The 50 Best Survivor Episodes (No. 41)

“Double Agent”

South Pacific, Episode 8 (Air Date: November 2 2011)
by Martin Holmes and Ian Walker

It’s merge time in Survivor: South Pacific and John Cochran is in one of the great quandaries of the game.

To flip or not to flip.

There have been many flippers throughout Survivor history, and the actions of those flippers have often had huge effects on the game, but no one episode has focused quite so heavily on the minutiae of a flip as much as “Double Agent”. This episode commits itself to following the intricacies of what goes into a flip: the reasoning behind it, the risk and consequences attached, and the reactions of the other players. It almost acts as a Survivor Orientation video for potential flippers. It really is a fascinating 42 minutes of television in an otherwise mediocre season.

It’s one of the most important decisions a player can face: to stick with allies that are familiar or to take a chance at bettering their odds to win by aligning with unknown players. To better understand Cochran’s position, let’s back up a round. Returning tribe leader Ozzy Lusth had asked to be sent to Redemption Island at the previous tribal council to keep his tribe’s numbers even heading into the merge. This move saved Cochran’s ass, as his tribe was more than ready to send him packing after a disastrous challenge loss was laid at his feet.

After an easy win at Redemption Arena and a passionate(ly bad) acting job to throw the other tribe off the scent, Ozzy’s gambit pays off, and he is back in the game. Seriously, let’s not undersell Ozzy’s god awful acting performance. He might as well have been wearing a sandwich board with the words “I AM ACTING” plastered to the front of it. The opposing tribe immediately sees through it and later Sophie Clarke describes it as “insulting and pathetic.” I guess that is the level of performance you can expect when your main acting credits come from the Playboy Channel.

With Ozzy back in the game, both tribes come into the merge equal at six people each. The Savaii tribe, led by returning player Ozzy, and the Upolu tribe, led by returning player Coach Ben Wade. On Savaii, his original tribe, Cochran has a group who, at best, has been tepidly accepting of him and, at worst, had berated him after any dismal challenge performance, and now expects him to stick by their side. To make matters worse, Savaii decides that their best way to handle Cochran moving forward, after being openly derisive and scornful towards him, is to use him as the double agent as this episode’s title suggests, not realizing the danger they are creating for themselves.

The Upolu tribe quickly sees through Savaii’s plans and surmises that Cochran is on the outs, which prompts Coach to employ some of the best play in his Survivor career. He appeals to Cochran’s anxieties and insecurities by showing him that, behind the goofy Dragon Slayer mythology, is a vulnerable and sensitive guy who Cochran can relate too. Cochran comes away impressed with Coach and spends the rest of the episode seriously contemplating the choice of which side to choose: the one that he knows but hasn’t been the nicest to him or the one he doesn’t know but has been welcoming him with open arms.


Looming over his head throughout this entire decision is the potential rock draw, the method by which all deadlocked ties are resolved. The idea of having his fate in the hands of random chance has Cochran seriously spooked and, in his head, is a major deterrent in sticking with his old tribe.

When it comes time to make a choice, Cochran ultimately defects, sealing the fates of Savaii as the losers and Upolu as the winners. It’s a move so controversial that it’s still talked about to this day, serving as a benchmark for Survivor strategy and a discussion point for seasons to come.


Ian, from Chicago, Illinois, graduated with a Communications major and an English minor and is now navigating adult life the best he can. He has been a fan of Survivor since Pearl Islands aired when he was 11 years old, back when liking Rupert was actually cool.

  • Dutch

    Jim, Keith, and Whitney had it coming honestly. They were asses to Cochran and deserved it. Ozzy played great and it sucked on his part but still. It was deserved and gave this season a memorable moment despite it being bleh.

    • RD

      How does not being social to someone being anti-social make them an ass?

  • Tom

    This was one of my least favourite seasons along with RI but I don’t mind seeing it on the list. I agree with you Dutch. It’ll be great if there’s one episode from every single series of Survivor in the top 50! So far it’s been a good, interesting mix. I’m gonna try & watch all of these episodes leading up to season 32!

    • Max

      That sounds like a great idea, actually. Watching each of the top 50… Good thinking

  • Max

    I find it funny that Jim calls Cochran a coward after this move. Because in my mind, if Cochran had stuck with Savaii, he would be much more quiet and timid a player than what he does here. He stands up for himself and if he had gone along with the rock draw, he would have done whatever Ozzy and Jim wanted. His flip was actually incredibly courageous.

  • Donnie

    I hated most of the Savaii tribe and was overjoyed when Cochran flipped. Felt bad for Dawn, but the rest of them were rude, dissrespectful and basically aholes to Cochran. Screw them. You reap what you sow.

  • Ota

    I rewatched a scene where Coach was talking to Cochran and it’s one of the best social plays ever.