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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Survivor: “Double Agent”

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Survivor is in its 23rd season, and, at times, it inevitably shows its age. This isn’t necessarily always a bad thing; at its worst, Survivor often simply finds itself stuck in a rut of predictability, as loyal audiences have surely seen almost everything before. Despite its usual predictability, the show is so well produced and generally well cast even the most predictable moments have a comforting feel of familiarity about them. Sometimes, however, all predictability completely falls away, and everything that happens in the episode becomes one big surprise, bringing back memories of how almost every episode used to feel and reminding us all what the show is capable of at its best. And tonight was definitely Survivor at its absolute best.

Savaii’s big strategy last week to send Ozzy to Redemption Island to take out Christine and ensure Upolu doesn’t have an advantage going into the merge was incredibly risky. I’ll admit it: I was almost positive it wasn’t going to work. Yes, Ozzy is an immunity monster, but the variables were just too unknown, and the risks seemed too great. My reservations didn’t end up meaning a damn thing, however, as Ozzy easily demolished Christine in the duel and evened up the tribes heading into the merge. Ozzy’s attempt to act like his presence there was more than a ruse for the sake of Upolu was less successful, however, as Albert and Coach were immediately doubtful of Ozzy’s sincerity when laying the blame for everything on Cochran.

What I didn’t realize last week was that Savaii’s strategy was twofold: Send Ozzy to take care of Christine, but also send him to cast Cochran as the outcast responsible for his ouster in order to allow Cochran an opening to approach Upolu and gather intelligence about their plans. At first, this seemed like a ridiculous plan for Cochran to agree to because it put him at risk by painting him as some sort of schemer, but it instead turned out to be potentially the best thing that could have happened to his game. Savaii, drunk on the giddy success of their last plan, never really sat down and considered what Cochran might do with this position of power. It’s surprising but actually not surprising at all, considering they don’t really think of Cochran much at all, let alone how the way they treat him might come back to bite them later.

But come back to bite them it does. Cochran—with the express consent of his current tribe—spends the entire episode gathering information which leads to him fully bonding with Upolu. He quickly confirms Upolu’s thoughts about Ozzy’s act and gives up all of Savaii’s secrets (without getting much in return from Upolu but kindness, which demonstrates the power kind words can have when you’re used to being treated less than kindly) and finds himself far down the road of jumping ship on Savaii altogether. The tricky thing is the tie. At Tribal, we all know that if there is a tie two votes in a row, the remaining Survivors must pull rocks, and the person with the black rock goes home. Savaii, whose idol and double individual immunity winners gives them numbers, seems perfectly fine to leave things up to chance. Upolu, however, takes advantage of the one wild card they have, the one Savaii handed right to them: Cochran.

Cochran isn’t the perfect mark, however. Even though his tribe has treated him with outright disdain many times throughout the game, and even though Cochran is a student of the game and should know what this would mean for his future post-merge, Cochran hasn’t proven to be adept at confrontation.  I can only imagine how the potential negative reactions from Savaii if he did turn were bouncing around in his brain while deciding what to do. He somewhat confirms this thought by going to Dawn and trying to find someone—anyone!—to vote with him and potentially take a bit of the heat off. Although Dawn makes a big teary scene of being regretful at not speaking up when her tribemates treated Cochran unfairly in the past and says she will, she ultimately decides those people are pretty awesome even if they’re big meanies and tells Cochran she’s voting with Savaii and he should, too. Seriously, what’s up with Dawn? If you want to play the game with integrity, fine. If you don’t, fine. But don’t say you want to do it one way and then immediately turn around and decide the exact opposite thing for no real reason. It’s gross.

The best part of the entire episode was how, for once, we went into Tribal with really no concrete idea of what was going to happen. Would Cochran flip at the first vote? At the second? Not at all? Savaii seems as in the dark as anyone, guessing wrong about who Upolu wants to vote out and giving the idol to Whitney when all of Upolu votes for Keith. You see, Savaii figured the vote was going to two ties and the black rocks were getting pulled out, and thought Upolu would want the strongest players to be there to face the mercy of the rocks. What Savaii doesn’t know, and what I think Upolu definitely did, was that Cochran was planning on flipping the second vote, meaning the rocks wouldn’t even be coming into play. This is exactly what happens, and it is glorious. Watching Brandon take Cochran under his wing at the end and protect him from Savaii’s wrath? Ridiculous, odd, and also glorious. What a fantastic episode.

Now Savaii, despite just pulling off one of the bigger moves in the history of the game with Ozzy, is a man down, and Cochran is their number one enemy. Anyone not looking forward to seeing what happens next week is simply not a Survivor fan.

Stray observations:

  • Redemption Island finally played a crucial role in the game. I imagine when the producers came up with this twist to service their “redemption” arcs for Rob and Russell last season, they imagined a scenario like this and not the snooze-fest the first go-round of Redemption Island turned out to be. Redemption Island, yay?
  • Te Tuna? Um, okay.
  • Cochran is NOT good at doing Pacino. Yikes.
  • There is a serious gender imbalance on Te Tuna, so it was a bit heartening to see a man go to Redemption in order to even things up just a tad.
  • I am getting pretty bored with the challenges, since they repeat so many of them. Next season, I challenge them to make up all new challenges! Work hard for your money, challenge producers!
  • “I think I feel as confident about Cochran flipping over, because Cochran feels if he switches and comes back he’s going to get beat up, which is a legitimate thing for a dodgeball target to be afraid of.”
  • “I swapped.” “Coward.”
  • “Don’t talk to him like that. That’s what you get for talking to people like that in the first place.”