We’ll get to the dethroning of the self-proclaimed queen. We’ll get to the tribe swap. We’ll get to another chaotic Tribal Council. And we’ll get to my one big concern in this so far excellent season of Survivor. But first, we start with what has to be the most awkward hug in human history.
God bless Survivor producers for stranding John Cochran and Debbie Wanner on a boat together. I can only assume this was put into motion as some sort of backdoor pilot for an upcoming CBS sitcom titled Power & Cower. What? You think I’m kidding? Cochran has already written for two CBS sitcoms (The Millers and Kevin Can Wait). This tale of two mismatched eccentrics who have to live out on a boat while surviving the elements — and each other! — could be comedic gold and make for a great Thursday night companion piece to Big Bang Theory. Look, I’m not telling you how to do your job, CBS scheduling guru Kelly Kahl, but well, that’s how you do your job!
Their entire interaction bordered on bizarre — including Cochran’s regrettable attempt at a Brad Culpepper impersonation and the fact that he appeared to be being paid by the mention for every time he could awkwardly work some form of the phrase “game changer” into conversation. But the pièce de résistance was the hug. I watched and rewatched this hug so many times it was like I was breaking down the freakin’ Zapruder film. I called in every favor from the production team to secure multiple angles of said hug. I hacked into backlogged Google satellite imagery. I storyboarded the scene and put the pages up on a wall with push-pins and thread like some giant FBI wall investigating alien conspiracies or the mob. I seriously can’t get enough of it. And neither could Debbie… because she kept hugging!!!
Go back and watch it if you have not already. Take it in. Soak in it. Let it wash over you. It starts innocently enough when Cochran informs Debbie that she has received an advantage in the game. Debbie is so excited she jumps up and starts hugging Cochran. Just one problem: He’s not standing. So the hug continues. Her standing. Him sitting. Her standing. Him sitting. You can practically hear Cochran counting down the seconds in his head until it is over. But then it is not over! She’s still hugging him! She won’t let go!
Clearly lacking the self-confidence to aggressively disengage from a hug that is already longer than the combined forces of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” and a Michael Cimino film festival, Cochran finally gives in and stands up, perhaps mistakenly figuring that will get him out of Debbie’s clutches sooner rather than later. Watch Cochran closely here. He’s panicking. You can sense it by the fact that he has no idea what to do with his hands. He eventually starts stroking Debbie’s back — again, no doubt attempting to use it as a tactile sign that he is ready for their bodies to part, not unlike the way Moses parted the Red Sea. But does that work? Of course not! This is Debbie Wanner we’re talking about!
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You also have to love the way Cochran was brought all the way to Fiji to impart his advice and wisdom to Debbie… who didn’t want it! Every time the Caramoan champ attempted to be a strategic sounding board, Debbie just talked about how she had no fears, no reservations, no questions, no nothing! To his credit, the Survivor contestant formerly known as John used this as a stealth teaching moment, instructing Debbie to swallow her pride and pander to egos because that is a strategy that can win her the game.
As hilarious as the whole thing was, imagine how amazing it would have been had Sandra been the one on that boat. What sort of wisdom would Cochran have been expected to dispense to the then-undefeated two-time champion? Maybe he could have just shown up, handed her the Advantage box, and left. In any event, seeing as how there was no Cochran sighting at the last finale — or was there? Honestly, I’ve lost track — we were due for an appearance, and watching him and Debbie hug it out — and out… and out… and out — made it well worth it. (Check out my Jeff Probst Q&A for how it all came together.) Also, props to Boston Rob for pulling that sweet April Fools’ Day prank a few days before the episode.
Okay, a lot to get to. So much, in fact, that let’s just break down the biggest moments with my take on each. But before we get to that, remember to keep an eye out for this week’s super secret Survivor quiz question hidden somewhere in this week’s recap. Answer it correctly and you have a chance at winning Sandra’s original pre-game vote (as originally seen on my Instagram feed) for the person she wanted out first in the game. Congratulations to Beth Sederstrom, who won last week’s J.T. vote by correctly identifying my favorite Survivor drunk as a stumbling, bumbling Tom Westman in Palau. (Like the Cochran–Debbie hug, that clip never gets old.) Best of luck to all, now on to the rest of the recap!