by Martin Holmes and Ian Walker
Has anybody who’s reading this list ever tossed balls underhanded to break tiles? Had an ancient Tibetan tai chi that unsearchable through Google taught to them? Had their ass almost eaten by ferocious, spear-wielding Amazonian natives?
While the previous episode, aptly titled “The Dragon Slayer”, is where Coach Ben Wade brands himself with the nickname mentioned above, it’s this episode where his legend is truly born. Up until this point, Coach had just been this arrogant, jerky guy bloviating about a rhetorical desire to change the game of Survivor, to which both tribemates and viewers alike would roll their eyes.
With this episode and all of the ridiculous things that he does in it, Coach turns from just another annoying Survivor schmuck to a player with his own personal mythology, complete with warriors and wizards and sacred oaths bound by honor. The show stopped taking Coach seriously and learned to embrace the wonderful, larger than life quirkiness he brought to Survivor, carving out a truly unique place in the show’s history.
The around-the-campfire fable that opens this episode is Coach at his deluded best before he became a caricature in his later appearances.
He proudly recalls the time he was dropped off in the middle of the Amazon rainforest by military helicopter, kayaked down the river, and was captured by a tribe of 4-foot tall indigenous people with bow and arrows, who tied him to a stake and beat him with clubs. His fellow tribemates listen on in stunned silence while Coach continues to paint himself as the Burt Reynold’s of Survivor, until finally, after moments of silence, Brendan Synnott has one question that needs answering: “How much does it cost to get a military copter to fly you in?” The fact that the very first part of Coach’s fantastical story is questioned is perfect.
What makes this story even funnier, is later at tribal council Coach explains to Jeff Probst that the version he told his tribemates was the toned down PG-13 version. He intentionally left out the part where his 4-foot tall captors said that they wanted to eat his a******. It was just one of the “5, 6, 7 or 8 near-death experiences” Coach has encountered in his life, and he has the scars the prove it. Perhaps the best of these near-death 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 disagreement with the large aquatic reptile about cutting in line.
Despite his ridiculousness, this episode is the height of Coach’s (perceived) power in the game, with his Dragon Slayer finally taking down the Dragon, aka Brendan. It doesn’t matter that this vote really comes down to what side J.T. Thomas and Stephen Fishbach choose, effectively setting up their run to the endgame.
The move is especially fortuitous for J.T., who spent the previous reward excursion bro-ing down on a white water rafting expedition with Brendan, who became so enamored with J.T. that he was willing to give up his own game to give J.T. a better shot at winning. J.T’s social game truly begins to shine in this episode, as we see him forming connections with multiple tribemates, and all of them speak about him as if he is the second coming of Jesus Christ.
But this isn’t about Brendan or J.T. or Stephen. This episode is about Coach! The Dragon Slayer ultimately proves victorious and delivers the death blow he had been dreaming about. While no ballads or hymnals were written about this moment, it does stand out as Coach’s first (and only) true moment of mightiness in Survivor: Tocantins and for that, it will always be remembered.