Stephen Fishbach's First Impressions from Survivor: South Pacific

Survivor: South Pacific -- Stephen Fishbach's Blog
Stephen Fishbach
Rob Kim/Landov

09/15/2011 AT 09:30 AM EDT

"[The way] will seem difficult at first, but everything is difficult at first."- Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of the Five Rings

What an incredible premiere! Survivor debuted yesterday with one of my favorite episodes ever. We were given insight into almost every player: Dawn is coming unhinged. Stacey can't see paper. Brandon Hantz is worried that Mikayla's cleavage will lead him into sin!

We saw the start of politicking break out as groups of two or three went off to talk strategy. We were treated to a tribal council where I legitimately had no idea who was going home. And perhaps the most shocking thing of all – Coach wins the season's first Fishy Award!

Slayer 3.0

I fully expected Coach to start hunting dragons as soon as he hit the beach. So did his tribe. "He's just going to be so loony," Mikayla said when he stepped off the helicopter.



Instead, Coach puts Upolu at easy with self-deprecation: "I'm not a strategic player," he admits. He then assumes the role of benign mentor, providing advice as the tribe builds shelter.

Color me shocked.

On Coach's first season – my season – I'm pretty sure he didn't know how to make fire. Somehow, Coach has evolved into the outdoorsman he always claimed he was.

Not just an outdoorsman, but a strategist too? At night around the fire, Coach lays the groundwork for the New Warrior Alliance. "If you have a strong five, you can go so far," he says to Sophie, Albert, Brandon, and Rick. "First day alliances are the most solid. You've seen it time and time again."

Playing to people's expectations about what they've seen is one of the best ways to build an alliance. (Brandon's uncle did it expertly in Samoa.) Contestants entering the game typically watch several seasons back-to-back to prepare. By invoking past successes, you burnish your new alliance's foundation.

Cochran Flees the Scene

I had high hopes for super-fan Cochran. But Semhar says it best – "Cochran seems to be a huge fan of the game, but not necessarily playing the game."

When Cochran learns he's up for elimination, I wanted him to go into strategic over-drive, making deals to save his neck. Instead, he sinks into despair. "I'm extremely depressed," he says. When Papa Bear tries to console him, he sulks away. It's only Jim's antagonism towards Semhar and suspicion of Ozzy that saves him.

I worry that Cochran's "class clown" strategy is the male equivalent of the pretty girls who bat their eyelashes and think it's a "social game." Sure you're nice on the eyes (or ears, in Cochran's case). You'll still be cut loose when it's convenient.

With that said, Cochran's situation last night reminded me of my experience in Tocantins. Three days in, I was unsure of myself, and Carolina pointed the finger at me as the weak link at camp. Thanks to my ally J.T., and Carolina's own hot-headedness after our challenge loss, she went home. Sub in Jim for JT and Semhar for Carolina, and it's a neat parallel.

Is Cochran next to go? Or will he learn his lesson, emerge as a strategist, and make the finals?

Semhar Sent Home

I give Semhar credit for stepping up in the challenge – but that's about all the credit she gets. When she claims Jim "made us look weak," she looks ridiculous. Was it really Jim's facial expressions, more than her flopping around like a Christmas goose, that undermined the tribe?

So the person who's bad at challenges and mean around camp is sent to Redemption Island – even though she has great dental hygiene. "I'm upset that my tribe members lied to me," Semhar weeps.

What did she expect when she signed up for Survivor?

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