By Josh Wigler
Nobody wants to leave "Survivor" because they drew the purple rock. It's a crumby way to go, giving up your position in the game to chance because no one can agree upon a person to vote out. So to avoid that situation, promises need to be broken and backs need to be stabbed… and, would you believe it, the self-professed student of the game finally took a look at his playbook and made the biggest move he could’ve possibly made.
But was it a good move? A bad one? The right one? The wrong one? We’ll dive into all of that and more beyond the break.
It's no real shock that NuCochran switched over to Upolu. His tribe mates at Savaii treated him like a joke. The guy got zero respect. He was consistently told that he was at the bottom of the totem pole, just one awry challenge away from being sent packing to Redemption Island. NuCochran had no close allies on Savaii save for Dawn. He just had his neck saved by Ozzy's own desire for Redemption, sure, but his position in the newly merged Te Tuna tribe was the same as it ever was: in a six-six division between Savaii and Upolu, himself on the bottom of Savaii. When you already know you're the weak link on your tribe after weeks and weeks of being told as much, and you're facing the very real possibility of getting voted out of "Survivor" because a split decision at tribal council is going to force you to draw rocks, what are you going to do? If you're NuCochran, you digivolve once again and become NuNuCochran, seventh man on the Upolu bench.
We'll certainly see if NuNu made a good or bad decision in the coming episode(s), but I don't think there was a right or wrong call to make here. Your mileage will vary on a variety of factors. If I’m Cochran, I’m looking at my security within my alliance, and extending from that, my willingness to potentially take a bullet for my crew. NuNu didn't have that willingness, and I don't think his "buddies" ever did anything to make him feel like he should want to take that bullet.
But there's no clear advantage to him being on Upolu, either; he's been promised nothing, save for security from Ozzy and Jim's roid-rage that's sure to go down at camp next week. There are worse personal body guards in the world than Brandon Hantz, after all, who delivered one of the season's greatest lines after last night's vote.
"Don't talk to him like that," he snapped after Jim repeatedly called Cochran a coward. "That's what you get for talking to people like that in the first place." Followed swiftly by Brandon advising Cochran: "Stay close to me." Have I mentioned how much I love the Hantz family?
Regardless of where you stand on NuNu's decision, it certainly made for great television and paves the way for future greatness. Hopefully things won't be as simple as a straight Pagonging of the old Savaii tribe — though that's looking increasingly likely considering Savaii's numbers disadvantage, their lack of an idol and Upolu's possession of one — but I'm not interested in looking forward just yet. First, I want to tip my hat to the Dragon Slayer, Coach Benjamin Wade, who is emerging for the very first time in his "Survivor" career as an actual, legitimate threat in this game.
Watching Coach's deconstruction of Cochran was like watching a master surgeon at work. Even NuNu was blown away by what was happening: Coach, a fool's fool if we’re looking solely at his “Survivor” history, thoroughly identified Savaii's carefully laid plan with so much intuition and deduction that even Batman would blush, subsequently drew a literal line in the sand, and gave one of his all-time greatest rousing Coach pep-talks for the Savaii "double agent" to, in not so few words, finally get off the bench and get into this game. With his belly sliced open, NuNuCoch immediately dropped all of his guts onto Upolu's front stoop. The deal was done. The infiltration was complete. But not in a way that anybody — Cochran included — could have possibly anticipated.
It was masterful work on Coach's part, high-level "Survivor" playing that must have made Wade's old buddy Boston Rob grin ear to ear while watching on his couch last night. Coach’s greatest strength (and, often, his greatest weakness) has always been his way with words, and he strung the sentences just so to gain a critical new ally. Beautifully played, Dragon Slayer. Now that the numbers are on his side and an idol is in his pocket, Coach just needs to resist all of his usual ostracizing impulses and do his best to bridge peace between Upolu and Savaii. Assuming his tribe stays internally loyal, there are going to be a lot of Savaii guys on that jury bench in the coming weeks. Coach needs those votes, and the only way to get them — him being a returning player — is to play nice, be respectful and make sure someone else looks like the enemy. Brandon should have this part on lock down. Then, in a perfect world, if Coach can somehow get to the end with NuNuCoch and the Hantzspawn sitting to his left and right, it's entirely conceivable that a "Survivor" veteran will win the million dollar prize for the second season in a row. Wouldn’t that be something?
One final thought: as my old college buddy texted me after the episode last night, “Ozzy is so baller.” No, his work on Redemption Island didn’t end up bearing fruit for his tribe, but kudos for one hell of an effort. He thoroughly eviscerated Christina (bummer to see her go, by the by; she was among the season’s most interesting players) and handily avoided making one of the biggest blunders in “Survivor” history. Nicely done, Oz.
Did Cochran make the right move? Leave your thoughts on tonight's "Survivor" in the comments below!