Survivor Fan Friction – Earl Cole

It’s time for another edition of Fan Friction, a series of essays where one of our columnists writes an ode to one of their favorite Survivor players, while defending them against any potential naysayers (both real and imagined). This isn’t a place to be fair and balanced. This is a chance to let your fan freak flag fly. Mike Hirsch is here to address slander directed at Earl a couple weeks ago. Shame.

Why He’s Great

“Earl’s playing by himself, man!”

–musician and noted prognosticator Stevie Wonder, “Do I Do”

Earl Cole is kind of amazing. He came into Survivor: Fiji as a last-minute casting addition two days before filming, with no prior knowledge of the show. On the surface, this seems like it would put him at a disadvantage, but Earl’s intuitive understanding of the game and his innate charisma helped him quickly be recognized as a leader, and moreover, a leader who was never in any serious jeopardy of being voted out (by my count, he had a grand total of one vote against him the entire time out there). Earl Cole didn’t just win Survivor: Fiji; he made winning look like a walk in the park.

Pictured: Earl’s walk in the park.

Earl played Survivor exactly like I would want to play the game: like a master chess player, aware of the placement of all the pieces, thinking ahead several moves, but never so far ahead that he lost sight of the current situation. He kept a calm demeanor in the face of adversity, and always managed to think clearly and explain his position lucidly. He knew exactly when to make suggestions, and when to go along with the plans of others. He was funny, smart, charming and handsome: the exact four qualities I would definitely bring to the show.

Once he found himself in a good position, Earl may have relaxed a bit, but he never let himself get too comfortable, too blinded by power, and managed to retain his likability in scenarios where others would have come off as cocky. He played the game with a degree of integrity in a way that didn’t come off as annoying. He managed to make just enough moves, at the right time, to make it to final tribal. And, once at that final tribal, he got every single vote! He was the first unanimous winner in the show’s history, which is a remarkable feat. Also remarkable: in the reward challenge that ended up being basically a slam-book against Stacy, Earl was picked as the person they would most trust with their lives.

Everyone out there just plain liked the guy. And, keep in mind, this is the 14th season of Survivor. People knew how to play the game by this point. Someone like Earl – an obvious threat to win based on his leadership and strategizing abilities – shouldn’t get too far after the merge, and should be a huge target the whole time he’s out there. And yet, he wasn’t. It’s a testament to his skills that he never even got a vote in the post-merge game.

Also, Earl had to play with Rocky. In what universe is that a good time?

Haters Gonna Hate

But Yau-Man, Man

There are some out there that think Earl would have been nothing without Yau-Man. And while Yau-Man was an integral part of their alliance, their marriage was one of equal footing. In the early stages of the game, Yau-Man’s alliance with Earl kept both safe considering their tribe kept losing immunity challenges, and they conspired together with the clues they had received at Exile to find the immunity idol buried at camp, with Earl twice leading the rest of the tribe away from camp in order to give Yau-Man time to dig for it. Yau-Man, in turn, would later repay Earl by telling him one of the clues for finding Alex’s re-hidden idol. Yau-Man and Earl trusted each other, and supported each other, and yes, Yau-Man was an important part of Earl’s win, but nobody gets to the end without a little help from others (except Mike Holloway). And, keep in mind, Earl knew that getting rid of Yau-Man at final four was the right move. On top of that, he justified the move and placated Yau by telling him at final tribal he had to do it, or Yau would have won.

“Ah ha!” you may have just exclaimed. “Even Earl admits Yau-Man would have won!” Well, there’s just one problem there: Yau-Man didn’t win. And that’s due to Earl. Earl could have forced a fire-making tiebreaker at final four. He didn’t, because he understood that doing so would have been a very bad idea if he wanted to win the game, and you know who makes choices like that? Great players.

Everyone Else Was Awful

“So, ok, Earl was fine, and Yau-Man was great, but it’s not like they had a whole lot of strategic competition.” To that, my imaginary friend, I say a derisive “Pah!”

Sure, this season had its fair share of duds amongst the cast, but there was more strategy than you might remember.

In the early goings, when Alex was in a great position, he actually went around to everyone in his alliance and tried to get them to treat Cassandra and Dreamz (who were outside of the alliance) better, so that when they got to the merge, Cassandra and Dreamz would be less likely to flip. Alex wasn’t successful, and Dreamz and Cassandra did flip eventually, but Alex definitely had the right idea. He wound up playing rather poorly once the numbers weren’t in his favor, but he had moments. His last halfway decent idea came when it seemed obvious that Earl’s alliance would split the vote between Mookie and Alex in case one of them had an idol (an admittedly dumb plan fostered by Boo who thought either Mookie or Alex was clever enough to find an idol without any clues), and Alex thwarted the split by simply voting for Mookie.

