Prime-Time Nicaragua: loud, proud, and still rough around the edges

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The CBS hit show Survivor is currently filming two seasons of their reality show in southwest Nicaragua, the first of which will premiere on September 15, 2010. I’ve never watched Survivor; I have no idea how important the actual setting is behind the drama and Darwinian democracy. I suspect not so much, besides providing viewers with wild, dripping greenery and providing Survivor‘s producers with the opportunity to attach their brand to such a gritty-sounding place-name as “Nicaragua.”

Originally a Nahuatl word alluding to majestic waters, “Nicaragua” has a different connotation for most of the modern world, a picture best captured, I believe, by Dave Eggers: “Nicaragua sounded dangerous … like some kind of spider. There it goes, under the table—Nicaragua!”

nicaragua_logo3.jpgYes, despite two decades of peace, despite a turn-of-the-century economic boom, despite continued studies and crime statistics that rate it as one of the safest countries in Latin America, despite glowing tourist guidebooks and New York Times travel section features, Nicaragua still has the rough reputation it earned during the 1980s, a rep it can’t seem to shed. And so, as “Nicaragua” enters Survivor fans’ lexicon, the Miami Herald says things like this:

“It’s got wars and volcanoes and hurricanes. It’s got vampire bats, for heaven’s sake, not to mention loathsome little micro-organisms that would make you throw up if I even told you about them, much less if they got into your gastrointestinal tract. When the first Spanish conquistadores arrived 500 years ago, they nervously sent word home that they had discovered the very mouth of Hell.”

The writer, Glen Garvin, goes on to warn Survivor contestants (specifically, University of Miami football coach Jimmy Johnson) about earthquakes and skull-munching screw worms.

Don’t get me wrong: even as one of Nicaragua’s biggest cheerleaders, I’m the first to admit that the country is, in fact, due for another earthquake, and that, yes, just as in all tropical nations, there are many strange critters, including the parasitic. My coauthor, Randy Wood, and I shout ourselves blue reminding our readers that Nicaragua is most certainly NOT “the next Costa Rica.” It is too unique and Nicas are too proud for that. Plus, Daniel Ortega’s rule ensures an edge of uncertainty, especially through the 2010–2011 election season.

Even so, Nicaragua is no skull-sucking monster, as some Herald writers and the official trailer would have you believe. It is, in fact, the most hospitable place I have ever visited; it is unlike any other country in the region. I just hope Nicaragua gets a fair shake during its close-up with the world, as Survivor‘s 13 million viewers tune in (PLUS millions of viewers of the Spanish and Italian versions of Survivor, both of which were also shot in Nicaragua this past year). Maybe a few of them will see past the hyperbole—or be intrigued by it—and decide to come see for themselves.
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