Exclusive: John Cochran talks about 'Survivor: South Pacific'
By Reality TV World staff, 12/08/2011
John Cochran thought he was in good hands when he decided to join forces with the Upolu tribe and turn his back on his former Savaii tribe members, who he insisted had treated him poorly and ridiculed him throughout the game.
While he thought he had a better chance at surviving longer in the competition since the Upolu tribe took him under its wing and was technically "indebted" to him for his grand gesture -- which ultimately saved Upolu and gave the tribe the numbers it needed to wipe the Savaii tribe out one member at a time until it no longer existed -- he was the seventh person in a seven-person alliance and was only given "lip service" as gratitude for his decision to flip.
Upolu then opted to get rid of Cochran almost immediately after he swapped and he was sent to Redemption Island to battle "Ozzy" Oscar Lusth in the game's ninth duel, which he lost -- resulting in his permanent elimination from the game, becoming the fifth member of the jury during Wednesday night's broadcast of Survivor: South Pacific's twelfth episode.
On Thursday, Cochran, a 24-year-old Harvard Law School student from Washington, DC, talked to Reality TV World about his Survivor: South Pacific experience.
Reality TV World: So looking back at it now, do you have any regrets about flipping on your original tribe or do you still feel, despite how it worked out, that you made the right decision, and why?
John Cochran: I think flipping wasn't a mistake. I think my inaction after flipping was where things went wrong or that I didn't really make anything happen after flipping.
I think the best case scenario would have kind of been to get the people at the bottom of the Upolu totem pole to work with me and maybe [Dawn Meehan] and then we could kick off everybody else to have some sort of cross-tribal alliance.
Flipping -- I mean, if I pulled a rock and was eliminated, there's nothing to discuss. I didn't have a fear of the rocks. It was a more calculated -- it wasn't entirely a move out of cowardice, but I don't regret flipping.
Reality TV World: We've already done previous exit interviews with everyone else that was in your original tribe, obviously, and several of them have insisted that you really weren't the sixth person in your tribe's alliance and they would even have taken you to the final jury vote. What's your reaction to that, do you believe that or do you think it's all just the benefit of hindsight?
John Cochran: I think a lot of it is hindsight. I think some people might have taken me to the final three, but I read the interviews and they say they would have taken me to the final three because they could beat me.
Reality TV World: Yeah, well, I left that part out. (Laughs)
John Cochran: I was like on one hand I'm being criticized for playing the perfect third-place game by flipping but the alternative is to get third place by not flipping. So, neither one is a super desirable position.
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I think there is some revisionism going on in terms of things. "Oh, he had every single person wanting him to go to the finals with them!" I don't really buy it, but even if I did go with them, they're basing it on the idea that I would lose. So, it's not that compelling.
Reality TV World: The show never aired it on TV, but after you flipped, one of the video clips CBS put online was a clip where you suggested the reason you flipped was because you believed you had formed a Final 4 alliance with "Coach" Benjamin Wade, Sophie Clarke and Albert Destrade. Was that actually the case, and if so, does it bother you that that was never shown on TV and the editing kind of positioned you as more of Coach's chump instead?
John Cochran: Yeah, I mean, I can't fault the editing. They create compelling story lines and it makes it seem like a made more of an emotional decision. They say I was "seduced" by Coach. I was [actually] seduced by the idea that I had a Final 4 deal. So, yeah. That played a huge role in me deciding to flip.
I had a firm deal, which obviously ended up being a phony deal. But I think it makes my decision seem a little bit more rational and not completely the, "Oh my God. I don't want to pull a purple rock out of a bag or whatever."
Reality TV World: So why were you never shown mentioning that Final 4 deal, even once it got down to the Final 7? Did you have discussions with them and find out it wasn't happening and that's when you went to your "indebted" approach instead?
John Cochran: Don't get me started on that "indebted" approach. (Laughs) That's not my greatest moment. That was something that was kind of hatched by Coach. This whole thing where I was like -- It was basically just a stupid speech about everybody being indebted, then [Coach said] "you can walk away and Albert and I will argue on your behalf."
So, it was just [supposed to be] like filler for me to say something so they could then have a debate about whether to keep me or not. It was stupid. I'm not that self-entitled.
I mean, it sounds -- I'm very aware the game is based on reciprocity of like, "Oh, well he did us a favor, so that means I'm going to ask to be kicked off" or something.
Reality TV World: Was there a discussion of the Final 4 pledge at that point and is that when you found out it wasn't real and the "indebted" thing happened instead? Where did that fit into the whole discussion?
John Cochran: Well, Sophie -- it came out from Sophie that the Final 4 deal was phony -- or Albert told me that or something. And then, there were like four different Final 4 deals that came up and disintegrated in a 48-hour time period. So, it was briefly me, Edna, Coach, and Sophie, and it was me, Albert, Coach, and Sophie, and [Brandon Hantz] might have been involved in some permutation of all this.
