Over the coming months, Inside Survivor is undertaking its biggest list ranking yet, as we count down the 100 best episodes of Survivor ever. As always with these kinds of lists, it’s entirely subjective, and we’re sure many fans will have different opinions. This is simply Inside Survivor’s ranking. Join us each weekday for a new entry.
Episode: “The Biggest Fraud in the Game” (Episode 9)
Original Air Date: April 16, 2009
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Has anybody who is reading this list ever tossed balls underhanded to break ceramic tiles? Being taught an ancient Tibetan Tai-Chi that is unsearchable via Google? Or had their ass almost eaten by ferocious, spear-wielding Amazonian natives? No? Don’t worry; Coach Benjamin Wade has done all of those things and lived to tell the tale.
In the previous episode of Survivor: Tocantins, aptly titled “The Dragon Slayer,” Coach first brands himself with the Dragon Slayer nickname. He presents himself as this sort of Arthurian legend whose quest it is to take down the big, bad Brendan Synnott, the so-called “dragon” in question. But it’s the following episode, and the one we’re talking about today, where the legend of Coach is truly born, and boy, is it a doozy.
Up until this point, Coach had just been this cocky guy bloviating about a rhetorical desire to change the game of Survivor, to which both tribemates and viewers alike rolled their eyes. However, in this episode, Coach turns from just another annoying Survivor schmuck to a player with his own personal mythology, complete with warriors, wizards, and sacred oaths bound by honor. The show stops taking Coach seriously and embraces his wonderful, larger than life quirkiness, carving out a truly unique place in the show’s history.
The around-the-campfire fable that opens this episode is Coach in his purest and Coachiest (if that’s a word) form. He dramatically recalls the time he was dropped off in the middle of the Amazon rainforest by military helicopter, kayaked down the Amazon river, and was then captured by a tribe of four-foot-tall indigenous people armed with bow and arrows. According to Coach, these tribespeople then took him away and tied him to a stake while beating him with clubs.
While the story itself is captivating, it’s the reactions of Coach’s tribemates that make this such a great moment. The tribe listens on in stunned silence as Coach paints himself as the Burt Reynolds of Survivor, until finally, after moments of silence, Brendan has one pressing question that needs answering. “How much does it cost to get a military copter to fly you in?” That would be “free,” according to Coach. “I believe Coach once went kayaking,” comments Stephen Fishbach in confessional, “that part is definitely true for sure.”
Later, at Tribal Council, Coach explains to Jeff Probst that the story he told his tribemates was the toned-down PG-13 version. He didn’t even get to the part where his captors said they wanted to eat his ass. Apparently, this was just one of the “5, 6, 7, or 8 near-death experiences” Coach has encountered in his life. Perhaps the best of these experiences, which, unfortunately, Coach doesn’t elaborate on, is “a run-in with a crocodile,” the phrasing of which makes it sound like he merely had a minor disagreement with the large aquatic reptile.
There’s a lot of ridiculousness like that in this episode, like the moment at the Reward challenge when Brendan comments that none of them have experience throwing balls at tiles. “I have,” says Coach, raising his hand. But this episode also sees Coach at the height of his power in the game. For all of his delusions, the Dragon Slayer is finally able to take down his dragon, aka, Brendan. It doesn’t matter that the vote really comes down to what side James “JT” Thomas and Stephen decide because, ultimately, Coach gets his way.
The move is especially fortuitous for JT, who spent the reward excursion bro-ing down on a white water rafting expedition with Brendan. During this trip, Brendan becomes so enamored with JT that he’s willing to give up his own game to give the young cattle rancher a better shot at winning. Now JT has his biggest cheerleader on the jury. JT’s social game really begins to shine in this episode, as we see him forming connections with multiple tribemates and all of them speaking about him as if he’s the second coming of Jesus Christ.
But this isn’t about Brendan or JT or Jesus. This episode is about Coach! The Dragon Slayer ultimately proves victorious and delivers the death blow he had been dreaming about all season. While no ballads or hymnals were written about this moment, it does stand out as Coach’s first (and only) real moment of mightiness in Survivor: Tocantins, and for that, it will always be remembered.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which episode placed at number 49. You can check out the previous entries here.