Survivor: How Coach Learned from His Mistakes

Survivor: South Pacific Recap - Coach Benjamin Wade's Strategy
"Coach" Benjamin Wade (left) and Stephen Fishbach
Monty Brinton/Landov

10/06/2011 08:30AM

"Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men." – Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of the Five Rings

Has Coach Done a 180?
Three seasons of Survivor later, hasn't Coach learned anything?

You'd think after Boston Rob gave Coach the cold shoulder in Heroes vs. Villains, he wouldn't go in for another hug after a tribal council blindside. Yet there he was, grabbing Stacey's coattails while she tried to elbow her way to Redemption Island.

I have a theory about Coach 3.0. It's that – he's not such a different guy from Coach 1.0. Sure, we're not seeing endless montages of him doing coa-chi on the shore. But when I lived with Coach on Tocantins, we didn't see him doing endless montages of coa-chi either. He chi'd himself in private – with only the cameras (and 14 million Americans) for an audience. On Tocantins, Coach led the Timbira alliance. He masterminded a game-changing blindside at the merge. Like a lot of Survivor alpha males, Coach was totally in charge – until he wasn't.



But so far on South Pacific, nobody's slayed the Dragonslayer. So Coach wins another Fishy Award. Not for any elegant strategic trickery. Instead, Coach displays the most important skill of all: he keeps his alliance calm. When Brandon freaks out that Mikayla is teaming up with Sophie and Albert, Coach talks him down. "I want you to stop it," he tells Lil Hantz. "Don't worry." He convinces Brandon that Stacey's bomb-throwing is just a last-minute scramble before her ouster.

Coach may not have done a "180" since Tocantins. But he has learned from his mistakes.

Jim Raises the Stakes
While Coach keeps things cool on Upolu, Jim is getting impatient on Savaii.

Jim's jealous that Elyse is snuggling closer to Ozzy at night than she is to him. So he decides that one of them needs to go – and it probably shouldn't be their challenge anchor.

So where do you turn when you want to take out one of the big dogs? To the little dogs, of course. Jim approaches Cochran and makes a pact to take out Elyse at the next tribal council.

I like the fact that Jim is making moves. And I really like his logic: Elyse, he says, is "a variable. And I like constants in this game." That's smart poker strategy – minimize randomness to marginally increase your odds.

But at this stage in the game, it's too soon. Why start undermining your tribe and your alliance when you don't know how the merge will shake out?

As a poker player, Jim is used to making aggressive moves every couple of minutes. But on Survivor, you may not get the chance to make a move for weeks. One of the hardest parts of the game is how boring it is. We've seen many tribes (Rotu, Sook Jai, Timbira, Galu) pick themselves apart because they couldn't wait to settle their scores.

Like Coach, Ozzy knows that Survivor is a long game. "Jimmy's trying to play the strategy point too much," he says. But the lackadaisical way that Ozzy dismisses Jim might not have the same impact as Coach's hands-on mentoring.

Cochran Makes His Case
And Cochran? The Harvard Law student realizes there's a mathematical error in Jim's scheme. There's no way that two people (he and Jim) can vote out four people (Elyse, Ozzy, Keith, and Whitney).

The only way you can beat four people, of course, is with ... three people? Cochran pulls in Herculean super-mom Dawn and calls it a success.

"For somebody like me who thrives on big strategic moves ... I've been dying to be a part of something like this!" he says.

Cochran needs a lesson from Jim. It's 3+2, not just 3.

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