The shocker of the week here is not that Coach won a coveted Fishy for strategic prowess (that's debatable, see below), but that someone not named "Coach" or at least "Ben Wade" or "Hantz" won this week's Trolly award. That person? The singularly show-named Cochran.
John Cochran came into this season promising to reinvent how Survivor is played. So far, the jury (and most of the pre-jury) is still out on that, but he has already changed the face of the Trolly Award. Gone are pantomimey older guys with magical feathers, showering their confessionals with flop tears. In their place: a well-spoken gangling youth and his horde of insecurities. True, some were perhaps amplified a tad for comedic effect (as in his "slow-motion" run into the water), but in the end, Cochran succeeded at getting the attention traditional trolls have so desperately craved, simply by being himself.
What's weird then, is that this prize, which we've previously awarded to contestants who generally grate and irritate as the season grinds on, is now going to someone who so far just seems... great. To be fair, there are still thirteen more weeks of this, plenty of time for a backlash wave to crest.
At least in this first episode, Cochran fully embraced the role of the hypernerdy everyfan, and sold it without obvious affectation. All while hoovering up screen time like any good (old-fashioned) troll would. If sincerity is the new hamming it up, please do not let this casting/editing trend fade any time soon.
Good lord, Survivor, it's like we don't even know you any more. What has happened to your editing? In recent seasons, contestants have been ignored completely for weeks on end, in order to free up more time for ghost-talking underwear models or self-appointed kings of island nations. Not only have we come to expect it, we've made this whole stupid award to commemorate it. Why hast thou forsaken us?
Ok, we know, we know. Maybe it was a fluke, caused by the 90-minute episode. Maybe we missed someone. (Was there a Kelly on this season? No? Really?) Unless we're mistaken, this season's cast was actually introduced fairly completely: almost everyone got to say something, only a few had no confessionals. Probst even talked to nearly every person attending tribal council.
Despite all that, some people did end up with realitively ninja-like visibility. Perhaps most mysteriously absent was Whitney, who had more than one preseason ad devoted entirely to her stripping down to her underwear. (Surprise! You get Cochran instead!) Not to mention a pre-existing, built-in fanbase. By non-Jimmy Johnson standards, at least. What did we see of Whitney during Ep1? A glare or two during Dawn's breakdown segment, and... that's about it.
Similarly silent: Keith (Grant 2.0?), Elyse (who at least got the first post-Cochran confessional), and Albert (who got to agree with Coach, be lauded by Probst, and make the off-camera comments on Christine's flagrant idol hunting). But with 18 people, two of whom are returnees we need to be reacquainted with, that's not bad. Keep it up, editors.
At least in the minds of the Survivor ad-makers, Ozzy ("The winningest contestant ever") came into this game with this title wrapped up. But while he did... eventually... beat Coach in their opening duel, he was unable to carry his tribe to an opening immunity challenge victory. The person who did? Albert Destrade.
Whether it was scaling the 10-foot wall solo, in a single bound, or later yanking Brandon up and over said wall without assistance, Albert showed that Survivor should have been casting baseball players all along, instead of football players. Probst made note of it during the challenge, as he is wont to do when muscular young men perform feats of strength. (To be fair, the pre-game ads showed Probst also praising Sophie... which was clearly cut from the show to prevent Sophie from winning this prize. Sorry, Sophie.)
The big question is: will this come back to work against Albert, as the other contestants begin to target challenge threats? He was part of Coach's "strong five" group on the beach, so he should have numbers to at least stick around until the merge, barring a switch, or a change of Upolu plans. Yet while Albert showed considerable game-awareness in his pre-game interviews, he wasn't able to dial down the physicality enough to avoid becoming Probst's challenge Delilah. So yes, Albert seems like a good pick for the debut South Pacific Beasty award.
Oh God, this is always death... was there strategy shown in this episode? Maybe if you take the long view - say, Cochran establishing a performance floor upon which he can construct a demonstrable quantity of in-game growth, in order to wow the jury? Dawn pulling an S21 Holly, and re-emerging, phoenix-like, from the ashes of an early breakdown? Or perhaps Brandon, hoping to win votes by one day being able to converse with the women on his tribe without collapsing in paroxysms of blame and remorse? No, we find it hard to believe that any of those acts were performed in a calculated fashion. No points for you.
Some (at least his former castmate) have pointed to Coach's reinvention of himself as a non-crazy, "not a strategic" guy who calmly instructs his tribemates on survival tips -- kind of a "coach," if you will -- as actually being strategic, in winning back his tribe's trust in a non-threatening manner. Maybe, but the success of that attempt can't really be judged until Upolu attends tribal council. The counterpoint would be Ozzy, demonstrating a kinder, gentler social game, or at least mental wheels clicking audibly as he tried to project feigned interest in Dawn's well-being. But Ozzy also wanted to keep Semhar around, and didn't end up getting his way. Hard to give an award for that.
So instead we're left with the rest of Savaii, and really, the only person who seemed to be on top of the game and pulling the levers of power there was Jim. When Cochran got wind that Ozzy was thinking of targeting him over Semhar, it was Jim who pointed out that perhaps allowing Ozzy to surround himself with a harem of beautiful women might not work out the best for the other guys on the tribe. True, he made an unforced error in claiming to be a high school teacher in forensics. (Really? Nobody questioned that? Why not claim to teach quantum mechanics to grade schoolers?) And maybe it was a bit early to be calling out Semhar in front of the tribe, but it did serve his purpose, which was weakening Ozzy's position in trying to keep her around. So Jim Rice is the proud recipient of the premiere Slitty award. Let's hope next week we don't have to grade on a curve.
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