'Survivor' watch: Knox native Coach uses compassion as a weapon

The only two veteran 'Survivor' players on the 'Survivor: South Pacific' show - Knoxville native Ben 'Coach' Wade, left, and Ozzy Lusth - talk on the Nov. 9, 2011, episode of the show.

The only two veteran "Survivor" players on the "Survivor: South Pacific" show - Knoxville native Ben "Coach" Wade, left, and Ozzy Lusth - talk on the Nov. 9, 2011, episode of the show.

In the most intense episode yet of “Survivor: South Pacific” (8 p.m. Wednesdays, WVLT) the Savaii tribe successfully mounted a gutsy, high-stakes strategy to seize an advantage in an evenly matched game. But Knoxville native Ben “Coach” Wade, of the rival Upolu tribe, undercut his opponents’ accomplishments with a “weapon” that’s in short supple on the Savaii tribe: kindness.

Unofficial Savaii leader Ozzy Lusth had his team vote him out the previous week so he could go to Redemption Island, where eliminated players duel each other to get back in the game, and oust former Upolu member Christine Markowski to keep her from rejoining her old team. His plan worked, and he returned to the game just as the two teams merged, six from Savaii and six from Upolu. (Side note: At the merge feast, Coach was shown telling other players he is from Knoxville.)

But Ozzy went astray on another scheme: Fellow Savaii player John Cochran (whom all players call by his last name) was supposed to appear on the outs with all of the Savaii members and then infiltrate Upolu as a double agent.

Upolu didn’t bite, and when Cochran talked one-on-one with Coach, Coach bluntly told him: “I feel like you guys are trying to play us, OK? You guys came up with a story. You guys sent Ozzy to Redemption. ... It was a risk, but you knew that Ozzy would win Redemption.”

Then the conversation took a pivotal turn. Cochran, a prototypical smart nerd, has been subjected to ongoing derision by his tribemates. Coach recognized this and said: “I know what those kind of people think about people with intellect. I’ve been made fun of my whole life, too. ... I know what it feels like to be superior in one way to people, and they know it, so they find ways that you’re inferior to cut you down. ... But you have a chance to change the game for yourself.”

His words resonated with Cochran, who later said Coach “is an incredibly intelligent guy. ... I’ve watched him and I’ve always viewed him as this eccentric ‘Dragon Slayer’ who talks about wizards and, you know, King Arthur. But he’s a smart guy.”

Coach said he felt good about Cochran’s change of heart: “The nerd will finally rise up to the bully and give him a bully beatdown.”

Ultimately, during tribal council, all six Upolu members voted against Savaii’s Keith Tollefson and all six Savaii members (including Cochran) voted against Upolu’s Rick “Cowboy” Nelson. But the tribe members were given a chance to vote again to break the deadlock and avoid playing a game of chance to eliminate a random player. Cochran switched his vote to Keith, one of his chief Savaii tormenters, breaking the deadlock and sending Keith to Redemption Island.

Bitter Savaii player Jim Rice called Cochran “coward” after the vote, to which Upolu’s Brandon Hantz retorted, “Don’t talk to him like that. (Cochran’s switched vote is) what you get for talking to people like that in the first place.”

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