Survivor: South Pacific - Cochran's exit interview
There's no question that John Cochran became one of the most notorious players on this season of Survivor. The 24-year-old Harvard law student and Survivor superfan (he won a Dean’s Scholar Prize at Harvard for an essay he wrote on the Survivor jury system) changed the course of the game when he flipped on his original Savaii tribe. We talked about the flip, about Coach and about Cochran's potential legacy. Here's an edited version of our chat, which began with me telling him I couldn't possibly call him John.
JC: I don’t want to force my name on anybody else. I had that experience doing that and was a little bit mortified.
DY: What are you mortified about?
JC: Part of the thing is the people I was aspiring to be, they didn’t have to ask Jeff (Probst) to call them by their last names, so it’s a little bit cheeky on my part … “I’m gonna do rather great, so you better call me by my last name.” I was afraid I was going to end up being Purple John if there was another John on the show, a pathetic nickname.
DY: That would have been worse for sure, but now that he has started calling you that I don’t think anybody can think of you as anything but Cochran. And I have to tell you, I obviously do these interviews almost every week and you’re pretty much the only topic of conversation with everybody I talk to, so how do you feel about that?
JC: On the one hand it’s nice, I’m a huge fan of Survivor so it’s nice to be inspiring people to talk about it, but generally I’ve found that the feedback has been negative, so I don’t know if it’s the greatest thrill to be responsible for that water cooler talk.
DY: I understand. Let’s talk about the big twist, which was you flipping on Savaii and let’s explore that a little bit and your reasons for doing that.
JC: Jim’s kind of created the narrative that it was entirely out of cowardice. Certainly I did not want to pull rocks out of the bag, but I wouldn’t say that was my main motivating thing. The big turning point for me was the last tribal immunity challenge before the merge was that Jack and Jill thing where people are blindfolded and I was feeding rope ... which I took the blame for. I basically said it was my fault, but it really wasn’t. I’m not responsible for losing that challenge. Jim was the one that clipped the thing improperly and screwed up Ozzy. So we get back from that challenge, everyone’s blaming me for the loss and everyone’s sitting around the fire and says, "We’re gonna vote you out tonight." They tried to wrap it up in this whole thing of you’re gonna become a man at Redemption Island. It’s gonna be great for you and it’s gonna be such a growing experience. I didn’t sign up to become a man on Redemption Island.... It was eye-opening in that everybody, including my closest allies, who were really Dawn and Jim, were saying they were going to vote me off. So even though it ended up not happening because Ozzy had his miraculous dream about going to Redemption Island, it was revealing that nobody hesitated for a second to vote me off, even though now everybody claims they were dying to have me in the final three with them.
So I didn’t feel that much allegiance to my tribe and I certainly didn’t feel that much allegiance to be one of only two people on my tribe to have to pull a rock. It would only have been me or Jim pulling rocks that night for Savaii. I’m not gonna risk my game to save a tribe of people that literally 24 hours earlier were all gonna vote me off.
I’ve been reading all the exit interviews with my other castmates. They’ve all said that they wanted to take me to the final three.... I think some of it’s revisionism in that they see that my flip didn’t work, so to make me seem a little bit even more pathetic they say "We were all gonna bring him to the end." ... I’m not convinced anybody would have taken me to the end, but let’s say they did take me to the final three. What’s my final three argument at that point? "Hey guys, I was saved several times pre-merge and then post-merge, because I’m horrible at challenges, nobody bothered voting me off, so give me a million dollars."
So if I flipped, I didn’t have a great shot at winning either way. I flipped ... and if I’m brought to the end by Coach or say Albert or something, then the Upolu tribe mates on the journey will feel betrayed that they were not brought and I had, so okay, I’ll get the Upolu votes. I was still close enough with Dawn that I think I probably could have gotten her vote and maybe even Ozzy’s vote. I know it sounds kind of ludicrous when I say it, but I do think Ozzy ... he didn’t actually react that violently to me flipping. I think he was kind of able to disassociate himself from the personal part of the game.
I think my mistake was not flipping but was rather after flipping I felt a little bit too safe because it was was the first time I’d had this final four deal. Omigawd, I can finally relax for the first time and I was in no position to be relaxing.... I'm thinking maybe what I should have done is demanded that someone give me an imunity idol and then not flip,and then give the Savaii people a few people lead over Upolu and then flip.... The problem with flipping at the merge is that Upolu had the numbers advantage for the rest of the game and they had no reason to splinter at that point. They were too secure.
DY: I see what you’re saying, but you did what you did. How much of that was Coach being persuasive? Did you ever see through him?
