Coach’s coaching gets Brandon through a breakdown

Well, it’s official: On Survivor South Pacific, Brandon Hantz is now in Kelly Bensimon territory, starting with his creepy stare through smoke while sitting at camp and ending with his breakdown and tears at Tribal Council. (“I just want to be somebody that God’s proud of.” “It affected my family big time when this whole thing went down with Russell.”) How the game and the stressful conditions affect people is often a source of fascination and even entertainment, but this has now crossed the line to where it almost seems like they need to medically evacuate him from the game. People who have seemed more stable have had horrific responses to the stress.

What was most interesting to me about Brandon’s breakdown was Coach’s sudden appearance in the third act to lecture Brandon about his impulsive behavior. It was a Coach–Ben? although I hesitate to use his real name after seeing the preview in which he seems to freak out about people using his real name–that we haven’t ever seen before, someone who was annoyed and frustrated and maybe even genuinely concerned, and not just for his alliance. Coach sees something of himself in Brandon, I think, and doesn’t want to cut him loose like he probably should.

Coach told Brandon “stop it” repeatedly and then said, “this game is going to get so much crazier than this,” and added that if Brandon was going to “believe someone who is on death row … then you might as well throw in the towel right now.” Basically, Brandon believed Stacey’s line about Brandon’s alliance turning against him, and that made Brandon want to target Edna, a member of the Coach, Rick, Albert, Brandon, and Sophie alliance that Andrea Boehlke calls CRABS*, which his hilarious. Edna was previously shown being annoying and giggling annoyingly while walking on Coach’s back, so she seemed like a perfect target.

During their conversation, Brandon even sniped back at Coach, suggesting Coach is a shitty player, and Coach said, “both games I had my head in the sand because I wasn’t playing the game.” In an interview, Coach told us, “I have to remember that I’m out here for the third and possibly final time, and this has got to be my game.” Possibly final? Oh no!

And you know what? It seems like it just may be. The tribe–including Brandon–unanimously voted out Stacey. Coach suggested they all give her a hug but she wasn’t having any of that, and slipped around him, telling Probst, “It’s not real” and “everything was a lie.” Now she goes to Redemption Island where she got to lie to kick it, and what that means is, she got to like to try to fit in, lie to kick it with the next man or something. I seriously tried to transcribe that twice and I have no idea what she was saying.

The episode’s two challenges weren’t the best ever–one was a repeat and another was ridiculously simple–but both were great fun to watch. Christine beat Papa Bear (ugh, that name!) in the duel by throwing bean bags onto small surfaces. While the editing made her performance look more impressive–it seemed like she just hit them in a row, but the ground was littered with bean bags indicating that they were both throwing a lot more than we saw–she pulled out a win, and it was pretty dramatic. (Enjoy the duels while they last, because they are rumored to be disappearing along with Redemption Island next season, as part of Survivor’s game-changing 24th season twist.)

Before the duel, Christine and Papa Bear proved why they’d been voted out by putting on their stupid strategy hats: Papa Bear told his former tribemates who’d come to observe the duel that if he returned to the game he’d immediately align with the other tribe and spill any secrets he had, while Christine was openly skeptical of Brandon’s apology (“I accept it; whether I buy it or not is a different story”). It’s impossibly dumb to think that, whenever Redemption Island’s inhabitant re-enters the game, that the dynamics will be the same, so what sense does it make to stomp and pee on the ashes of the bridge was burned enough to send them out of the game?

The immunity challenge relied on individuals to carry the whole tribe, so it highlighted strength and weaknesses, and thus was kind of more like an individual challenge for the six people selected to hold weight literally on their shoulders. Jim and Brandon created a new Survivor record by holding 240 pounds each, breaking Rupert and JT’s record of 220 in the same challenge. Dawn, who earlier wondered to the camera, “Am I the Rudy of this tribe?” proved her worth and strength by holding 140 pounds longer than Stacey could. So, yeah, maybe she is the Rudy, although he did cry less than she does.

Earlier at Tribal Council, Probst pulled out a gimmicky way of asking questions that I hope wasn’t practice for his new daytime talk show. He called it “group therapy” but it was really fill in the blank, as he asked people to tell him what annoyed them the most about a specific person. Someone named Rick, perhaps a crew member, perhaps someone lost in Samoa, accidentally ended up in a shot during Tribal Council and Probst even asked him a question, and he was so shocked he just froze.

* Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly attributed the nickname of the CRABS alliance to Gordon Holmes, who wrote the piece I linked to. CRABS was actually first used in an Xfinity “power rankings” post by Survivor Redemption Island cast member Andrea Boehlke, whose initial usage was even funnier: “the Upolu first-night alliance, which I like to call Coach’s CRABS.” I apologize for the misunderstanding about who gave who CRABS.

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.