Survivor: South Pacific Recap: Did Cochran Make the Right Move?

“It’s a little bit surreal, but also a little bit exciting, that I am the person right now who gets to decide how Survivor: South Pacific takes shape, and possibly ends.”

Call that statement the rantings of a guy on an ego trip, if you must, but it doesn’t mean Cochran wasn’t spot-on about his position in the newly merged Te Tuna tribe during this week’s episode. And yet now that the smoke from this week’s extinguished torch has settled, the question remains: Did Savaii’s scrawny duckling make the right decision?

Here’s how it all played out:

As Savaii returned from Ozzy’s self-imposed ouster at last week’s Tribal Council, Keith made the strategic error of mouthing off (with no discernible purpose), sneering at Cochran that “I don’t let people fight my battles for me.” (Sorry, dude, but when someone offers to put their own chance at a $1 million prize on the line and guarantee your 1-in-12 chance of remaining in the game, you don’t start waving your “honor and duty” flag — unless you’ve sewn it to your “I hate money!” flag.)

The next morning, at Redemption Island, Ozzy tried to pretend he’d been blindsided by Cochran’s immunity idol, but Albert — proving he has brains to match his beauty — wasn’t buying it, and neither were any of his Upolu tribemates. In fact, Sophie got the night’s best zinger at Tribal Council with her review of Ozzy’s one-man show: “I was actually offended at Redemption Island,” she declared. “I found the charade to be over-the-top and somewhat pathetic.”

Ozzy fared better in the duel itself, however, annihilating Christine in a game of “tie twigs together and use them to retrieve keys” that found our ever-focused host Jeff Probst shouting a lot of unintentionally funny play-by-plays about contestants’ poles being “long enough and strong enough.” And then the tribes were merged, and the dance to break the “six Upolu, six Savaii” deadlock began.

The merged tribe dubbed themselves Te Tuna, but Keith’s tale of the new moniker was clearly so dull that even the Survivor editing team lost interest midway through it.

The episode’s biggest move, to my eye, was Coach immediately scoffing at Cochran’s cover that he was a “spy” for Savaii, and instead yanking the scabs off the wounds Cochran had amassed at prior Tribal Councils due to his tribemates’ general lack of respect for him. Coach took the position of kindly/protective linebacker to Cochran’s bullied math geek. His basic message: Join forces with Upolu and show those Savaii foolios that you’re a power player, that they never should’ve treated you like an outsider, and we’ll have your back. Coach has been incredibly annoying all season, but you can’t fault the way he masterfully appealed to Cochran’s wounded ego to sway the course of the game. And it worked! Funniest moment of Cochran’s flip? When he began to tell Sophie, Albert, and Coach that he was going to “spill the beans” about Ozzy’s Redemption Island playacting. “The beans were pretty loose,” laughed Sophie, much to everyone’s delight.

In a sidebar that may or may not prove relevant in future weeks, Cochran shared his plan to go all #TeamUpolu with his closest buddy Dawn, who then spent the rest of the episode riding the kind of emotional rollercoaster that comes from being stranded on an island for three weeks with minimal food and no contact with the outside world. Dawn went through at least three stages of castaway grief, regretting her failure to stick up for Cochran, getting excited about his plan to vote Upolu and teach Savaii a lesson, reversing course and deciding her Savaii allies weren’t so bad, trying to convince Cochran not to flip, and then stressing about the emotional fallout and her own decision not to warn Savaii of the impeding blindside.

Cochran had a good point, though. Why allow a six-six vote to send the game into a chance elimination of drawing rocks when he could take control of his own destiny. When Dawn won the ladies’ immunity necklace — Ozzy snagged the one for men — Cochran’s decision became that much easier: Someone from Savaii was going down. And why not Keith, who couldn’t even muster a laugh at Cochran’s fireside joke about having entered the game wanting to be the tribe sweetheart?

The initial vote went six for Keith, six for Rick, but the recount of the second vote was a thriller: Keith, Keith, Keith, Keith, Keith, Keith; Rick, Rick, Rick, Rick, Rick; ¡Keith! And just like that, Jim started hissing the word “coward” at Cochran. And Brandon managed to utter his first sentence of the season that didn’t make me want to put him in a bag and throw him against a wall: “Don’t talk to him like that,” he puffed. “That’s what you get for talking to people like that in the first place.”

I have to say, if I were in Cochran’s shoes, I probably would’ve flipped, too. I’m just surprised he didn’t work a little harder to court Coach, Sophie, and Albert to give him a better position in Upolu as a result of his allegiance. Why not make them guarantee him a final-four slot, instead of just going for “please protect me in my sleep against the angry Savaii mob”? Then again, as Sophie noted, that was a “legitimate thing for a dodgeball target to be afraid of.”

What do you think? Did Cochran make a smart strategic move, or did he just make a $1 million mistake? Take our poll below, then hit the comments to expand on your thoughts. And for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!