Survivor: Caramoan - Reunion
By Ben Willoughby
May 15, 2013

One of these players is good at Survivor. Hint: Not the one on the right.

Previously on Survivor, Cochran won. That - and who Boston Rob is - is about all you need to know. You certainly don’t need to know the names of anyone who didn’t make the jury.

Before I get into recapping the reunion, I should assess the season. Obviously this wasn’t a great season of Survivor. Many of the “favorites” were cast because they were bad at Survivor. That should have made things even with the fans, who in the last fans vs. favorites season were just fresh meat.

However, many of the “fans” were cast despite not really knowing that much about the game. I’m not singling out Reynold as being particularly egregious (for once), but in post-game interview he said he was approached in the street and asked if he would like to be on the show. That's not a “fan” who has studied the game. The “favorites” had more authentic fans of the game – like Malcolm and Cochran – than the “fans”.

There’s broad agreement that casting was a problem this season, highlighted by annoying returnees like Brandon and Phillip who wanted to further their careers outside of the show than actually try to win the game. But I’m also persuaded by a theory from Jim, who has also recapped the show for Box Office Prophets and believes that Shamar was the reason the season sucked so heavily.

Imagine if there was no Shamar, and they cast someone useful instead. The “fans” wouldn’t have had this divisive person who made them more miserable and kept them from coming together in challenges. They would have been able to build themselves up as a team and been more competitive against the “favorites”. The “favorites” would have been had to vote out some of their own, and they wouldn’t have dominated at the tribe switch or the merge. It would have made for a much more interesting and more watchable season.

Instead, we had dominant “favorites”, which made this a predictable season. Even without the unwatchable antics, it was certainly the slowest start to a Survivor season ever. Sure Probst said that the Brandon tantrum in Episode 5 was where everything turned around, but Probst lies! It was not until Episode 8 (out of 13) when Corinne was voted off that the game became watchable.

And while those episodes were strong, they were also predictable. Here’s the formula: the underdog alliance would approach who they thought was on the bottom of the majority alliance, the majority alliance held firm and voted out another of the minority. There was never that “anything could happen” Tribal Council craziness with multiple people changing their alliances at each vote. It was more like a poker game where both sides went all in and then revealed their cards.

The finish of the season felt just as predictable. Soon, the only players left were people who had had largely negative edits like Dawn, Eddie and Sherri, people who had no edit like Brenda and Erik, and Cochran on his own talking about strategy and how much he enjoys being on Survivor. Watching the show, it seemed hard to believe anyone but Cochran could win, especially with the momentum he achieved in the final days.

It was certainly Cochran’s season, though. Everything fell together for him, not just the editing. He had the luck of being on the dominant tribe, which was also filled with not-good, impatient players. He had the good sense to get onboard the majority alliance at the beginning, and to be part of the decision-making core of that group. The tribe flip didn’t leave him stranded. His alliance with Dawn really worked for him, as he and his alliance could identify threats as they arose. His past mistakes, like ditching his alliance because he didn’t want to go to rocks, never haunted him. The others on his tribe saw him as strategic, not untrustworthy.

He won immunity challenges, and he happened to win advantages to those immunity challenges and the right immunity challenges to get him further in the game. He was never directly targeted by anyone because there was always someone else to get rid of first, like Phillip or Andrea. But he was still seen as a strategic player to be gotten rid of the vote after next instead of a coat-tail-riding weakling. This in turn allowed him to go to the end with weaker players. He put on a great final Tribal Council performance and his narrative of being an anxious nerd who rose to the occasion thanks to the confidence-building powers of playing Survivor. Dawn performed creditably in owning her misdeeds, but I think ultimately lost any votes she had by apologizing to Brenda. Sherri was only talked down to by the jury, but she also had a terrible final Tribal Council performance, talking about how successful she was in real life.

Overall Cochran played a good, solid and thoughtful game. He has obviously put a lot of thought into both the strategy of the game and the social side, as well as what to say to the camera. He didn’t really make any mistakes, and waited for others to make theirs first. But he was always comfortable. At no point in the game did he have to scramble for his life in the game. He was never even directly put under pressure. Compare against his first season, where he was playing with people who didn’t like him. Cochran talked a lot about learning from past mistakes, and I’m happy for him that he has grown in confidence and ability since his first season. But we never saw whether he has truly learned.