Cassandra, Dreamz, Stacy and Edgardo all also showed in several instances that they too had strategic chops. Cassandra and Dreamz, for example, both recognized the need to not wait for final four to try and get Yau-Man out, while Stacy and Edgardo realized if you know someone has an idol and the plan is to vote for them, it’s a better idea to steer the vote towards someone who maybe, you know, doesn’t have an idol? That may not seem like such a bold plan now, however Fiji was the first season where the idol had to be played prior to the votes being read, so the notion of flushing out idols hadn’t fully taken hold by this point.

All of these players had the wherewithal to play Survivor well, and Earl still managed to outmaneuver them.

He Was Left Out Of The Initial Attempt to Get Yau-Man Out of the Game

Yes, yes he was. But that was due to Earl’s perceived loyalty to Yau-Man. He didn’t get indignant though. He shored up his alliances, got himself back into a strategic position, and at the next tribal, wasn’t targeted. It helped that he had a hidden immunity idol, but it wasn’t necessary to play.

Embrace Debate

Ultimately, Earl was someone who came into Survivor and found that he was perfectly suited for it. He identified the right people for his alliance, and stuck with it for as far as it could take him, able to read the room all the while. He set himself up so he was headed into the Final 6 with a bunch of shields and Stacy, and played with an easygoing attitude that masked a shrewd thinker, and he exhibited an inordinate amount of patience in all stages of the game. When talk rolls around to having former players return, Earl is always the person I’d like most to see come back. His ability to play a good game in a low-key, not flashy way would serve him well, as would his ability to quickly adapt to a whole variety of scenarios. He’s a great winner, often unjustly overshadowed by the general dumpster fire that is Fiji’s reputation. You could say that I have found my Survivor soulmate, and his name is Earl.

Actually, I’m pretty positive my Survivor soulmate is the perennially injured Boo. I’d be a much, much weaker, whinier, more wounded Boo. But, we should all strive for greatness.

Mike Hirsch

Mike Hirsch

Mike Hirsch first started watching Survivor at the merge episode of Borneo, and was hooked through Fiji. He then stopped watching until his wife got him back into the show for San Juan Del Sur, and he dutifully caught up on his missed seasons.

Favorite seasons: HvV, Pearl Islands, Tocantins, Cagayan, Cambodia

Favorite players: Earl Cole, Sandra Diaz-Twine, Kelley Wentworth, Boston Rob, Jay Starrett
Mike Hirsch

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94 thoughts on “Survivor Fan Friction – Earl Cole

  1. Fiji was the first season I watched and Earl is a big reason why I love this show. It’s difficult to articulate to people who don’t watch what a role model he was for that surly pubescent nerd a decade ago. Seeing him calmly take down those alpha types, encapsulated in that perfect GIF, was just what I needed at that point in my life, and you’ll get no argument from me concerning his greatness as a player.

  2. Fiji didn’t really have much great casting choices, some could probably be even considered among worst casting choices of all time (*ekhm* Lisi and Rocky *ekhm*), but when they had good casting choices, they had FANTASTIC casting choices. I loved Yau-Man, I loved Michelle, and I loved Earl. Earl played a really great game, and was so likable while doing so. If they do a winners’ season, I hope they will put Earl on it.

    And I just wanted to tell you guys that in September, we will have our own version of Survivor in my country. I hope that our version will also be great, gather good ratings and will be a success , so that I could maybe in the future apply for it myself to crash and burn on the live TV.

    1. Rocky is what happens when you send some drunk intern to a bar to find “Boston Rob, but more of a dickhead”

  3. Now this is my kind of Fan Friction!!
    Points in Earl’s favor:
    -Natural strategist
    -Skilled social player
    -He (along with Yau-Man) saved what would otherwise have been a complete crap season
    -Very island handsome
    -That smile

    1. Island Handsome is officially my new favorite thing. GAWD, it captures everything so perfect. After Pearl Island, I was trying to sum up my confusion about Burton, and that’s it. Burton is island handsome! Though, as someone who likes some scruff, I’d probably argue a majority of the show’s best hotties are island handsome…

        1. Just another name, but better. I guess also that the last time I read about island hot I wasn’t very deep into Survivor, so I didn’t need it as much to describe all my feelings. Now it’s basically essential, because I spend most of the reunion shows wondering why these men choose to look less attractive.

