For the most part, this has been a blissfully Troll-free season. So we had a tough time deciding between Coach and Cochran for this week's award. Cochran had the obvious scene as Coach's Mini-Me, participating in coach-chi. But there was at least a plausible reason for this (getting in Coach's good graces to avoid being voted out in the next few days), not to mention that pretty much the entire non-Hantz Villains tribe did this a mere three seasons ago. So instead, we deferred to the wisdom of the episode title and just handed the award over to Coach. It was the style at the time.
Coach's chief Trollism in this episode? His "mob boss" speech, which was clearly a half-hearted attempt to channel Boston Rob. We admit it: Coach has been taking care of the business end of that arrangement quite handily - preventing his minions from mingling with the imminent bootees from the other tribe, telling them they're all equally valuable, convincing them they're all a solid #2 in his alliance. But sadly, Coach (Coach? Yes, Coach!) needs a little work in the confessional salesmanship department. Where Boston Rob gleefully embraced his faux-mafioso persona, Coach is much more serious, dour, and visibly uncomfortable with this mantle. He's Stannis Baratheon to Boston Rob's Robert. (They even have the same name? See?)
Seriously, or perhaps not-so-seriously, Coach: Pick it up! Confessionals are your opportunity to set your worries and paranoia aside for a few seconds and cram as much ham into your mouth as you can spit! Surely you remember that? Consider this more of a Trolly-in-waiting. We know you can dig deep and reclaim it, Coach. Marcus Aurelius probably said that. You could look it up.
We never thought we'd say this, but we barely saw Brandon Hantz in this episode. No confessionals about being Russell Hantz's nephew. No tearful complaints about the stresses induced by trying to be Good Brandon. No volcanic outburts at tribal council. Hey, the poor kid even dressed up in Cochran's sweater vest for the first immunity challenge, and the editors couldn't even find it in their hearts to let him talk about it? Talk about fickle tastes, guys.
To be fair, Brandon did at least get to speak once. He complained to Coach that Albert seemed to be committing a cardinal sin: Talking to women. Also, they were from Savaii. And while this came and went in a few seconds, this was a far, far larger contribution than poor Rick and Edna were allowed to make. They were only shown as targets of derision ("not even playing,"" up Coach's butt," "bugs the hell out of me"), or as targets of actual votes. We foresaw Whitney's departure the second her opening-sequence confessional aired. We're kind of hoping (sorry Rick), that Rick gets to be the first Survivor mime, and will again be ignored in his boot episode, given no opportunity to speak, save for a mustache twitch as the final vote is read. Unless he wins, of course. Can't rule that out.
Okay, we had our doubts about Ozzy's ridiculous vote-me-out pre-merge strategy, especially since it was presented in Shamboesque dream talk. But apparently that was given so much screen time because it worked. Likewise, we still have our doubts about Ozzy's exceeding confidence in his ability to run the table on the remaining duels, considering most are at best carnival games done with slightly more rustic-appearing carpentry. But we're starting to think that we're only getting all of Ozzy's boastful talk of Redemption comfort because he ends up doing exactly as he intends. Christine actually did have such a run (almost), and was only allowed to express doubts about it. Not so, apparently, for Ozzy.
But that brings back to the point of this award: In doing so, Ozzy is setting himself up for (once again) getting voted right back out of the game as soon as he loses an immunity challenge. (Of course, he'll only have to win two more at that point, which is not impossible, especially if he's well-fed and the others aren't.) Re-booting, of course, is exactly how any Redemption Island returnee should be treated. We don't hold out much hope that the remaining Upolus would necessarily be able to figure that out, but we're fairly confident that Coach will still be there to tell them to do it. And that they'll happily oblige. So... pride cometh before a third fall, Ozzy. Don't say we didn't warn you.
Then again, there's still a slight possibility that if anyone can top Ozzy at Redemption, it's Dawn. True, she has specialized in coming in second in her past few challenges, which will not be good enough here, but we'll still (at least somewhat) hope. She's not dead yet!
Don't get too excited, So-Phans, this is one of our patented sarcastic strategy awards. Which we're begrudgingly bestowing on Sophie, who at least gives lip service to thinking about strategy. And who we actually still hold out some hope for, although hope is rapidly vanishing. Because while Sophie says the right things, like so many other aspects of this season, words are air. Empty, vacant, occasionally painting a pretty picture, but completely lacking in substance.
Sophie had a golden opportunity to seize control of the game this episode, by joining with Albert and Cochran, and casting aside the Upolu power structure (with Dawn and Whitney's help). Instead, she won immunity, then retreated to the traditional Upolu position of just doing whatever Coach says. Had Sophie used the shield of immunity to make a more daring move - perhaps even one-upping Albert's tepid position of booting Edna, and swapping in the far more bootable Coach as the target - she would have some sort of strategic position to sell to the jury. Instead she's left with: "I was loyal, and I won a few challenges." It's like she never even watched Ozzy's first season. You know it's getting bad when the bored host is blatantly trying to lead your almost-alliancemates through the thought process of "You know, this would be a really good time to pull a blindside, and turn this game around," in the middle of Tribal Council. To no avail, of course.
This timid gameplay has been a painful-to-watch byproduct of the returning player format, in which starry-eyed newbies hang on every word of their returnee leader. (Thanks a lot, Boston Rob.) But the real blame probably belongs with casting, who lard up the tribal ranks with people so blithely unaware of how Survivor can and should work, they happily just coast along and do whatever they're told. This was already a problem in Samoa and Nicaragua, and has only gotten worse with the last two seasons.
All of this - the herds of sheep-like non-contestants, pushed through gates with nary even a whistle by their returnee shepherds - leaves the less-than-a-handful of people with actual creative ideas (Jim, Albert, theoretically Sophie) approximately zero other people with whom to make moves. Yes, the show tries to compensate with hilarious scenes of Phillip hunting crabs in his underwear, or Cochran wearing Coach's jacket. But in the end, no amount of cosplay can disguise the show's absolute absence of actual intrigue. And it's entirely because casting is merely attempting to find people who want to be on Survivor, not people who want to play Survivor. For the sake of this show: try harder, casting.
Recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - Jim Rice & Keith Tollefson