I expect given Cochran’s Survivor fandom, the show will try and place Cochran among the pantheon of great Survivor players, like Boston Rob, Richard Hatch, Parvati Shallow and Sandra Diaz-Twine. I think a more realistic placement would be around the level of Todd from the China season, Earl from Fiji and J.T. from Tocantins, who were also good players who told a good story, but were also very lucky in their seasons. Certainly he’s above the terrible, forgettable winners like Bob from Gabon, Natalie from Samoa (who was still more deserving than Russell Hantz), Aras Baskaukas from Exile Island and Fabio from Nicaragua.

Anyway, enough about Cochran. It’s on to recapping the reunion, where we traditionally spend as little time talking to the winner as possible.

“His name is Cochran,” begins the Probst commentary over a montage of Cochran’s graduation from fish out of water to challenge dominator. Never leaving Twitter, sunburn, “I’m not the little Harvard nerd cowering in the bushes." The montage documents Cochran’s arrival at true Probst-approved manliness with a shot of the peanut-butter fingering from Sherri.

Back in the studio, Probst says that Cochran “earned the last name, and dominated." Cochran says this feels incredible. Probst can’t help comparing things to Cochran’s first season where he was “so uncomfortable” and now he has a completely different style! He’s wearing a waistcoat, not a sweater-vest! “My mother helped me,” deadpans Cochran in a pre-prepared joke.

Cochran says that the big difference between then and now is that instead of fighting against the perception of him as a nerd, he has embraced it. This season, because he was playing with people who accepted him for who he was, his nerdiness wasn’t a “source of embarrassment or anxiety” and he was able to focus on playing the game. He compares it to last season, where the focus was entirely on his inadequacies, and it affected his game.

What about other nerds who are dealing with self-esteem issues? Probst blurts out Cochran’s answer before Cochran can say it. “Anybody can amaze you if they believe. Do you get kids coming up to you and relating to you?” Probst asks. “It helps that I resemble an 11-year-old”.

Probst still can’t believe it, because he asks the same question again. “How different you are today. What changed?” Cochran again says that he has accepted his eccentricities as part of who he is, and he’s proud of it.” “No really,” says Probst. “Were you struck by lightning or bitten by a radioactive spider?”

Anyway, Probst asks if Cochran has any tips for future Survivor players. The Cochran advice is to “go to bed every night thinking about the best move for each of your opponents,” and how to counter that move. “You have to be calm without being complacent, and vigilant without being paranoid.”

Also, Cochran graduated. “Are you going law?” asks Probst. Cochran doesn’t want to be a lawyer, though, and he has decided he would like to write. At least that million dollar cheque gives him the funding to make that possible.

Actually, it turns out Cochran is taking over the Big Brother recaps on, so when he says “writer” he really means “snarky guy with a blog on the internet.” He literally has as much claim to the title of “writer” as I do.

Now it’s time for some ill-advised questions thanks to Twitter. @4greyz wants to know what it’s like being a sex symbol. Cochran says you should follow him on Twitter @johnmcochran, and if she tweets him he will show her. Can you believe he is single?

Before I go any further, I should point out that only the final three and the jury members are up there on stage. The other contestants for the season are all sitting down there in the front row of the audience. On the one hand, I don’t mind because they weren’t going to get spoken too much anyway, and in all likelihood weren’t going to say anything interesting.

But on the other hand, it is a huge slap in the face because everyone from every other season, including people who quit the game, have all been up on stage for the reunion show. The whole thing is just engineered so that Probst didn’t have to explain why Brandon Hantz wasn’t there, as though “we didn’t invite the guy who dumped everyone’s food in a game where we near-starve the players” isn’t obviously justified. It would have been nice to have everyone (but Brandon) up on stage and Probst say “Hey, sorry guys, we goofed bringing that guy back. But you won’t be seeing Hantzes again." It’s far less humiliating than being forced to take out your retainer.

Time to talk with Dawn. Zero votes and a lot of crying. Here’s a long montage of Dawn crying! “Explain it to me,” says Probst, “because no one else was crying.” Well, not all the time. Dawn explains that it is unique in the game to her. She says had to go against her character by voting out people she was very close to, and it was very stressful and wearing. She especially talks about when she voted out Corinne [close up on Corinne – the only close-up of the bottom nine of the night. Sorry guys, but one of you should have written an e-book] and from there she lost stability. I think this is probably true, but I also think it’s why Dawn chose the wrong strategy to win Survivor.

Probst asks about all of the social media outrage after Dawn voted for Brenda. Dawn agrees that it was “devastating.” Probst talks about how television has changed since Survivor began, because now you can write to people you see on TV and even get an instant reply back. And because Survivor contestants are mostly such fame-whores, they all have Twitter accounts. Dawn says “I knew who I was,” but she got “thousands of messages.” She has shut down her Twitter and Facebook accounts because she “didn’t want to deal with all that negativity.” Can’t say I blame her, really.

