Survivor’s merge brings bad acting, big moves

After Ozzy Lusth voted himself out of Survivor South Pacific last week, I really, really wanted the Savaii tribe’s plan to fall apart, with Ozzy losing to Christine at Redemption Island, or the merge not showing up as planned. But their plan worked perfectly: He easily beat Christine, who’d previously won an incredible six challenges in a row, and the tribes merged.

The way their plan actually backfired was far more entertaining than I ever could have imagined: Ozzy’s horrific acting, Coach seeing right through Cochran’s attempt to be a double-agent, Cochran turning on his original tribe, his new tribe coming to his defense immediately. It was high drama, although not very suspenseful, partly due to CBS spoiling too much in a preview, partly due to the editing giving us only one real option of what might happen at Tribal Council.

Ozzy’s Saved By the Bell-style acting failed them right away, as he gave a speech at Redemption Island in an attempt to convince the other tribe that Cochran had betrayed them, thereby allowing Cochran to become a double agent. Mid-speech, Albert turned to Coach and said, “I don’t buy it,” and Coach nodded. Jeff Probst’s attempt at a maintaining a poker face during Ozzy’s nonsense was hilarious. “You should have picked a better actor,” someone on the old Upolu tribe told Cochran later after the tribes had merged. (By the way, what was up with the merged tribe’s beach? It seemed like they were never actually together as a merged tribe except at the feast, and then they split up.)

The bad acting led Coach to confront Cochran when Cochran attempted to convince Coach that he wanted to join their tribe. “I feel like you guys are trying to play us,” Coach said, in perhaps his best speech of the game, ever. “We will not bend; we will vote six strong,” he said. When Cochran told Coach about how his tribe was mean to him, Coach started to turn him into a triple agent. “I might be the dragon slayer now, but I know what it’s like to be superior to people in one way, and they know it, so they find ways to cut you down,” he said. Just to add to the gravity and melodrama, Coach drew a literal line in the sand for Cochran to cross.

That became the episode’s big question: Would he flip or not? Or would we have our first unbroken tie in years, forcing a random elimination for only the second time in the show’s history? (If you want to know more about the tie-breaking procedure, see page 7 of the Survivor rule book, which has an interesting clause about how, before rocks are drawn, the tied tribe minus those who received votes have two minutes to make a decision about who to vote out. Only then does it go to rocks.)

For a moment, it seemed like Dawn would join with Cochran, crying about how guilty she felt (“I feel like I should have stood up for Cochran earlier”), but that was before she won individual immunity and realized there was no reason for her to draw attention to herself, morals be damned.

Cochran didn’t actually switch his vote until the second re-vote, the last opportunity to do so before the random elimination. I’m not quite sure why he waited, but I also expected him to switch. It’s the best move for him: His original tribe alliance did not like him and would have turned on him at the first opportunity. While he’s last in line, perhaps, in his new alliance, it’s not necessarily a worse position than he was already in. And he may earn himself some goodwill with his new alliance that could last. (Update: A deleted scene reveals why Cochran switched, and it makes a lot more sense after watching that.)

After the vote, as Keith took the fall for being a bully and for his tribe’s bullying,
Jim said, “Coward.” Brandon turned to Jim and said, “Don’t talk to him like that. And that’s what you get for talking to people like that in the first place.” Brandon even tucked Cochran under his tattoos to protect his new friend and said, “Stay close to me.” How perfect is that? Besides redeeming Brandon a little, it’s a great moment when the bully gets bullied–and also some evidence that the new tribe may view Cochran as more than just a tool.

Cochran being Cochran, he immediately said, “I swapped. I’ll explain it later.” He probably couldn’t hide it, but I’m not sure why he confessed right then, when everyone’s emotions were probably at their height. Perhaps he wanted Ozzy to recognize how ballsy his ballsy move was, because if there’s anything Ozzy knows and appreciates, it’s ballsiness.

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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.