          1. There are so many elements to island hot! Rapid weight loss is the big gross one, but there are many others: stubble, tans, wearing scraps of ragged clothing, no access to your usual makeup or hair styling products, that lovely way some people’s hair curls when it’s grubby and damp, etc. A good concept indeed.

          2. Someone recently told me that a big part of how Hollywood gets movie hunks to look super muscly and defined is dehydration prior to filming. And Survivor supports this. Ethan in All-stars looks cut as hell, which is sad and delicious.

  4. One of the weird things about Fiji, is that while its panned as an awful cast, its because most of them were awful people, not strategic duds (though some qualified as both). The game play this season is surprisingly decent.
    Also, Earl may be an under-credited early adopter of what later became the meat shield strategy – he gets to F6 with arguably two people – Boo and Yau – who would conventionally need to go ahead of him. Basically: Yau is to Earl as David is to Adam. Boo is Jay. And that’s how you get to the end when you’re a social and physical threat

    1. I was thinking about that as I was writing this. He never really articulated his meat shield strategy, but he certainly assembled an alliance of people that were just enough of a threat to win that they would be the bigger targets down the stretch.

      1. Exactly, and I had never really noticed it until I read your bit on Yau-man when it hit me, because it was never directly expressed as being his plan

          1. I’m high enough on Earl that I’m willing to give him credit for the meat shield strategy from here on out.

    2. The flaw in your comp is that Boo is definitely not Jay. Seemingly everyone loved Jay; I don’t think Boo was universally beloved by the other players.

      1. I know it doesn’t entirely work, because Boo certainly wasn’t the social/jury threat Jay was, but I think he was enough of the physical threat in the sense of “he needs to go before he goes on an immunity run” for the comp to work generally

  5. Yes yes this is all well and good, but where’s the Michelle Yi Fan Friction? Girl got screwed and I don’t mean in the good way. (Well, OK, fine, she maybe got screwed in the good way too.)

  6. One other thing that I think speaks to Earl’s skill as a player is that he overcame quite a bit of bad luck in the game – from the stupid have nots twist, to the random twist that resulted in his ally Michelle getting screwed (the first time) to playing with a handful of crazy wildcards. I mean, I see no shame in your game if a little bit of good luck helps you get to the end (*casts a meaningful glance in the direction of Michele F haters*) but besides some notable examples like Denise, few winners have had to overcome more bad luck in the game than Earl.

    1. I’m not going to go with the overused ‘Who?’ thing when talking about Michele here. In all seriousness, I knew she was on the show from very early on. Because every time she popped up on the screen, I was like, “Why the fuck are they spending time with the most boring and pointless player on the show!!!???”

      1. Good, because “who?” is my bit. And I wasn’t joking. I seriously wasn’t sure which one Michele was.

  7. Oh damn, here’s another one I can get behind!

    First I admit I am a Fiji apologist and I probably have bias: I had taken a break from Survivor after the Palau finale and Fiji was the first season I came back to.

    I also want to establish that I am an unabashed Yau-Man fan and probably put him in my top 5 personal favorite players of all time.

    That being said I loved Earl as well. He and Yau-Man are arguably the greatest duo in the show’s history. In terms of strategic ability and entertainment value they delivered both individually and as a pair. Like many I wanted Yau-Man to win but I was just as happy with the outcome of Fiji because Earl was just that damn good. I’ve often wanted to rewatch Fiji just to see those two again, I liked them that much (I’ve never rewatched a season of Survivor FYI). Somebody please tell me that they are still friends IRL or my heart will be broken…

    In regards to the “he was nothing without Yau-Man” argument you could just as easily flip that statement. Nobody wins this game in a vacuum and Earl was able to pair with a strong player to help him get to the end and then correctly assessed that partner’s threat value and eliminated him at the right time in order to win.

    Earl is awesome. He was a sneakily dominant player in the vein of Brian Heidik or Boston Rob but inherently more likeable. The pie-in-the-sky “Winners Only” season of Survivor would be invalid without his presence IMO. The fact that he is quietly one of the best suits him.

  8. Because it needs to be said: Earl would have beaten Yau-Man in a Final 3. Maybe it’s only 6-3, but Yau himself has so thoroughly debunked the idea over the years that he would have beaten Earl. He got a very favorable edit because he was voted out last, but if he’s in, he would have been slammed for what he did to Dreamz. Which he has acknowledged. Nobody has been more vocal in singing Earl’s praises than Yau-Man.

    1. I was a huge Yau-Man fan for the entire season until the car deal, because man was that sour. If he had been leveraging the truck to anybody but Dreamz, sure, I get the move. But it was to the kid with a low socioeconomic background, which was a clear show of status manipulation. It was uncomfortable and gross. That said, would the jury have reacted to it as a baller game move? Who knows. As a viewer in 2017, I saw it as a really icky and ignoble end to a character who I been set up to love.