Probst says that all this stems from the Brenda vote, and how Brenda found Dawn’s missing teeth... and Dawn turned around and bit her in the butt with them." Now we have Brenda, who is appearing via satellite. How does she feel about Dawn’s decision? “It was very real. I did not think I would play so hard with my heart... circumstances made me feel so close to Dawn, unbelievably close, I really thought it was mutual. That feeling of being betrayed by her really really hurt.”

What do you want to say to Brenda, Dawn? Dawn “legitimately hates that it caused, I mean had I known that, it was a deep hurt. I regret it.” Probst interjects that most people felt what happened between Dawn and Brenda went outside the game and was “woman to woman, I got your back." Dawn says she owns the decision, but also wants to apologize. “I do hate that I hurt you, I do appreciate that you helped me save my game.”

“Is there going to be a friendship with Dawn? Time has gone by for Brenda, she says unconvincingly, though having it shown on TV again has brought these issues up again. “But I’m still feeling it... I feel like I lost a friend and then gained one,” but ultimately she accepts the apology. Anyway, Brenda also had big news. She is via satellite because she is having a baby any day now.

After a commercial break, we get to hear from Phillip. Probst says he’s a polarizing figure, but according to Phillip “Everyone is digging the way I played this season.” Malcolm cracks up at this blatant lie. But apparently, people even run into Phillip on the street and invite him to watch Survivor in their house? This is so unconvincing that there’s photographic evidence, and there doesn’t seem to be use of Photoshop or a hostage situation, so I guess it’s true. Though they are in Hollywood, where paid actors are cheap. I’m not sure what’s more surprising – that people actually invite Phillip into their home, or that Phillip has nothing better to do. Oh wait, I know which is more surprising.

And Stealth R Us has been expanding. There are now over 2000 members, each with a name given to them by Phillip. He even inducts Probst into Stealth R Us. His name is Piercing Eagle. “Soaring from above, arising above the fray, and coming in with a question that is piercing and on point."

We’re not quite done with Phillip, because we are treated to a montage of Phillip sucking up to his “mentor” Boston Rob and going through the BR Rules. And Boston Rob is in the audience! What does he think of this “nice gesture?"

“I’ll just start by saying Phillip is one of the most entertaining characters this show has ever seen,” says Boston Rob, who is still playing along with Phillip even though his season is over and he won. Of course he is. Phillip mentions Boston Rob more than Probst does. He says to Phillip, “I personally was flattered beyond belief that you chose to emulate your game on mine, Of course, if we’re being honest, you had a little bit of trouble with the execution, but when all is said and done I’m proud of you.”

But that’s still not all! The master has learned from the student! Boston Rob has followed Phillip the Specialist into the glamorous world of self-publishing! He has a new e-book, the Boston Rob Rulebook, which lists “the strategies with which I live my life” and Phillip should use it if CBS calls again. He gives the first copy of the book to Phillip.

By the way, if you’re wondering about Phillip’s own book The Costa Rica Job and whether it’s for you, here’s a paragraph that should tell you all you need to know:

“We grabbed each other, to prevent either one of us from reaching the gun. He also tried wrenching the HK36 from my back. In response, I made every effort to rip his throat out. He screamed and tried to thumb-gouge my eye, but it ended up in my mouth and I bit down on it mercilessly… and began punching his groin viciously as well – it was that kind of death fight.” Cochran, future writer, is scribbling down notes.

Now it’s time to hear from Malcolm with his Garnier-Fructis hair on full display. When asked about doing back-to-back seasons, he basically says it was a big mistake because he was beat after the first season, and still has not recovered muscle mass from the 80 out of 100 days of near-starvation. The experience has taught him humility, though, as he thought he would win “in a cake walk.”

The question Probst wants to ask is when he was looking for the idol he bought the clue for, why didn’t he just dig? He explains that he had already spent a lot of time looking when Andrea showed up, and he didn’t spend it all “farting around or hitting on Andrea."

Probst can’t get over how everyone, himself included, is swooning over Malcolm. He even plays a clip of Malcolm’s guest appearance on The Bold and the Beautiful to demonstrate Malcolm’s appeal to old ladies and shut-ins. It is revealed that Malcolm is actually a terrible actor, even by Bold and Beautiful standards. In his defence, the writing is absolutely appalling, even by Phillip Shepherd standards. In all seriousness, Cochran could punch it up. But still, who would have thought such a self-described accomplished liar would be so awful?

