Upolu and Savaii engage in an old fashioned game of chicken, and before all is said and done, someone is clucking
Survivor Cochran
Credit: Image Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS
SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols
S23 E8
  • TV Show

Don’t mess with Kevin Bacon on a tractor! That, to me, was pretty much the moral of Footloose. That, and something about the power of white boy break-dancing used to heal old wounds. Sitting here now, I can’t help but be reminded of that awesomely absurd scene where Bacon and some dude start riding tractors right towards each other. Don’t even try to pretend you don’t remember it. While Bonnie Tyler croons about “Holding Out for a Hero,” Bacon attempts to master both the tractor controls and his nerves while generic-local-bad-guy-douche comes barreling at him in a bizarre 1980’s rural game of chicken. Of course, the other guy finally loses his guts and jumps off, leading to lots of awkward celebration from a cowboy hat wearing Christopher Penn.

I bring this up because the infamous Survivor colored rock is — not unlike Kevin Bacon’s tractor ride to small town glory — one big game of chicken. It goes a little something like this: If a tribe votes the same amount of times for two people, then they revote for only those two people. But if the vote is tied again, then everyone except those people voted for, and anyone with immunity, has to pull a rock and whoever pulls the purple rock (like poor Paschal in Marquesas) is automatically out. The question is, will anyone be chicken enough to change his or her vote? Meet John Cochran, everyone!

Jim was right. John is a coward. I’m not saying this to mean. It’s just the truth in this instance. It would be nice to pretend that this was about John finally fighting back against the bullies that had tormented him over and over again. Hell, I know what that’s like. I’m so scrawny and weak that growing up people used to call me “The Ethiopian Poster Child,” which was both humiliating and wildly offensive. But John was never really tormented. In fact they kept him around even when he kept screwing them up in challenges. No, John was just scared. He was scared of pulling a colored rock. Don’t take my word for it; he said it himself several times. In a game of who blinks first, the neurotic nerd unfortunately had to play right into the stereotype and blink. And now he goes from being in 5th or 6th place in his own alliance to 7th place in a pre-existing one. Make no mistake, this was no strategic masterstroke or brilliant backstab. It was fear. And playing the part of the triumphant Kevin Bacon who caused the other guy to blink was none other than…well, we know it wasn’t Ozzy after witnessing his God awful acting skills — no, it was Coach. Coach called John on his initial lie, said they weren’t budging and he was perfectly willing to go to colored rocks, banking on the fact that John didn’t have the guts to do so. And he was right.

So let’s take it from the very top of the episode, which begins with…John’s boasting! “You just witnessed Survivor history,” he informs us of Savaii’s move to send Ozzy to Redemption Island. “If everything connects in the way that we hope it will, this is gonna go down in history as one of the single biggest and greatest moves in Survivor history.” Not really, since I have to believe Christine would have sided with Savaii anyway. Actually, think how much better Savaii would have been if they HAD sent John to Redemption Island and he had lost to Christine. A lot better off then they are now. But John is still too busy complimenting himself to notice. “If anyone in this game is capable of being a double agent, it’s me.” Although after hearing John’s Al Pacino impersonation, I’m not so sure.

NEXT: The Ozzy Lusth School Of Bad Acting

Then we’re off to Redemption Island to see the worst acting ever captured on film since ice princess Nancy Kerrigan hosted Saturday Night Live. After putting on a private dress rehearsal for Christine, Ozzy goes all out at the duel in an attempt to convince Upolu that John had double-crossed him by using a hidden immunity idol. The entire thing is so over the top it is a wonder Jeff Probst is able to keep a straight face, which he does manage to do — barely. My favorite part is when Ozzy claims that “I thrive on the pressure to come back. For revenge, basically.” What is this, a table read for Dr. Giggles 2: The Giggling? Seriously, that is one of the worst, most unconvincing lines I have ever heard in my life. Ozzy sounds like Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, or Freddie Kruger trying — and failing — to psyche himself up for a big slaughter, as if he can’t quite remember what it was that made him start killing every single teenager that dared cross his path in the first place.

