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Can "Survivor" redefine Nicaragua's image?

Nicaraguans like that "Survivor" is highlighting its harsh environment.

Valenti said the reality show could also give Nicaragua a unique chance to showcase its underdevelopment as an unexplored tourism destination for adventure and nature.

The truth is Nicaragua can use all the positive spin it can get these days. Since President Daniel Ortega returned to power in 2007, stories about Nicaragua in the international media have focused mostly on the Sandinistas’ political shenanigans, claims of electoral fraud and tiresome tales of political crisis and ungovernability. While tourism continues to grow in Nicaragua despite all that — and even during a global economic downturn — the number of American tourists coming here is showing signs of leveling off for the first time in many years.

So the dirty tricks and cutthroat politics of Survivor contestants in the reality show competition will come as a welcome distraction from the real thing in Nicaragua’s government. Plus, by becoming part of mainstream American TV culture, Nicaragua will be able to reach out the large segment of people who otherwise may never have considered this country as a place to spend a week’s vacation.

“'Survivor' is a unique opportunity for a host nation to reach out to the world,” said Leisa Francis, the show’s co-executive producer. “The show is created in a way that highlights the host nation's scenic beauty, its wildlife and its culture. Survivor delivers a video postcard of the host nation. The promotional value is extraordinary.”

That's particularly true for Nicaragua. With remote white-sand beaches and lush tropics — all within a two-hour flight from Miami — Nicaragua hopes to benefit from the "'Survivor' effect" more than previous countries that are either too large to notice any effect, such as China and Australia, or too far off the map to be helped by reality TV, such as Gabon, Vanuatu and Samoa.

Realtors — a motley group of national and international salespeople who haven’t had much to cheer about for the past three years — report that "Survivor" is both a selling point or something to refrain for mentioning, depending on the potential client.

“Most clients assume that the show will bring good publicity to the area, thus making their investment now a good idea to get ahead of the rush,” said Justin Fahey, of San Juan del Sur’s Aurora Beachfront Realty.

However, he added, “Some clients couldn't give a crap about a reality TV show that is in its millionth season, clinging to relevancy. Many people come to Nicaragua and buy land here to retire or vacation away from 24/7 news cycle and rat race. So mentioning 'Survivor' to them might be construed as a negative — they want to experience authentic Nicaragua as a contrast to life in North America.”

But for people who already bought here, Fahey said, "Survivor" has become a bragging point among their friends and family back home in the U.S.

Expats and investors now “feel legitimized” in their decision to buy here, Fahey said. “It’s like they’re saying, 'Ha! My friends back home said I was nuts to invest here, but now I tell them, ‘You can see my beach this fall on "Survivor!"' ”