It's day 25 of Survivor, and the end is in sight. With two weeks of game time left to go, players are wondering, "How am I going to get to the finals? Who do I want to sit next to? And who's going to vote for me?"
For Coach, who's controlled the game so far, the danger is that one of his allies will flip and vote him out. You can see the paranoia creeping in around his eyes. "Albert's been really squirrely the last couple of days," he mutters to Cochran. "Brandon's been running around in Brandon mode. Sometimes I think I'm going to get blindsided."
One thing about Coach – he's learned the lessons that Boston Rob and Russell Hantz have been teaching for the past three seasons. He recognizes that the most important skill is to keep the sheep placated. "Anybody that's on the bottom of an alliance better not feel like they're on the bottom of an alliance," he says.
Coach has done an excellent job all season of making everybody feel like they have a special relationship. He's counseled Brandon, mentored Edna, and bonded over an idol with Albert and Sophie. Now he's doing Coa-chi on the beach with Cochran!
He even spares some kind words for Whitney and Dawn. "You guys don't have anything to worry about," he assures them. Of course, they know better.
Just a few days on Redemption Island and Ozzy already looks stronger. "I don't have to rely on people's trust and I'm sitting there at Redemption eating my heart out," he tells Jeff. Paranoia is one of the hardest parts of Survivor – mistrusting everything, trying to overhear everyone, constantly scheming. Ozzy is liberated from all of that.
"I'll be sitting at the end, too," he continues. "And we'll see who's backstabbed who and who has taken the higher road." Ozzy's doing a lot more than bragging – he's telling a story. You have to give the jurors a reason to vote for you. Ozzy learned that lesson the hard way when he lost Cook Islands by a vote, because everybody believed that Yul was the mastermind and he was the minion.
Now, if Ozzy does re-enter the game, he's built a narrative for himself – the honorable player ... not the naÏve one.
Albert & Sophie
You get the sense that it rankles Albert to be Upolu's beta male. Why else does he keep insisting that Coach isn't really tribe leader?
Like Ozzy, Albert knows that to win the game, he needs to give people a reason to vote for him. His plan to eliminate Edna and win Savai'i votes is high-level Survivor thinking at its finest. But that's meaningless if he can't make it happen!
Still, it makes sense for Sophie not to go along with Albert's plan. At best, she makes Albert look good. At worst, she angers the other Upolus and then what – she's in the final 5 with Cochran, Whitney, Dawn and Albert? She'd drop from the center of her alliance to the bottom.
In my pre-season blog, I argued that Sophie is a rare female character for Survivor. She's strong and smart; she plays the boys' game with the boys; and gets ahead by thinking, not flirting. I hope she goes far – and that her success opens the door for more women of her caliber.
And the Fishy Goes To ...
A Fishy to the producers for speeding us through the Savai'i slaughter. Back-to-back double elimination episodes took out four Savai'is in what could have dragged on for a month of predictable television. Next episode, we get to watch the Upolus finally struggle for survival. The endgame's just beginning – and I couldn't be more excited!