The duel itself is a redo of the first ever Redemption Island duel between Francesca and Matt, with Ozzy and Christine trying to retrieve three keys to unlock three locks and then walk through their door to win. Ozzy smokes her — not the first thng Ozzy has smoked in his life, I’m guessing — and is back in the game. For Christine, it is the end of the line. After five straight victories, she just misses out on returning to live action. Too bad. I liked Christine. After all, what’s not to like about a feisty, punk rock loving Long Island teacher — I mean, other than her awful social game. “This might explode,” she says while tossing her buff into the fire. “Be careful. Stay back.” Love her.

Merge time! In perhaps the biggest shocker of the entire episode, John actually catches the bag of yellow buffs that Probst tosses his way. So here we go: 6 Savaii members versus 6 Upolu. What happens in the next half-hour likely will determine which side wrestles control from the other. The anticipation is off the charts. So after enjoying some merge feast meats and cheeses, the game’s self-proclaimed best double agent gets to work. John tells Coach about how horrible he’s been treated and how Keith erupted at him after he blindsided Ozzy. But John is the one about to be blindsided. “I’m gonna tell you right now, our tribe isn’t budging,” says Coach. “And I feel like you guys are trying to play us.”

NEXT: Coach draws a line in the sand — literally

The look on John’s face is one of pure horror. He’s been challenged and called out and he doesn’t know what to do. The dude has gone from zero to rattled in 2.3 seconds. Coach tells John that pulling a colored rock is a “bulls—“ way to play the game. Of course, he’s saying this while also saying that he and his tribemates are planning to pull rocks, so why it’s “bulls—“ for John but not for them doesn’t quite add up. He also insists that he knows how John feels. “I’ve been made fun of my whole life, too,” Coach says. “I may be the Dragonslayer now but…” WAIT! WAIT WAIT! Hold on for just a second right there, my man. You have it all backwards, Coach. People started making fun of you when you became the Dragonslayer. Before that you were just some dude with a goofy ponytail. Let’s just clear that up right here and right now. Coach then completes his piece de resistance of a hypnotic and simultaneously nonsensical sales job by adding, “Here’s a line in the sand. Come across that line.” Then what does he do? He literally draws a line in the sand. Brilliant.

And what happens next? John tells Coach everything! It was simply that easy. So much of Survivor is finding the weak link in a chain and exploiting it. Russell did it brilliantly with Shambo in Samoa and Tyson in Heroes vs. Villains, and Coach deserves kudos for it here as well. And so begins a bizarre back and forth in which John gives Ozzy back his hidden immunity idol while informing us that, “I consider myself a strategist and maybe even a mastermind, but not an evil mastermind,” yet then goes to Dawn and tells her that he is thinking about switching to Upolu on a second tiebreaker vote so that he does not have to pull rocks. This will not be the last time John professes a fear of rock-pulling.

But John is able to take a break from focusing on his fear of taking the same risk that everyone else in the game is taking to instead focus on how badly he will do in this week’s immunity challenge. The good news: He’s not the very first one out! The bad news: He only outlasts fellow challenge dominator Edna by a few seconds. This week’s contest — in which the top man and woman will each win immunity — is an endurance competition with all the players balancing on a small perch while holding a coconut on some ropes as long as they can. But the real goal of the challenge is to avoid Jeff Probst saying nice things about you, because as soon as he does, people seem to inexplicably drop out immediately after. “Sophie, doing a good job!” Probst bellows. She proceeds to drop her coconut. Rick, showing off his “cowboy strength”, says Probst. He bows out seconds after. In the end Dawn wins for the women, and Ozzy outlasts Albert for the men.