Young people like Malcolm too! Probst goes into the audience to find an 11-year-old girl who must have been great in rehearsal, but is suffering stage fright now. When Probst asks her if she would like to go on Survivor one day, she says she would need time to think about it.

Probst claims that this young lady reminds him of Andrea. Smooth! Andrea was 21 in her first season. “Season 22, Redemption Island.” Ha! When Probst asks about how she gets in trouble with the boys, she says “You’ve got to stop putting me on the island with these handsome men, it’s distracting." She still has her idol, and wears it sometimes. She would like to sell it, but her mother would be devastated.

I suppose we have to hear from at least one “fan” at the reunion, and inevitably it’s Reynold. Probst, compulsive liar, says “you were savvy about the game very quickly” but what’s it like playing with returnees? Reynold talks about how returning players can deal better with the game, like keeping their emotions in check. “It’s hard to get over betrayal,” says Reynold, even though he was never really betrayed – at least not by someone he had a personal attachment to. If Eddie had ever voted for Reynold, that would have been a betrayal. Really, Reynold was outwitted. But betrayed sounds better to him. “Everyone says 'it’s just a game and don’t take it personally,' but it’s easier said than done."

It’s time now to see what players from Survivor’s first season have to say. We get a montage of best moments from the season which unaccountably includes plenty of Gervase footage (hint, hint for next season). Then Probst checks in with Rudy Boesch, the Navy SEAL who graduated from the Clint Eastwood “I’m prejudiced against everyone” school of diplomacy. Rudy’s looking great for 85, though.

Anyway, Rudy claims that the hardship on Survivor was nothing, the hard part was the people. He talks about how he developed a strong relationship with “his queer buddy” Richard Hatch, but “not in a homosexual way." People even made T-shirts about it! And we get a gross clip of Richard Hatch with about the amount of nudity you’d expect. “I couldn’t even call him a ‘queer,’” says Rudy, and we’re all supposed to laugh because he was one of the first Navy SEALs. Rudy’s like our racist grandma.

Time to announce the Product-Placed player of the season. Who will it be? “Eddie!” says some dimwit in the audience. Probst can’t believe it, until he realizes it’s Eddie’s brother. But 71% of the vote went to two people – Malcolm, obviously, and Brenda, who must have gotten a ton of votes between Wednesday and now. But not enough, because Malcolm wins with 36% of the vote against Brenda’s 35%. That will keep Malcolm in hairbands until his next season.

We get a reveal of the next season’s theme, which is Blood vs. Water. Probst doesn’t want to talk about the location because it’s back in the Philippines again! Which means the one after that is, too. Boring. About as boring as listening to Probst read out tweeted guesses. And if you really want to be spoiled, the cast list is out there and it makes this season look like a casting job well done!

Enough about what we’ve seen in the reunion episode. Here’s a short sample of what we didn’t see. Anything from Sherri, the “fan” who made it furthest in the game and all the way to the end, and whether other players now think she played an okay game. Anything from Erik about the reasons for his quick departure from the game and how that felt to be so close but so far and whether he’s doing okay now and whether he feels he redeemed himself this season. Anything from Shamar including whether he’s doing okay, whether he feels he played a negative role in his tribe and if he is really like that in real life?

Paragraph break, because I’m not done. Anything from Eddie, such as whether he is really like that in real life and if his dog-bar dreams are any closer to reality. Anything from Corinne, such as how it felt for her to be voted out by Dawn. Anything from Malcolm other than his short-lived soap opera career, such as and whether he could have played those three idols any differently. Anything from Reynold, such as whether he could have gone further if he had played the first few days differently, and where his extreme optimism came from.

Paragraph break because I’m still not done. Anything from Brenda about whether she regrets what she did to Dawn at the final Tribal Council. Anything from Michael, because even if he didn’t have much impact on the game, he still seemed like a smart guy with some good observations. Anything from Francesca, such as how it feels to be the only person voted out first twice. Anything from anyone else who didn’t say anything, even if it’s a five-second check-in to see how they are doing.

And you’ll note that still doesn’t mention anything about Brandon Hantz. Utterly, ridiculously farcical. It’s as though they’ve already written the season off as a bad one and just don’t want to talk about it. Piercing Eagle, my ass.

Probst closes things out. Probst hands the now-standard small, non-novelty million dollar cheque over to Cochran. “You can bid on props for the show, and proceeds go to Survivor Stand Up To Cancer." “Please audition for our show, so we can throw out the tapes and cast people we meet in bars." “Thanks for watching our show, making it the lowest-rated finale in Survivor ever!”

That’s it for another season. See you in the same place next season – just like Survivor!