Stephen Fishbach was the runner-up on Survivor: Tocantins and has been blogging about Survivor strategy for PEOPLE.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter @stephenfishbach.
“It’s usually not the strongest person that wins. The more pathetic you look and act usually seems to get you pretty far in the game.”
– Tyson Apostol, Survivor: Tocantins
Wednesday night on Survivor, we finally saw the Cochran we’d been waiting for.
When Cochran was cast in South Pacific, he seemed like a hilarious super-fan who would be great at strategy and funny in confessionals.
Then he fell on his face. Almost literally.
Cochran never found his footing with his tribe, and his anxious humor only isolated him further.
On Wednesday, however, Cochran proved he could joke hard and play hard. He kept Phillip and Corinne placated while they had one of the stupidest arguments in Survivor history (whether or not to throw a stray vote at Michael). In his confessionals, he rolled his eyes at the ridiculousness.
My favorite moment came at the episode’s start. Phillip is venting that he wants to vote out Corinne; Cochran is explaining that it won’t look good to the Favorites on Gota. As the two return to camp, Cochran has an “Eddie Murphy moment.” He looks right at the camera with an expression that says, “Can you guys believe this?”
It’s the perfect balance of strategy and self-awareness. If anybody had doubts that Cochran deserved to be on this season, this episode should eliminate them.
The Gota Tribe
Over on Gota, life is beautiful – though not so beautiful as the tribe members themselves. The gorgeous people are tweaking hard on their caffeine rush and challenge victories. Everything is kisses and croissants.
But the handsome brow of Prince Malcolm is creased with worries.
Malcolm’s confronting a problem that alpha males throughout Survivor history have faced: nobody wants to take him to the end. If you’re athletic and have even half a brain for strategy, you’re considered an overwhelming favorite to sweep the jury votes.
(Incidentally, there’s some circular logic there. Athletes are targeted because they’re jury threats. But they’re jury threats largely because people are impressed if they make it to the end even though they were targeted. Survivor may be the only game where the contestants choose what qualities to value.)
A lot of Survivor athletes try to get to the end with weaklings, so they can win immunities and force their way into the finale. But Malcolm already tried that path last season. As he knows too well, you just need one loss and you’re finished. Fresh off his game-losing immunity flub in the Philippines, Malcolm wants to make sure he’s at the endgame with players similar to himself.
Malcolm proposes to Reynold that the two of them plus sidekicks Eddie and Erik team up. It’s a great idea, and Malcolm wins this episode’s Fishy.
Malcolm could coast to the final six as part of the Stealth R Us alliance. That’s basically what every single one of the other Favorites is doing. But Malcolm isn’t just thinking about making it to the end; he’s planning how he can win it all.
Particular kudos to Malcolm for the way he gets Reynold to admit to having the idol. When Reynold asks Malcolm to let him know if he’s the target, Malcolm agrees – “if you can protect yourself.” Malcolm clearly suspects Reynold. And with this little finesse, he becomes the only person to know where both idols are in the game.
Of course, as the Bros on Survivor: One World learned (and Reynold’s Cool Kids alliance saw earlier this season), four people is not enough to make a majority on a tribe of ten or more. If Malcolm can pull in Corinne, Michael Snow and just one other person (Sherri? Brenda?), he could have the numbers.
Otherwise, he’ll fall prey to that fearsome beast that has felled jocks throughout history: math.