If John Cochran’s goal was to become a memorable member of “Survivor” lore, then he has succeeded. His flip to the Upolu tribe has left the former members of Savaii in shambles. Ozzy Lusth is gorging himself at Redemption Island, Whitney Duncan and Dawn Meehan are about to pay him a visit, and Keith Tollefson and Jim Rice are now on the exit interview circuit.
But while Cochran’s move was memorable, the question remains; was it smart?
I spoke with two of his victims the morning after their eviction from the game to get their take on the long-term impact of Cochran’s deception, Coach’s cult, and the Holmes pre-game jinx…
Gordon Holmes: Alright, I’m not psyched about interviewing you two at the same time. I don’t want to be bullied.
Jim Rice: (Laughs) Keith’s the bully, not me!
Keith Tollefson: Yup, that’s right. Apparently that’s what happened.
Holmes: Now Keith, I’ve watched a lot of “Survivor” in my day and I know that if they have video of bad behavior, they’re going to show it. I feel like I didn’t see a lot of footage of you actually being a bully. Were we misled a little bit?
Tollefson: Yes. That’s what’s so disappointing is quite a few times I stood up for (Cochran.) And just like everyone, I’ve been bullied at times in my life. It doesn’t matter if you’re big or small you’re going to get bullied. And I actually thought that he was a friend of mine. I respected the fact that he was such a fan of the game, and I’d said, “Hey man, I want to play the game with you and we can go to the end.” I liked him, I thought we had some fun out there.
Rice: Gordon, a big thing about that if you really pay attention to what made it to the air is the bullying storyline didn’t even come from Cochran. Coach is the one who made the assumption by looking at Cochran. Cochran just went along with it. Coach was the one that said, “Hey, you look like you’ve been bullied. I’ve been bullied before too.” And Cochran just rolled with it. I’ll echo everything Keith just said; we were all friends. Cochran was easily my closest friend.
Holmes: That’s actually an excellent point you make there, Jim. Speaking of Coach, what was your impression of him in the brief time you spent together?
Tollefson: My impression of Coach was…Jim had the best comment on this when he said, “Everyone is drinking Coach’s Kool-Aid.” It’s a little cult. We were smart enough to get out every player that Ozzy wanted to keep because we knew that Ozzy was our biggest threat. We had a collective agreement that we vote Ozzy out before we vote each other out. With the other tribe, Coach had this little cult that honestly made me sick. I couldn’t even watch it.
Rice: I think Coach is a brilliant lunatic.
Rice: I think that’s the best way to put it. Man, he had all of those people convinced that if they did anything wrong or immoral that they’d have to live with those scars for the rest of their lives. He had his tribe running scared.
Holmes: Wait, the rest of their lives? How is that even possible?
Rice: He was always giving examples like, “I lied back in whatever stupid season I was on.”
Holmes: Whoa…stupid season? “Tocantins” was awesome.
Rice: Coach loves talking about himself and it got annoying after a while and he was always talking about things he’d done wrong in the previous seasons and how it’d stayed with him and how it scarred him for life.
Tollefson: He was using fear to keep a hold of the tribe. He’d say, “There are things I have done in the past that affected me out of the game and I don’t want you guys to make the same mistakes.” And, he somehow has them all believing that all six of them will go to the end and all six of them will win the million dollars.
Rice: Yeah, Coach’s master move was convincing everybody that all six of them are going to win. It’s like they’ve never watched the show.
Holmes: Having seen what you’ve seen in the episodes, don’t you agree that the first person to turn on this alliance is going to be subject to a Brandon Hantz freak out?
Rice: Coach has his pitbull.
Tollefson: That was the one thing about trying to make a move is you can’t include Brandon. He’s already out of the equation because he’s a loose cannon and he won’t go against the family and Coach has him hard-wired.
Holmes: What would the plan have been if Cochran hadn’t flipped and you’d have been able to get a numbers advantage on Upolu?
Rice: We would’ve done what they did. We would have picked them off one-by-one and when it got down to seven or eight we would have used one of them to pick off Ozzy. Then pick off the last Upolu, then we’re down to five Savaii. And depending on immunities, we all had our own end games from there.
Holmes: Now Jim, I’ve been dying to ask you this; Semhar gets voted off and she says how she couldn’t stand you because you wanted to put the moves on your students.
Holmes: I talk to Elyse and she doesn’t like how you flirted with all of your students. And I’m thinking, “Jim doesn’t have any students.”
Holmes: So please enlighten me on the many intricate details you’ve cooked up about your fake persona.
Rice: Here’s the thing, I have no problem telling people what I do for a living. I’m proud of what I do for a living. But I was playing this game before I ever got on the island. Because, who are you going to give a million dollars to at the end of this game? A mother with six adopted children or a marijuana dealer? I played for the jury. I didn’t think I’d get voted off for what I did, but I knew I wouldn’t win the million dollars based on what I did. There was no upside for me to tell. Unless there were nine marijuana smokers on the jury.
Holmes: Well, you never know.
Holmes: Alright, let’s do some word association. Let’s start with Ozzy.
Rice: Brilliantlunatic…all one word.
Rice: Vixen! Nice! I’ll go with politically correct.
Holmes: Here’s one…Whitney?
Rice: I’ll say sassy.
Tollefson: I would say beautiful. (Laughs)
Holmes: By the way, there are no wrong answers here. But that was a good, safe answer. Let’s try Dawn.
Tollefson: I love her, but crazy.
Holmes: Papa Bear?
Tollefson: He’s a big teddy bear.
Rice: I’ll go with scared. I think he’s a scared person in every aspect of his life.
Holmes: The Cochran defection was obviously the big turning point in both of your games. Does something like that stick with you?
Rice: I made the assumption that everyone was playing to win. Where Cochran was just playing for another’s day worth of facetime. The way I felt at the time, if we drew rocks there was only a 14 percent chance of going home. If you flip on your tribe at that time there’s a 100% chance of losing the game because there’s a jury of nine and five of those people are going to be people you screwed over. There’s no way to win the game. If he’d have said, “Ozzy, you’re an idiot, I’m keeping the idol,” that’s a ballsy move. There was nothing strategic, it was a move made out of cowardice.
Tollefson: He went to them and tried to play a double agent, and he was very excited about it. Coach called him on his B.S. and Cochran tells him everything. He told them who we were giving to the idol to. I’d respect it if he’d said he was flipping.
Rice: Oh, and thanks for picking me pre-game. Sorry I (expletive deleted) it up for you.
Holmes: I feel horrible about that. I absolutely put my jinx on you.
Rice: I think it’s because I’m a Cubs fan and you wanted to jinx me.
Holmes: That’s true. You make fun of the Cardinals and you get put on my (expletive deleted) list immediately.
Holmes: I’m sorry, I meant the 2011 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.
Rice: I know… But, if I play again, don’t pick me.