belong in a box with the other tools.

Who is serving up the whoopass in Tribal Council next week? Can maturity (we're not crediting them with wisdom anymore) prevail over youth?

I vote yes...especially if next time Espada uses a no-huddle offense.

For more Survivor behind-the-scenes scoop, follow me on Twitter @drumoorhouse.


Learn all about the Castaways in our Survivor: Nicaragua gallery.