The 40 Most Influential Survivors: Benjamin “Coach” Wade

Benjamin “Coach” Wade

Tocantins, Heroes vs Villains, South Pacific

To celebrate the 40th season of Survivor, we’re counting down the 40 Most Influential Survivors to ever play the game. Because Survivor is a game, a tv show, and a rabid fandom, we’re taking all forms of influence into consideration for this list. Go here to view the criteria we are using to determine what qualifies for the list. Note: this list is presented in chronological order and there will be spoilers for various Survivor seasons.

Coach is the 24th entry in this series.

Coach wasn’t the first big character the show ever cast. Survivor, after all, has a history of casting big colorful characters. They tend to make for good TV. Reality TV doesn’t want a cast full of calm emotionless robots, they want a mix of people, and central to that mix, is the big, fucking weirdo. Coach wasn’t the first big, fucking weirdo that Survivor cast either. There are plenty of popular and successful (and less successful) survivors that were cast to be big, fucking weirdos. Now Coach was definitely weirder than most, which helps him stand out more, but he isn’t influential solely because he was weird. Even on a cast as filled with characters as Tocantins was, Coach stands out as being the biggest and most colorful character. So what makes Coach influential? Maybe it is the fact that Coach was the first big character whose delusions totally removed him from any tether to reality.

The thing about Coach is that it was impossible to discern the difference between the character and the person. If there was even a difference at all. I mean this is a person who sincerely talked about being attacked by a native tribe in the Amazon. He brought his assistant coach as his loved one!

He did this!

And this!

Coach was a genuine delusional weirdo like we really hadn’t seen before on Survivor. And the most important thing about Coach as a character that made him influential is that as big a character as he was, he was also “a little man.”

Coach’s insecurity is as important as his delusion, because it forced him to constantly try and top his own insanity. The more you doubt Coach, the more he has to prove that not only is what he said true, but also he has an even more unbelievable story. It made him somewhat pitiable which pulled him back from being entirely intolerable. But as he returned more, and grew more sure of himself and his place in the game and the show, he became more intolerable and less pitiable (even though he got better at the game). The important thing for the Coach archetype here is that these players don’t entirely know they are in on the joke, but they also do know that people laugh at them, and they desperately crave attention. They can do mental gymnastics to justify people’s reaction to them as long as the mockery isn’t too overt. If it ever does become too overt, they will move immediately to vote out that person.

So who did Coach influence? Coach’s influence can be seen in other big characters whose delusions divorced them from reality, and the primary example here is Phillip Shephard. Phillip’s delusions were just as out there, just as divorced from reality, and he was just as much of a joke. Phillip also similarly saw an arc in his return, whereas he was once a joke, now he was a power player on his tribe. But similarly to Coach, Phillip playing the game straight grated on everyone around him. Coach’s sanctimony and inability to fully own his game and abandon his delusions about honor may have cost him the game in South Pacific. Phillip similarly saw his persona as “The Specialist” create clear in-groups and outsiders, and his need to control the game and tell everyone what he learned from Boston Rob, led to his demise in Caramoan. There are other similar characters who fill Coach’s role, like Chris Noble, like Natalie Cole, and even Angelina started off as a Coach before evolving into a living breathing icon over the course of the season. Still this is a role that Survivor has started to look for  and edit for after Coach, a genuine weirdo whose delusions fuel game drama and action and also whatever the fuck this was.

Who else made the list?

You can see each entry on the list by clicking this link.