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.
Season: South Pacific
Episode: “Double Agent” (Episode 8)
Originally Aired: November 2, 2011
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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 a flipper throughout Survivor history, with the actions of said flippers often having huge ramifications 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. Flipping is one of the most important decisions a player can face: to stick with familiar allies or take a chance at bettering your odds by jumping in with strangers. And this episode highlights the importance of a flip with this in-depth look, creating a fascinating hour of television in an otherwise mediocre season.
To better understand Cochran’s position in this episode, let’s back up a round. Returning tribe leader Ozzy Lusth had requested to be sent to Redemption Island at the previous Tribal Council to keep his tribe’s numbers even heading into the merge. The plan was for challenge beast Ozzy to win his way back into the game while acting pissed off towards Cochran. This move basically saved Cochran’s ass, as the Savaii 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 Upolu tribe immediately sees through the ruse, 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 enter the merge at six people each. The Savaii tribe, led by Ozzy, and the Upolu tribe, led by Coach Benjamin Wade. On Savaii, his original tribe, Cochran has a group who, at best, has been tepidly accepting of him and, at worst, has 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 titular “double agent,” 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 to whom Cochran can relate. Cochran comes away impressed with Coach and spends the rest of the episode seriously contemplating 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 of a rock draw, the method by which all deadlocked ties are resolved before Final 4. 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 asked what he’s thinking by Dawn Meehan, perhaps Cochran’s closest friend from the Savaii tribe, he tells her he’s considering flipping. Despite Dawn earlier contemplating the same, she decides that staying loyal is the best option and warns Cocrahn not to flip.
At Tribal Council, the Upolu tribe reveals that they saw through Savaii’s Redemption charade. Ozzy doesn’t fully buy it and tells them to call their bluff. And to seal the deal, Ozzy plays his idol on Whitney Duncan, suspecting her to be the target of Upolu. But Whitney doesn’t receive a single vote. Instead, the votes are tied six apiece against Keith Tollefson and Rick Nelson, forcing a revote. When it comes time to choose, Cochran ultimately defects, sealing his original tribe’s fate and copping to the flip immediately afterward to his disgruntled former allies.
Check back on Monday when we reveal which episode placed at number 67. You can check out the previous entries here.