It has not been a stellar season so far, but Survivor: Tocantins kicked into a higher gear with last night’s episode, which seemed to be building to a tremendously satisfying vote-off right up until the moment it didn’t. The preferred target of 99% of the viewing audience was Benjamin Wade, a tattooed, ponytailed egomaniac who insists his tribemates address him as Coach (although Maestro is also acceptable). Over the years, Survivor has seen its share of deluded narcissists, self-aggrandizing blowhards and camera-preening showoffs, and Coach has been all of these things over the course of the season so far, but the extent of his very active fantasy life became clear right from the beginning of this week’s episode, appropriately titled “The Biggest Fraud in the Game.” As the merged Forza tribe huddles around the campfire, Coach regales them with a tale of his canoe trip on the Amazon – a story he insists he’s only ever told three other people, but is all too willing to relate on national television – during the course of which he is captured and beaten by a tribe of four-feet tall natives before making his heroic escape. His tribemates are justifiably skeptical of this tale, and they haven’t even heard the punchline Coach reveals at Tribal Council to an incredulous Jeff Probst – that the natives tried to eat his asshole. Truly this is a man who believes he shits little vanilla ice cream cones.
Throughout the episode, Coach describes the tribe dynamics in a way that makes me think he’s spent many more hours playing Dungeons and Dragons than engaging in the outdoorsy derring-do he so desperately wants everyone to believe in. He repeatedly describes himself as the Dragon Slayer and his target Brendan as the dragon he must defeat (along with Brendan’s tagalong Sierra, who he charitably describes as the dragon’s bowel movement). Those he has teamed up with are warriors, except for Stephen, the neurotic New Yorker who wears glasses – obviously he’s a wizard. His every pose and statement to the cameras is contrived, but the Survivor editors are way ahead of him and continually undermine his attempts to look like a badass. When he walks to the voting station with his jacket slung over his shoulder like Fabio on the runway, we cut to a smirking Probst, and when he performs his meditative martial arts moves you shouldn’t even bother to Google (they’re so secretive, they’re only passed down orally), lightning effects and Carmina Burana accompany his contortions.
The editors also deserve kudos for pulling off a tremendous fake-out last night; I thought I was wise to all their tricks, and it sure looked like they were stoking the Coach hatred to nuclear levels in order to make his demise all the more satisfying. It didn’t happen, though – Coach lives, so instead of instant gratification, we’re left with an element of suspense. This jackass can’t possibly win…can he?