As last week’s slower character development focused episode gave way to this week’s plot based blindside, the pacing of the season is becoming more apparent. Last episode was the end of the first “movement.” This episode was the beginning of the second. Just as Redemption Island began with a focus on Ometepe to set up their end game and gave way to explaining why Zapatera wasn’t going to win the game, South Pacific set the larger machinations in motion for Upolu (Brandon, his relationship with Coach, and his interaction with the rest of the tribe) over the first four episodes and pulled up on the gas in this one. The acceleration switched to Savaii not only because of the storytelling tendencies of the editors, but because of a constraint they must deal with that I don’t feel is mentioned enough. Survivor is not fictional. The editors are editing around what happened in reality—and they use the middle part of the season to explain why the losing tribe or alliance didn’t win. This season, they have to deal with Savaii being completely fractured because their returning player has no leadership ability.
The first clue that we were transitioning into a new part of the story was right at the beginning of the Previously On Segment. Jeff Probst narrated, "It's been a seesaw battle between two of Survivor's most evenly matched tribes." The key word here is been, as it sets up two things. Internally to the episode, it sets up Upolu winning the immunity by only two ounces. Beyond the episode it conjures memories of all the Upolu dominance/Palau reminiscent foreshadowing that occurred over the first two episodes, foreshadowing that was emphasized by a very old school Coach like confessional after the IC win: "Best part of today's challenge, beep beep, we're back in the driver's seat. I mean, we own it now." They own this season. Coach has been making prophetic statements about dominating immunity challenges since episode one. With Savaii now fractured, the domination will begin.
Cocky Ozzy vs Oddly Cochrane
What makes Savaii the short term tribe is that (almost) all of its plotlines culminated in Elyse’s blindside. Up to this point, the tribe has revolved around the Ozzy vs Cochrane dynamic. Ozzy has been trending towards the extreme of his former shortcomings in the game. Each episode, the show has stopped short of calling him cocky. Cochrane did so this week. In contrast to Ozzy’s downward arc, Cochrane has been on an upward arc (a necessity due to Elyse’s blindside). Each week his fandom and neurosis is put on trial and he always seems to move a bit closer to rationality. Just as Ozzy was explicitly called cocky, his story was ironically called out by name by Elyse as “The Little Cochran That Could.” This week he had two key lines. Right before tribal council, he said that this was the first time he felt reasonably safe going into it. This line stands out because generally in Survivor when someone is shown feeling safe before tribal council, he is voted out (see: Elyse). During tribal council, he said that the novelty of going has long since worn off. He is starting to approach the game as he should. Basically, Cochrane seems to have found that happy medium between confidence and paranoi while Ozzy has gone off the other side. Will Cochrane swing to the other extreme as other past players who pulled similar early coups did? It’s certainly not the last remaining bit of Savaii story.
The final piece of story for Savaii is Ozzy’s Hidden Immunity Idol. With it is the story of Keith and Whitney. It is no coincidence that the two of them voted for Dawn to try and stay in Ozzy’s good graces and they’ve been linked together in his HII storyline. Logically, knowing he has it, it would seem impossible to vote Ozzy out next, so what’s going to happen? The next logical victim on Savaii storyline wise is Jim, the cocky abrasive wannabe who backstabbed his alliance the most. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Keith and Whitney vote with Ozzy as he uses the HII. In that situation, I wouldn’t even be surprised to see Dawn vote with Ozzy. All three of these players have been shown as connected to Ozzy in some way this season (although Whitney was clearly shown accepting a coconut Cochran opened while Elyse refused it—was that symbolism for this episode alone or the overall story?). This fractured nature of the tribe is why, even if they win a few more challenges, they won’t survive at the merge. Thee truncated storylines are the definitive proof as to their not being around for the endgame. Jim is as doomed as Ozzy due to his cockiness. Dawn has already had her redemption. Ozzy’s only question is if he’ll be blindsided with the HII in his possession again, and Keith and Whitney are a part of that story. The only player with anywhere truly left to go is Cochrane, though he could possibly be finished as well. I see him as the “winner” of this tribe, as Stephenie was on Ulong in Palau or Mike was on Zapatera in Redemption Island, but his Survivor victory is just being the anti-Siska. Upolu, on the other tribe (see what I did there?), is being set up for the long haul.