JC: At the beginning of each episode, they’ve got “Previously on Survivor.” They said, "Coach seduced Cochran into jumping tribal lines." What really seduced me, I was kind of eager to jump lines anyway,but the fact I got a solid final four deal from Sophie, Albert and Coach. That ended up, of course, being a completely phony deal because I’m not in the final four right now, but just having that offer, I thought it was an offer that made sense. I had no reason to doubt it, because I kind of liked the idea of being thought of as somebody that wouldn't get any votes because I’d alienated half the jury votes from Savaii. I started seeing through some stuff from Coach toward the end. He said he was going to defend me with his dying breath the day before I went, so I said, "Oh okay, well since (you) are voting me out, why don’t you give me your idol?" He obviously had no interest in doing so.
When I came up to him with that plan to vote off Rick, I had Edna and Albert actually on board. They weren’t just yanking my chain on that ... but I (brought it) to Coach, he just, like, stares at the ocean for 20 seconds without saying anything and that’s not exactly the most confidence-building reaction to somebody’s who’s supposed to be your closess ally, so I was kind of seeing through him at that point.
As a Survivor fan, I was very aware of Coach’s reputation of Mr. Honour to a fault and I know he liked the idea of having someone like me out there who’s really receptive to his coaching. So okay, he’ll be genunine with me. He ended up not being, but I have no hard feelings about anybody really.
DY: You said that Dawn and Jim were your closest allies out there. Who else did you get along with on your original tribe?
JC: The problem with our tribe was that it was super fragmented so Ozzy would be off like a mile away meditating somewhere or finding hidden immunity idols, or whatever he was doing. Keith and Whitney were very, very close and they would spend a lot of time kind of paired off. Jim would like to spend time in the ocean, and then Dawn and I would sit around the fire commiserating. But I didn’t have cold relations with anybody. I got along fine. At the time I was thinking "Omigawd, I’m a great social player, everybody likes me, I’m like the greatest social game player in the world" and then (I heard) the confessional of Sophie, "He’s freaking annoying, he’s an idiot, he’s a jerk, he’s self-entitled" ... I think Sophie had some sort of beef with me, maybe, but I got along with everybody, I thought. I mean, now there’s a lot of backtracking I think. They’re saying they didn’t bring me to the end because I was so annoying and everybody would vote for me. I don’t think they actually felt that way at the time, I think it’s just kind of benefit of hindsight.
DY: How do you think you’re going to go down in Survivor lore? Do you think you’ll go down as bold and courageous or do you think you’re going to go down as another "Omigawd, what was he thinking?"
JC: Let’s say I pulled rocks and was eliminated by pulling rocks, everyone would say, "Freakin’ idiot, his tribe told him they were going to vote him off and he was still willing to pull rocks with them?" So it was really lose lose anyway in terms of my legacy. There are certain people who are supportive of my moves. I read all the online stuff obsessively and most people seem to really dislike the move online. I think time will kind of make the reactions a little bit less violent. My legacy will probably be ... enthusiastic fan of the game who made maybe an ill-advised move and ended on a good note, and really appreciated his experience.
In terms of whether I’m a villain or a hero, I don’t think I command enough respect either way. With villains, with Russell, for instance, people kind of hate him, but there’s a grudging respect. "Oh, he’s Russell." Or a hero like Colby or someone. I don’t necessarily fit into either of those moulds. I’m just kind of this weird, towing the line or not even on the same plane of existence. You’re probably better suited to tell me what it’s gonna be than I am. I hope it’s relatively favourable.
DY: The last question, Cochran, what is it about Survivor that makes you such a superfan?
JC: I don’t even know where to begin with that. Just take a look at the winners. There’s no one prototype for a winner. You have somebody like Vecepia, you have somebody like Todd, you have somebody like Natalie White and Fabio. It’s all about interpersonal dynamics. It’s really a great psychological thing. I don’t care about camping. I don’t care about seeing people catch fish. I mean I know a lot of people enjoy that and I’m not meaning to begrudge them that enjoyment, but I always just love seeing people that would not ordinarily have anything to do with each other being forced to live with each other in really difficult conditions and somehow rewarding somebody that basically had to have screwed you over to get to that point. So I find it fascinating. That’s why it’s so good after 23 seasons, because it’s all about the people that are cast, not about the location or the conditions.
Speaking of screwing people over, there's sure to be some of that going on during Sunday's finale. Coach, Rick, Sophie and Albert are still in the hunt for the million dollars. And either Brandon or Ozzy will be joining them after the last Redemption Island duel. You can watch it Sunday at 8 p.m. on Global and catch the recap here.
(The photo of Cochran is by Monty Brinton for CBS.)