All of them fell apart so quickly that it wasn't even really worth pursuing. But by the time I was going to my "you owe me" speech, I think that the original Final 4 deal was dead. So, it wasn't even worth resurrecting. I was trying -- That's why I realized I had to work with [Edna Ma] who suddenly realized 28 days later that she was No. 6 [in her alliance] after having been told that already.
Reality TV World: It sounds like that was legitimate then? That Edna somehow had no idea all that time? (Laughs)
John Cochran: I kind of sympathize. I think what happened is she was told that on about Day 2 or something by Brandon, and I think she believed that Brandon isn't the authority on what the pecking order is, and I can understand that. If Brandon came up to me and said, "You're going next," I might be alarmed, but I wouldn't necessarily think that that is the gospel.
She probably could have done more to feel out exactly what her place in the tribe was. It's unfortunate she was kicked off last night. So, yeah, I can't really fault her with that, because I was clearly delusional about what my place in the tribe was.
Reality TV World: When it got to the Final 9 and Dawn, [Whitney Duncan] and yourself were all still in the game, it seemed like [Survivor host Jeff Probst] was practically slapping you guys on the side of the face at Tribal Council and urging somebody to flip and yet no one did. Was that why you didn't -- because you thought you still had a Final 4 deal? Or did you just not ever seriously consider the possibility?
John Cochran: Well the thing is, I actually wanted to do a "me, Dawn, Whitney, Albert, plus one" plan. But we just couldn't get that plus one.
Reality TV World: Edna wasn't willing to be the "plus one" at that point yet?
John Cochran: No, because the problem was that we were -- she was very, very close to Coach and we were afraid that she would just run and tattle and tell Coach. It seemed pretty obvious to me that the people on the bottom of the totem pole -- like Brandon's down there and [Rick Nelson]'s down there -- so I spent a lot of time trying to work with them.
But what was frustrating, was that they were the people least willing to band together with me to take out the people at the top of the totem pole, and then I had to start negotiating with Coach -- who is sitting pretty. He had no real reason to want to upset the apple cart. So, it was an awkward position for me to be in -- that I was negotiating with people who had no need to negotiate.
Reality TV World: Are you always so self-deprecating in real-life or was it just on Survivor? Did the stress of the game or the realization of what was clearly a life-long dream just get to you?
John Cochran: I'm actually a self-deprecating guy. Not everything I say is self-deprecating. I think the game brings out an exaggerated version of yourself. You don't have the kind of distractions or creature comforts that you would otherwise have.
And I think part of it is that I'm a little bit embarrassed -- I'm a little aware of being seen all emaciated and pale and it's a natural defense mechanism where you make fun of yourself before somebody else has the opportunity to make fun of you.
So if I say, "Look, I'm a pale loser and I'm weak" and everything, then it's less likely that somebody else will say that. But I'm not that horribly neurotic in real life. The game just does that to you.
Reality TV World: You also made a lot of jokes throughout the season and when I talked to Whitney last week, she wanted to make it very clear that you were lying when you were shown talking about her and Keith Tollefson getting intimate in the shelter when you were all sleeping together. So just to clarify, what's your response -- were you just joking around?
John Cochran: It was 100% percent a joke. I even told them that joke and it became a running joke around camp. So, the shock of it coming out, as the joke is being aired, it's a little bit bizarre to me. But no, it was 100% percent -- nothing happened. We were disgusting out there, I mean for days if not a month, we weren't brushing our teeth.
Reality TV World: There's been a lot of recent controversy about how even though Whitney presented herself as single, she was actually married when she competed on the show. What's your take on all that -- when did you learn she was married?
[EDITOR'S NOTE: A CBS publicist monitoring the interview interrupts and suggests Cochran not comment.]
Reality TV World: Do you think you would have made the same comments if you had known then what you know now?
John Cochran: No, I wouldn't have made any of those jokes. I would have operated under the assumption that she had a little flirty relationship with somebody on the island. It wasn't...
Reality TV World: Did you really only weigh 121 pounds after you were eliminated? I'm not sure how tall you are, but that seems very low. Were you okay or was it a situation where you had come down with some type of parasite or tropical illness?
John Cochran: Well, I'm naturally a skinny guy. I'm about 5'10" and I made the mistake -- I was about 150 -- I'm about 150 pounds now. But I made the mistake of before I started the game, I ran a lot because I figured I had to get into good shape.
The smart people put on weight before starting Survivor, but I lost 12 pounds. I started the game at like 138 pounds and I left at 120 or something. I gained it all back in like six days -- unbelievable.
Reality TV World: After you lost your duel, Jeff made some comments that suggested you'd be near to the top of his list for a future all-stars Survivoredition. What are your thoughts on that, would you be interested in potentially coming back down the road?
John Cochran: Yeah, I mean, I'd love to come back. I just need to evaluate what I would have a shot at doing well given my reputation as kind of a weak loser traitor. But I'd love to play again. I think everybody would love to play again.