Almost-Rob and Almost-Russell
The major indication that Upolu will be around for the endgame is the cool off that Brandon was given this episode. Rather than once again swing him in turmoil over being good or evil (his entire arc), he was given a bit of redemption (but only a bit). Continuing off of last episode’s tribal council, he cried his little heart out and explained how much it hurt for Mikayla to be prejudice against him for being a Hantz. This comment was stitched together by the editors in an obvious attempt to make Brandon say something ironic: "It was pretty prejudice./The way she handled that shows she had very little class at that time." Really, Brandon, that was prejudice? What about the way you treated her just for being attractive? You called her Parvati, but she hasn’t been shown being Parv-like at all. Wasn’t that class-less? Though, admittedly, that he can see prejudice and how it’s hurtful to its target is his tiny bit of hope for his redemption. He is learning.
Before I continue my analysis, I’d like to take a few sentences to comment on my interpretation of this scene. There are two possible ways to look at it. Either it makes Brandon look bad with a mild hint at redemption or it makes Mikayla look bad for doing to Brandon what he did to her. I think the latter is the incorrect interpretation for two reasons. First, Brandon has been shown acting like Russell (while Mikayla hasn’t been shown acting like Parvati) so Mikayla’s comments aren’t prejudice. Rather, they are judgment, as she is judging Brandon on how he acted even though she wants to trust he is a good kid. Second, the fact that Brandon is the one saying it, and no character is independently observing, makes us as viewers acknowledge the absurdness of what he’s saying—the hypocrisy. The only problem is, anyone who is going to say the confessional makes Mikayla look bad is going to say the fact that she was shown judging Brandon at all is a strike against her, as according to certain (incorrect, especially in Survivor) morality judging is bad. Without getting too complicated philosophically, judging is a good thing if done on the right evidence. Which side of this dichotomy do the editors fall on? My answer to that question is my final argument as to why this confessional was bad for Brandon but not Mikayla. As proven by Rob’s edit/story last season, at least within the game of Survivor the editors share opinions and philosophy with me. In other words, in order to win Survivor you have to judge people (who to align with, vote for, etc). Thus, until the editors prove I can’t trust their insight, I will assume they are making smart and valid commentary.
In summary, the little hint at redemption for Brandon is not to foreshadow any long term redemption on his part, but to tease the idea that redemption is possible for him because it is the key to the entire storyline. He is the almost-Russell. He has the same approach but, unlike his uncle, we were shown that hey, maybe he can learn things (and their tribal family likes him sometimes too). It is important to keep this possibility open because it’s the main question that Coach, the almost-Rob, faces, as it is concretized in Brandon’s final key quote: "If I can't win the game like that [as an honest guy], then I don't need to win it."
That dilemma which has always been Coach’s major weakness in gameplay was put back on the table this episode and, like Ozzy and his cockiness, will ultimately lead to his undoing. As this episode seemed to be an upswing for Coach with the finding of the HII, the solidifying of his alliance, and the foreshadowed dominance of Upolu, a confessional of his explicated his story: "Are the stars aligning for Coach or what?" Unfortunately for him, the “Or What” thread was pulled through the episode in the form of anti-Coach lying and dirtiness.