      1. Yau has said that he really didn’t know Dreamz well (something that’s oft-repeated about him – he didn’t have strong social relationships) and had no idea what Dreamz’s background was at the time.

        1. It still completely derails the TV product, but I’m glad that Yau-Man didn’t make as wildly inappropriate a decision as it seemed.

      2. I couldn’t disagree more. Yau knew he needed help at F4, and he made the unprecedented move of actually giving up something of real value in real life for a non-binding favor in the game. It was fantastic TV. Yau was absolutely gracious, both at FTC, and at the finale. Dreamz got plenty out of the deal. He was never winning at FTC anyway, and now he has a truck (or the money from selling it) in addition to his other Survivor cash. Yau screwed over Dreamz by putting him in a position where he would have to very publicly betray Yau at F4. And Dreamz screwed Yau by taking the truck and screwing him over right back. And in the end, it was all in the game, and there seemed to be no hard feelings. I think the whole thing was a classic Survivor moment, and one that was handled well by both parties.

        1. Ugh the truck move… it was both brilliant, outside-the-box strategy, and also a terrible move at the same time (and it seems even worse given the passage of time). You’re right in that Yau NEEDED to do something, he knew he was a big threat and was going to get targeted shy of FTC so I get WHY he did it. I wonder if he’d just gone for it in the traditional way and not made such an unconventional move if he could have found another route to the FTC. We’ll never know…

          That being said in hindsight I can see how Yau-Man would have lost if he had somehow made it to FTC. Again, we’ll never know that either.

          1. In a complete vacuum, I like the notion of Yau-Man’s deal: if it works out, he has a 50% chance of winning immunity with 4 people left. Obviously, the issues with the reality of the situation–deal not enforceable, it gives Dreamz an incentive to get Yau-Man out earlier than 4, it forces Yau-Man to keep Dreamz around until 4 on the off-chance he lives up to his end of the deal–make it a questionable gambit.
            Yau-Man should have been pushing to get rid of Dreamz as soon as he realized they were jockeying to get rid of him.

          2. Agreed for sure. From a solely entertainment standpoint though it made the last part of the season much more interesting than it would have been seeing as how it was mostly straightforward “majority takes out the minority” at that point. I totally get why Fiji is so divisive for Survivor fans, it’s a unique season if nothing else.

      3. It’s so interesting to hear this because I kind of feel this way and I haven’t heard this opinion from anyone else. Dreamz gets this dishonorable player rep for going back on the deal, when to me it seems the more morally icky move is leveraging Dreamz’s need against him. Not that I think either is out of bounds in the game, exactly, but the in-game moralizing is weirdly disconnected from my sense of morality.

    2. I’d agree with this. You’ve got to think Earl gets Michelle, Stacy, Boo, and Dreamz/Cassandra for sure. I also feel like the horsemen would be inclined his way as well

    3. I’m still bitter about the time someone on Reddit told me “If you don’t know Earl would have beaten Yau-Man I don’t know how you could say you know anything about Survivor!” and I was like…what?

  9. I love this man. He wa another one I considered doing, but could not really think of much to say. Does he have haters? He and Yul was part of the one-two punch of awesome winners easy for me to self project onto.

    1. Earl doesn’t have haters, but he has been getting underrated as the years go by. This one was spurred on by such underrating on either the Natalie or Denise post.

      As I’ve shown through the years, you don’t need much to construct a point of view to argue against.

          1. What’s better – being racist to one group of people, or being racist to all groups of people?

          2. I dunno if you remember, but the final 3 in Fiji all had something in common. It was Earl, Dreamz, and Cassandra. And certain things Lisi said to them had certain connotations.

          3. Oh I remember that final three. I think (paging gossip queen @BarbaraAnderson) that Fiji had been planned as another Race-Wars type season, but the response to Cook Islands was so controversial they scrapped those plans. But the make-up of the cast is more diverse than most of the other season.

            I don’t remember exactly what Lisi said at the FTC but considering what she’s mostly known for after her season, nothing would surprise me.

          4. It was supposed to be a second Race Wars season, but they didn’t scrap that because of the reaction to Cook Islands. The story goes that, on the boat ride out, one of the women who was supposed to be on the white tribe had a panic attack and quit, so they had to quickly figure out how to make a 19-player season and came up with the schoolyard pick plus one exile thing.

            As for the racism: she starts of by quoting eenie-meenie-minie-moe, tears into Cassandra for not being a good swimmer, and accuses Dreamz of only being in it for the money. The implications are not subtle.