NEXT: Sophie is offended

Savaii winning two immunity necklaces is important because now they have a 1 in 4 shot (as opposed to 1 in 6) of giving the hidden immunity idol to the person that Upolu votes for. Of course, this is assuming that Upolu would have no way of knowing where Savaii puts their idol into play. (More on that in a minute.) First, let’s settle in for a little something I like to call…FORESHADOWING! Savaii has themselves a little post-challenge pow-wow. “You’re solid, right, Cochran?,” asks Keith. “You’re not gonna swap? You’re not gonna flip?” To this, John takes offense. “Should I flip? Are you telling me I should flip?” Meanwhile, Jim keeps checking to make sure everyone is okay going to rocks. They all assure him they are. The next step is to decide what to do with the idol. Jim says Upolu would never think Whitney has it so that decide to give it to her to play. And Jim’s right. They never would think Whitney has it…unless someone tells them! After informing us that he’s scared of an even 1 out of 30 chance of going home on rocks, John goes and spills the beans to Sophie on the entire Savaii plan: That they plan to vote for Rick and are giving Whitney the idol. In exchange for said info, all he asks for in return from Coach are priority sleeping arrangements.

Meanwhile, Dawn — who had considered flipping with John — has now decided to stay loyal to those that have stayed loyal to her. She tries to convince John not to switch sides, but at the same time takes the odd tact of not informing the rest of Savaii about John’s deception. I don’t like Dawn’s middle ground here. It’s bad for her tribe and bad for her individual game. If John is flipping, then she should immediately tell the others so they can at the very least switch the idol over to someone else. It could have made all the difference and kept her in the numbers advantage. But she didn’t. And it didn’t.

Off to Tribal Council we go, where most of the talk centers on whether it makes any sense for someone to switch sides (Jim says no, especially because Savaii has an immunity numbers advantage) and Ozzy’s all-out attempt to win a Razzie Award. “I was actually offended at Redemption Island that 6 of them thought we would believe that and I found the charade to be over the top and somewhat pathetic,” says the apparently easily offended Sophie. Ozzy comes clean about the ruse and it is time to vote. This is about as good as it gets right here. Six on six. Anything can happen, with one very scared boy in the middle of it all. Sure enough, Ozzy stands up and uses his idol for Whitney, just as John told Upolu he would. And sure enough the vote is tied with 6 votes each for Keith and Rick (who once again manages to not even say a word the entire episode). And sure enough, on the revote, John gets cold feet and switches his vote to Keith.

NEXT: Brandon reenacts the entire plot of My Bodyguard

“I swapped. I’ll explain it,” John immediately says as a preemptive strike to Ozzy and Jim. “Coward,” Jim responds not once, but twice. “Don’t talk to him like that,” answers Brandon, a man who knows all about giving everyone a fair shake no matter what style skimpy underwear they may be wearing. “And that’s what you get for talking to him like that in the first place.” No, that’s what they get for keeping a neurotic nervous Nellie around and asking him to show some courage at the most crucial point in the game. (You know who wouldn’t have switched? Elyse. Just sayin’…) Brandon’s final words to John? “Stay close to me,” which is something I’m pretty sure he has also whispered to Mikayla in his fantasties about a million times.

So let’s sum up where we are now: Coach brilliantly played John into flipping and now Upolu not only has a numbers advantage, but they still have an idol as well. Ozzy’s big gamble to Redemption Island and back was completely for naught and his idol is now gone. John has gone from a situation in which he, Dawn, and Jim could have conceivably been the last three standing (assuming Jim would have rather gone to the finals with them instead of Ozzy, Keith, and Whitney) to now being in the seventh slot as the newcomer/outsider in a new alliance. But here’s what’s so great about this show. That could all change again by next week in what is turning out to be a rock solid season of Survivor (which is what we all needed after last year’s double-shot of Nicaraguan mediocrity).

You know what else is rock solid? My weekly Q&A with Jeff Probst. This week, Jeff has very different ideas on John’s big flip-flop. Also make sue to click on the video player below for an exclusive deleted scene from last night episode as well as my pre-game interview with the recently ousted Christine. And for more Survivor news and views, follow me on Twitter @EWDaltonRoss. Now it’s your turn. What do you think of John switching sides to avoid the colored rock? Where does Ozzy’s acting skill rank on a scale of -100 to 0? And does Savaii stand any chance of breaking up the rock solid — no pun intended — Upolu alliance? Hit the message boards and let us know and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy!


Episode Recaps

SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Strangers starve themselves on an island for our amusement in the hopes of winning a million dollars, as host Jeff Probst implores them to "DIG DEEP!"

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