Coach keeps a fragile hold on his alliance thanks to guest star Rick’s vote

The vote on Survivor South Pacific came down to a special guest star, who helped Ben “Coach” Wade keep control of his tribe, although both he and Ozzy Lusth seem to be struggling to lead their tribes.

Ozzy threw what he later admitted was a temper-tantrum, still angry that his tribe voted out Elyse without telling him. He announced to the tribe, “I’m done playing the alliance way. I’m now what’s called a free agent,” and then, in a brilliant strategic move, also said, “I’ve got the idol, how about that?” He mentioned something about Redemption Island, and Keith said, “If you want to go there, just let us know, man.”

Ozzy called this his “screw it, let everything hang out there” strategy, although I’m pretty sure that’s already Albert’s strategy. In a hilarious on-the-fly interview with him standing in the ocean with a mask on his face and a fish stabbed on his spear, Ozzy tried to convince himself that he’s good enough, smart enough, and doggone it people like him. “I’m a big part of this tribe. If they want to win challenges and get farther, they have to trust me. That’s the bottom line,” he said, and then dropped the dead fish back into the water dramatically.

His tribemates were ecstatic over his behavior; Jim said he “couldn’t have made any worse moves than he did,” and Cochran, clearly trying to fit in with the cool 5th graders by using high-school language, said, “In all seriousness, he’s just behaving like a stupid bitch.” Ozzy later apologized, although he didn’t seem all that apologetic when he told Keith, “I’m willing to look past” their vote. Ultimately, though, he told his tribe, “I’m sorry for being a jerk.”

Of course, all of this attention on Ozzy meant that his tribe would rally and win the immunity challenge, which they did, though they started at such a huge deficit it was a pretty impressive comeback and dramatic conclusion. The challenge was brand new and another great effort from challenge producer John Kirhoffer and his team. The puzzle was actually a wheelbarrow that turned into a slingshot, which is bad-ass, as was the fact that they slung coconuts at totems as the final part of the challenge. (This is why I complain when they recycle challenges: Classic challenges are okay showing up once in a while, like last week’s gag-inducing meat-tearing challenge, but this was so creative and so interesting that I selfishly want more challenges like it.)

Although the preview made it seem like Cochran’s lack of upper-body strength would sink his tribe, since he couldn’t help flip the wheelbarrow full of coconuts. Instead, it came down to Coach’s coaching failing–at least, according to Coach. He kept gently suggesting that Mikayla stop using the coconut slingshot because she wasn’t being effective, probably because she was using one hand. But Coach didn’t just bench Mikayla, which may not have worked anyway, but suggesting she rest in the heat of a challenge didn’t seem like coaching or leading.

His attitude later, though, suggested that she was petulant and refused to listen to him. “If I’m going to coach this team, I need for people in the heat of battle to listen to me. Mikayla should go home,” Coach said, later adding “Mikayla wasn’t coachable” and “she doesn’t follow orders.” But Coach’s alliance wasn’t having it; they wanted to get rid of Edna, who is less-helpful in challenges.

Albert pointed out that Edna is also a “freakin’ sharp, smart player” who could “react desperately” after the merge when she realizes she’s on the outside of the alliance. Brandon was all for getting rid of Mikayla, too, even though he agreed they needed to keep her for challenges, and even though he once wanted to get rid of her for tempting him to cheat on his wife. Sophie hilariously pointed that Mikayla is “no longer the whore of the tribe,” a reference to Brandon’s highly disturbing reaction to Mikayla earlier this season.

Brandon continues to be a highly emotional, highly unstable player. At Tribal Council, he exposed the rift in the tribe, and said that everyone wasn’t being loyal by wanting to vote out Edna, which Albert noted was a difference of opinion only. Brandon declared, “Vote me out today if we’re going to play disloyal. Because money, you can throw it in that fire and it’s gone. Character you’ll live with for the rest of your life.” Alas, they did not vote him out.

Rick cast the deciding vote, breaking the three-three tie and saying the most words I think he’s said all season. He was not happy about having to do that, because “all that does is put a big old target on me,” he said. “You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. This sucks.” I half-expected him to vote for Jeff Probst or himself, or to just stand up and say, Um, I’m not really on this show. I’m just a guy who wandered into the shot one day and I stayed for the free rice.

Brandon voted with Coach, of course, which prompted the episode’s most-disturbing exchange, as Coach turned to him and said, “I love, you man.” Brandon replied, I love you, too.” That wasn’t disturbing because of all the bro-love, but because Coach is now in gray area with Brandon, lying to him and apparently just using him for a vote. Earlier, Brandon discovered the hidden immunity idol clue, and went scampering off looking for it as Coach and Albert, who both know Coach has the idol, hung back and mocked him. (Coach’s imitation of the way that Russell Hantz and his nephew Brandon both walk was completely hilarious.)

The editors seemed to be having a field day with the contradiction, showing Coach saying things such as, “I want to play this game completely honorably” and then contrasting that with Coach’s reaction to Brandon, who he said reminds him of the “horrible nightmares” he suffered during Heroes vs. Villains with Russell. But ultimately, Coach said he’d continue to play religiously: “I talked to Brandon about playing this game as Christian men. And we are going to do that. But is withholding information lying? It’s a gray area.”

I doubt it’ll be such a gray area for Brandon when he inevitably gets voted off and stews at Redemption Island. Just look at Christine, who had no real bonds and also spent less time actually playing the game, and she’s ready to set fire to her old tribe’s camp. At the duel, which was a version of shuffleboard, Christine rallied for the win, but I find myself not really rooting for her–although her bitterness is hilarious. When guest star Rick tried to encourage her, she scratched her nose but actually gave him the finger.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.