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.
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.