          5. Oh right, Fiji started with 19 people, I remember that now.

            Wait, how is eenie-meenie-minie-moe racist? Wasn’t Cassandra a bad swimmer? Dreamz is homeless – of course he’s in it for the money.

          6. It… didn’t use to be a tiger that you caught by a toe, but it was something with a lot of the same letters…

          7. Well, you learn something new every day. I have never heard that before, and when I was kid we all said “eenie-meenie-minie-mo” when picking people for teams, who was it, etc and it never had any connotation about race.

          8. When I was a kid in Texas I heard the racist version once or twice, but I assumed they were just making the harmless rhyme racist because, you know, Texas. It was only later that I heard the original rhyme was racist. I’ve never actually tried to verify that fact, but I tend to believe it.

  10. I can’t read this one yet. This is one of the two or three seasons I still haven’t seen.

      1. I saw the gif. And if that’s the four horsemen then this might be the last season I need to see.

        1. They were a powerhouse, Palsy. Imagine if Boston Rob, Parvati, Sandra, and Cirie all got together, replace that comparison with four much more mediocre players, and you’ve got the horsemen.

    1. Same. I mean, I skimmed it cause i’m spoiled on Fiji in general, but I tried to avoid getting too into the details.

  11. I watched Fiji a couple of weeks back, and for the most part I loved it (until the end because the show didn’t understand how to tell Dreamz’ and Yau-Man’s stories in long form). The cast is full of dynamic players (even if some of them end up unpleasant), and though Earl is much more stolid, he was a great player. He found a great ride-or-die in Yau-Man, he gained the trust and respect of everyone, and as the write-up mentioned, he played the long game over rash decisions. He played an excellent social game through building genuine relationships and he utilized others to his advantage (namely, pointing Dreamz’s unpredictability in the direction of his enemies).

    Earl’s other advantage: he got those nice helicopter shots. Big plus.

  12. There must have been something in the water back in 2006. When this season was airing with its haves/have not’s twist, the season of The Apprentice (before it became The Celebrity Apprentice) airing at the same time had the exact same twist – one team of apprentices (apprenti?) lived in the swanky hotel, the other lived … was it in tents out on the park? Or just a rundown hotel?

    1. Haves vs Have Nots seemed much less awful back in the naive days of 2006, before people started realizing what an accurate depiction of reality it was.

      1. The producers of both shows must have thought it would be a great idea. I can’t remember if the apprenti were as negatively affected during the competitions as the Survivors were, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

      1. godammit, I’m tryin, I’m slow. I have an extermely contoversial one for next week. Need to finish rewatch of RI.
        EDIT (If it even gets posted. I dont even know where to send it as a guest poster)

        1. I’ll write the counterpoint to ‘chocolate is awesome’. It will start with “Dessert is disgusting, and no single ingredient has ever been as poorly served by it’s nearly exclusive association with dessert as chocolate.”

          1. Hershey won’t allow that article. What, just gonna wage war on decades of branding? Hershey will shut it down. The whole website will be destroyed.

  13. Earl is the best. I don’t think he needs an article defending him, because anyone who doesn’t think he’s awesome is crazy. In fact, if I wrote the article, I’d just put the gif with the caption: “Anyone who doesn’t think Earl is awesome is crazy.”

  14. Man, this post was as likeable as Earl himself. The whole tone of this piece mirrors Earl’s strategy. Masterful. I forgot about this dude.

  15. I actually think Alex played pretty well throughout the game, but I also think Earl had as easy a path to win as anyone has ever had. There was a lot of people self-destructing that season and Earl just kind of had to stand there and be cool.

    That said he deserves a lot of credit for the bonds he had with Cassandra and Dreamz and was probably the first to really use the meatshield strategy with Yau-Man, whether intentional or not.

    1. Barely related tangent: I spotted Alex in a TV commercial last year. Some kind of insurance or banking type thing. He didn’t have any lines though :/

      1. I’m pretty sure I saw Woo and Hunter from Marquesas in commercials in the last year or so too.

  16. Whenever I hear the name “Mookie” it always reminds me of the old David Letterman bit where there was a picture in the paper of NY Mets outfielder Mookie Wilson and the mayor, and Dave said there should be a new sitcom called “Mookie and the Mayor”.

  17. Well, whaddya know, I completely agree! So far, Abi is the only Survivor I can’t stand that’s been in one of these, but the article was just so well laid out I couldn’t be mad about it. Poor Andy, still no fireworks.

    Speaking of Andy, when are we watching AR7? Should I have already started?

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