The anti-Coach sentiment at Redemption Island hit an all time high as Bitter Bettys Christine and Stacey met in a challenge and beforehand let loose about what was going on at team Coach. Both incessantly referred to him as Benjamin, to which Probst replied: "So your way of fighting back is saying you will not honor the Coach name?" The Coach name is Survivor lore which drips with his gimmick which includes “iron sharpens iron” honesty and dignity. Factor in Stacey declaring “those are liars” (at which point the camera shows Mikayla) and the Coach can’t win with honesty storyline ramps up, especially as she fingers Albert and Sophie as his accomplices—the second time her prognosticating powers said something about them with Coach (the first time which Coach ignored, the one that involved Mikayla). Then, as Stacey lost and left, Mikayla showed Albert that she has learned what to say and when to say it by telling him, “Don't even say anything." And neither of them did—until they got back to camp.
Back at camp, Albert and Mikayla told Coach what Stacey and Christine said and two interesting things happened. Coach began to come unhinged, saying how important it is that he’s called Coach. The gimmick is starting to rule the man again. Will his antics continue to show up? Then, though they were repeating the words of the women at Redemption Island, Mikayla and Albert were both shown saying Coach’s name wasn’t Coach, but Benjamin (just as Dawn was at Savaii). Considering the two have been linked with the turning on Coach storyline and that not honoring Coach has been linked with calling him Benjamin, it’s an interesting inclusion by the editors, especially considering Coach’s finding of the HII.
The most interesting thing about Coach finding the HII is that Albert asked him to keep it a secret between the two if them and Sophie. In other words, he asked Coach to lie, especially to Brandon who had told Coach about being a Hantz before everyone else. Are we really supposed to believe Coach is going to stay quiet or is he going to honor Brandon’s honesty with returned honesty? And if Brandon finds out about the HII and that Albert and Sophie aren’t telling anyone else about it, isn’t he liable to go on a Russell-esque rampage? It’s an interesting series of implications that are in line with the honesty vs deception storyline that are emphasized by Coach’s confessionals about the HII.
More of the Dragonslayer emerged as Coach discussed uncovering the idol. He explained the importance of keeping calm and collected by using the metaphor of putting his little dragon back in his coat. What’s interesting here is the visuals we were shown and the implications of the metaphor. Immediately after miming putting the dragon back under his arm, a shot of Coach hugging Sophie is shown as if to imply that she is the little dragon, a role that fits perfectly with all the foreshadowing of her leading the charge against Coach. Now think about what it means to be the dragon. In Tocantins, Brandon was the dragon, the manipulative mastermind who Coach needed to slay in order for honesty and virtue (in the form of JT) to win. Wouldn’t then, if honesty and virtue were unable to win this iteration of the game, the dragonslayer be unable to slay the dragon? Yes, which is how we know that, despite his Rob-like edit, Coach isn’t Rob at all, especially as he says: "I'm not running the show, but at the moment, pretty close." We all know what Rob would have said there, as he’s no ordinary man. Well it would seem that Coach is and is thus going to be target #1 at the merge (as he told us) and that’s when Upolu is going to get dirty—which leads us back to our potential winner.
Beyond the subtle shot after Stacey’s “those are liars” accusation and the tenuous idea of the repetition of the Coach being called Benjamin line having meaning, MIkayla had a huge moment in this episode. When watching for a winner pick, I always look for scenes that would ONLY be included if a player had won, for scenes that would be completely pointless otherwise. This immunity challenge had a moment that referred back to what Mikayla was established as in the first two episodes—the girl that is ready to get dirty who won the first challenge for Upolu. Oops, she did it again. Upolu won this challenge by two ounces that Rick was ready to leave those two ounces in the dirt after he dropped them and I’ll let Probst tell you who didn’t leave them: "Mikayla will pick it up. She's not too proud." That’s right, Mikayla will get dirty (unlike Coach) and isn’t too proud (unlike Ozzy). In a season which is all about demons and personality flaws harming players’ chances, Mikayla was once again shown as the one who is most prepared to do what needs to be done to succeed in Survivor.
Iif anyone wins on Savaii it’s Dawn, and if honesty can win this iteration of the game and Brandon is redeemed, then Coach wins.)