“Survivor: Tocantins”: Episode 13: The Martyr Approach

J.T. and Stephen tell Coach that Debbie, his No. 1 ally, was gunning for him, but they couldn’t tell him they were voting her out, because they thought he wouldn’t believe them. Coach responds with stunned gratitude — they had all launched a counterattack against Debbie to save him! — and he thinks the game is still being played with truth and honesty.

Coach does, however, realize he’s no longer in control of this game, and he tells J.T. and Stephen it’d be awesome to vote off Erinn next and then Taj. He asks who they’re thinking of sending to Exile, saying that while the noble thing would be to send himself or J.T., he’d prefer sending Taj or Erinn, since his lungs are bugging him from asthma. Stephen tells the camera that Coach has been skittish about Exile all along, and he wonders if Mr. Warrior could even build a fire, and J.T. says it’d be good to send Coach to Exile to make him weaker for the immunity challenge, so they can vote him out.

The reward challenge consists of racing through a maze, and then building a pole and doing some other stuff (retrieving a sandbag, swinging it to hit targets, raising a flag). Oh, and each Survivor has their feet shackled together. J.T. finds the right path through the course, and Coach wisely follows him, so they’re the first ones to the pole-building stage. Throughout, Erinn’s pretty vocal about cheering for J.T. to win, which he does.

When asked who he’s sending to Exile, J.T. says, “Let’s be noble, Coach,” and Coach accepts his fate by saying he’ll take the monastic approach on Exile — no food, no fire. (So we won’t learn if he can build a fire or not — he simply doesn’t want to.) Erinn says he’s taking the martyr approach so he can say he’s had the toughest Exile experience and give himself an excuse for not winning immunity. (Psst — Erinn — you’re supposed to say those words to just the camera, not in front of the whole tribe and Probst almighty.) Coach brushes off Erinn’s words with much bravado, ending with that ancient warrior comeback: “Hit me with your best shot, Pat Benatar.”

Back at camp, Erinn tells Taj she feels a little guilty about her words to Coach — she meant what she said, but it wasn’t the right place to say it. (Yup. What I said.) Taj says no, don’t worry about it — he’s a jerk. But while J.T. and Stephen are on the reward (a trip to the governor’s retreat, complete with a bed, food, shower, and mirrors where they could see themselves for the first time in a month), they do indeed discuss how they might want to keep Coach and get rid of Erinn because of what she said.

Coach slowly trudges to Exile. He says his experience will be like a vacation, and calls the people at camp wishy-washy and lacking in character. He, on the other hand, is “unbreakable, unbending, unyielding, immeasurable, immovable, invincible, incontinent” (OK, I added that last one). He thinks about his ancestors going into the wilderness to become men, and adds, “Well, I’m already a man, so this will just make me more of a man.”

At the end, he says he got no sleep, no food and little water on Exile — and it was frickin’ awesome. He says he’s not tired or hungry, and will use his incredible mental focus in the immunity challenge. He quotes Marcus Aurelius — “Through our greatest adversities come our greatest successes.” (Actually, I couldn’t find this quote online, but I don’t know why I bothered Googling it — it was probably passed down to him verbally.)

Coach limps to the immunity challenge, walking slowly with the “dragon cane” he made on Exile. Taj tells the camera that he’s such a drama queen — “Any 37-year-old man who thinks he’s a dragon slayer belongs in a mental institution.”

In the challenge, the players use their arms to brace themselves in a frame, resting their feet on small footholds. Coach outlasts Erinn, Stephen and Taj, leaving just, as Probst points out, “the young buck and the older warrior.” Coach tells fellow competitor J.T. “You might as well step down unless you plan to vote me off tonight,” but J.T. (whom Coach still “trusts implicitly”) won’t give up.

At one point, Taj says to Coach, “Don’t hurt your back anymore,” which seems to get him thinking about his back. He cries out in pain, and the music swells like it’s the Crucifixion. Coach steps down from the frame and drops to the ground. Everyone gathers around him, and J.T. and Stephen help him up. Coach says he had a back spasm but doesn’t want the medical staff to look at him because he doesn’t want to be taken out the game. Erinn’s face looks puckery; she probably feels bad. Or she thinks he’s playing it up.

Yup. It’s the latter — back at camp, Taj and Erinn discuss how Coach is full of it. Erinn says to the camera that she thinks he didn’t want medical to look at his back because they’d say there’s nothing wrong with it.

J.T. tells Coach that he and Stephen are leaning toward voting against Erinn. Stephen agrees that Erinn’s comments were tasteless and classless but tells the camera that he doesn’t know if he’ll join J.T. in voting against her.

At Tribal Council, there’s discussion about Erinn’s comments — her own time on Exile was horrible, and here Coach was saying “Exile! Cool! Awesome!”, which she thought was minimizing others’ experiences. He says no, and offers some analogy about women and boulders, and men and pebbles. (Or Pebbles. Mmmm … Cocoa Pebbles. When analogies confuse me, I get hungry.) And he completes the quotation hat trick, adding a Mark Twain quote to his earlier Pat Benatar and Marcus Aurelius ones.

And then comes one of those awesome Tribal Council moments:

Probst: All right, it is time to get to the vote.
Coach [raising his hand]: One more thing.
Probst: Yes?
Coach: I wrote a poem for everybody to hear.

Of course he did. Even though Sierra and Brendan take a nap during Coach’s recitation, and even though my taste in poetry leans more toward praise for the Piggly Wiggly mascot (“How I dig / Mr. Pig / He’s fuzzy, pink and very big”) and less toward warriors, his poem does deserve to be recorded as the best poem in Tribal Council history:

With friend and foe, we march to the battle plain
Some to seek success, others to seek fame
We play with honor, for the love of this game
And with armor or without, we will toil in vain
So that someday, someone, somewhere will remember our name

Wow. “Toil in vain.” So really, no one remembers our name. No one, nowhere, never. That’s really sad.

Erinn says “Dragon slayed” as she votes against Coach, but Coach actually says something nice about Erinn as he votes for her — “You’ve been like the cat that had nine lives in this game. Good job staying in the game this long, kid.”

But Erinn lives to see her 10th life, as Coach is voted out. In his final words, he tells the camera he assumes it was Stephen who broke the Warrior Alliance, and labels him “the evil wizard.” Because, really — who else but an evil wizard could ever defeat the Dragon Slayer?

Photo: © 2009 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved