I had a chance to sit down with all twenty of the “Fans vs. Favorites” competitors the day before they left for the Caramoan Islands. I’ll be posting exclusive interviews with each contestant every weekday until we get through all of them. Be sure to follow me on Twitter (@gordonholmes) for tons of updates.
Name: John Cochran
Hometown: Washington, DC
Occupation: Harvard Law Student
Previous Finish: Cochran came in 8th place in “Survivor: South Pacific”
Memorable Moment: Cochran’s jump from Savaii to Upolu was his season’s pivotal event.
Fun Fact: Cochran is the only person in the history of the world to successfully give himself a nickname.
Note: The “Survivor: Caramoan” pre-game interviews are unlike the pre-game interviews we’ve done in the past. Usually, the interviews take place on location, this time they took place in Los Angeles before the players flew out. At this point, all the “Favorties” know is that they’re flying out in the next few days. They have seen each other, but haven’t seen the new players. They don’t know for sure where they’re going, and they don’t know any of the season’s twists.
Gordon Holmes: After “South Pacific,” I called you the most memorable player in the post-Hantz era. It was obvious you’d be asked to return. Now that you have been, how does it feel?
John Cochran: It’s half exhilarating, half terrifying. I think when we’d talked about this before, I said I had a reputation that wasn’t necessarily flattering because I was viewed as weak, possibly annoying, and a traitor. I don’t necessarily agree with that characterization. But, I think with returning players they all have different baggage. It comes in different forms. So, I’m feeling a little more comfortable.
Holmes: I believe the term you used was you were worried about being “Sugar’d.”
Cochran: Well, yeah. I’m referring to the fact that in her first season, and I didn’t do nearly as well as a she did, but she made it to the end and in “Heroes vs. Villains” she was voted out first. That’s a legitimate worry of mine, but I think everybody is worried about that. That’s everyone’s great fear. After that you make new goals; I want to make the merge, I want to make the family visit, I want to make the finals. So, as long as I’m not Sugar’d I’ll consider that a huge accomplishment.
Holmes: If you’re around on day four…
Cochran: (Laughs) Yes.
Holmes: High fives all around.
Holmes: You mentioned changes to your game. What do you have in mind?
Cochran: I need to be a little more proactive. I need to either create or insert myself into an alliance very early on. Last time I was on the periphery the entire time, and then I switched sides thinking I was ingratiating myself into a new alliance. I was on the periphery of that too and got voted off immediately. So, I need to play less of a reactive game and more of a proactive game. I’m fundamentally the same person. I’ll try to downplay some of my anxiety and not vocalize it quite as much. I don’t think that does me that many favors. I’m going to be aggressive, well, as aggressive as I can get which is not super aggressive. A little more assertive as far as getting what I want.
Holmes: A man who has learned from his mistakes.
Cochran: Last time I’d find out I was on the outs, then I’d start freaking out or if I find out I got a vote I’d start whining to everybody. That’s not a healthy attitude to have.
Holmes: You have a very self-deprecating sense of humor. It’s a great defense mechanism. I use it for the same reason. You use words like “annoying” and “whining.” But, as we’ve seen, the “Survivor” community is a big family when it’s all said and done and you seem like a really popular guy within those ranks.
Cochran: That was what was so surprising about my last experience. Generally I think I’m a relatively likable guy and I can get along with pretty much anybody. I think I was put in a bizarrely homogenous tribe last time where it was an LA model, a Miss America runner up, a country singer, Ozzy wants to be an actor. It was a very solid group that I didn’t fit into. I’m not sure what the question was…
Holmes: (Laughs) It was more of an observation than anything. You paint this picture like everyone’s annoyed by you, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Cochran: I think I have a good shot…just based on what I’ve seen it looks like a very diverse group. As long as there a diversity that I can fit in and flow around a bit, I’ll feel comfortable. And comfort is all I want.
Holmes: What’ve you been up to since “South Pacific”?
Cochran: I took the fall semester off while the season was airing.
Holmes: To bask in the glow…
Cochran: More like bask in the anxiety of seeing myself on TV and freak out about it. You know everything that’s going to happen, but you don’t know how it’s going to be portrayed. I’m already scared enough during law school, I didn’t want to juggle both anxieties. So, this last spring semester I went back to school to a hero’s welcome, hoisted on everyone’s shoulders. I’m trying to settle back down into academic life…but this is uprooting me again.
Holmes: Yeah, you’re doing this wrong.
Holmes: For a smart guy…
Cochran: I’ve made several poor decisions.
Holmes: You played with returning players Ozzy Lusth and Benjamin “Coach” Wade. What did you learn from watching people hop back into the game?
Cochran: What Ozzy excels at is never going to be what I excel at. So, I think I learned a little bit more from Coach. And the big thing that Coach did, which I found to be his biggest asset was he was able to make everybody feel like they were his priority. That’s partially why I was so enamored with him. I felt like, Coach thinks I’m his number one guy. But, Edna felt the same way, Brandon felt the same way. I don’t know if I’ll have the same stature as he did, especially because there are several more returning players. But, just making sure that everybody, especially those on the periphery of the alliance, is a part of the group, that seems to be the key to everything.
Holmes: In both “South Pacific” and “One World” we saw players who were on the bottom of their alliance fail to make moves that would put them on the top. Were the Kims, and Coaches, and Sophies of the world…
Cochran: (Laughs) Sophies of the world?
Holmes: (Laughs) That’s “Survivor” champion Sophie Clarke, to you. Do you think moves weren’t made because those players were able to fool the others into believing they were in better positions?
Cochran: I think Kim was doing a fantastic job of making everyone feel like they were her number one. Alicia made a disastrous move when she voted off Tarzan. She could have maybe even won, which is kind of a funny thought. But, inertia plays a dangerous role in this game, in that if you’re part of the majority alliance, even if you’re on the bottom, you’re like, “At least I’m part of this core group.” And then you get to the end and start realizing you’re in trouble. But I think people like Kim, Coach, and maybe even Sophie did a good job of making people feel safe.
Holmes: You get a lot of grief for making a dumb move. I disagree with that. I think Colby taking Tina to the final two is a dumb move. I think you gambled and lost. I feel the same way about JT when he gave his idol to Russell. If that’d worked, he’s in great position and looks like a genius.
Cochran: He got the dumbest move of all time and that could have worked out fantastically.
Holmes: Now, back to you, in your season Coach was able to play off his crazy reputation. People expected him to be nuts, and when they learned he was a normal guy, they probably felt like they got to see the real him. Is that accurate?
Cochran: Yeah, there definitely weren’t as many Amazonian pygmy tales going out. We definitely saw a different side of him. I think that was the most startling thing. He was a legitimate force in the game. Does this segue way into asking if I’m going to be the same?
Holmes: Nailed it. You’re an old pro at these interviews now.
Cochran: (Laughs) For me, I feel like it’s not like I told any tall tales or anything. It was all me, it was just an exaggerated version of me. The me you saw was the result of being on the periphery of an alliance and not being secure. I think I’d be a different person within the game if I felt some level of security. To get votes at every Tribal Council, even if it’s one or two, to always be the second option, it takes a toll on you emotionally. So, if there’s any security, they’re going to see a different guy.
Holmes: I’m a ridiculously paranoid person. I can’t imagine what it’s like to experience 39 days of constantly questioning everyone’s motives.
Cochran: It’s indescribable. And just thinking of these things is summoning feelings of nausea.
Holmes: So, you are feeling some pre-game jitters?
Cochran: Yeah, pre-game acid reflux. Imagine if you’re sitting there and two people walk off and all of the sudden a camera man and a microphone man dash after them. That’s going to freak you out. Maybe they’re talking about where the best coconuts are, but you have no idea. I’m a naturally hyper-analytical person to the point that it’s a character flaw. And so, it’s a very unhealthy environment for me. I’m doing some kind of permanent damage.
Holmes: You know, if my girlfriend cheats on me, she’s not going to be celebrated for it.
Holmes: But if I stab you in the back and it gets me further in the game, I’m a hero.
Cochran: There’s a perverse incentive to do nasty things in the game.
Holmes: Why do you think you were brought back?
Cochran: I think I made a big theatrical move in a season where there were certain predictable elements. I think the show values good narrators. I have a limited skill set, I’m not good in challenges, I’m not good around camp, I’m not good for team morale. But, I can maybe provide some commentary that’s enlightening or entertaining. And, I think Jeff Probst said in a Tout video, “I’d be interested to bring him back to see what someone who brings absolutely nothing to the table can accomplish a second time around.”
Holmes: I feel like you two have a very contentious relationship.
Holmes: Don’t get me wrong, I think he enjoys you, but he says it like a big brother who’s dunking his little brother’s head in the toilet. He does the same thing to me.
Cochran: He’s just an adult jock, ya know? (Laughs) But, I adore Jeff. I worship him.
Holmes: What’s it like to get the call inviting you back?
Cochran: It’s several things; it appeals to your ego. And that’s a part of returning players, there are a lot of egos. I intend to stroke a lot of egos. But you think, “Yeah, I am one of those amazing ‘Survivor’ players. I am a 7-Up Original.” And in retrospect, this is one of the best experiences of my life. Then the reality sets in; I was miserable out there. You’re sleeping on the ground, you’re hungry. What if I’m an outcast? What if everybody hates me? It’s half elation and half terror.
Holmes: Any first impressions of the cast?
Cochran: There was one guy I didn’t recognize, so I don’t know what the deal with that is. Maybe he’s a guy from season 25. Beyond that, I don’t think the subtitle for this season is going to be “Greatest ‘Survivor’ Players of All Time.” Erik Reichenbach is there, he gave up a necklace. Brandon was there, he gave up a necklace. Francesca was there, she got voted out first. I made, arguably, a very stupid move. But, then you have people like Dawn, so there isn’t a running theme of people who screwed up. And Phillip is kind of an eccentric character who arguable blew final Tribal Council by failing to say, “Look guys, I’m normal.”
Holmes: (Laughs) That’s not how he blew final Tribal Council.
Cochran: I’m cautiously optimistic. I am in the worst shape of everybody that was on that van. I was hoping there’d be some big personal transformation. I’d tear off my sweater vest and have these throbbing pecs.
Holmes: Surely there is someone who deals steroids in the Harvard area?
Cochran: (Laughs) I was actually contemplating that.
Holmes: (Laughs) That would’ve been awesome. Show Probst who’s boss.
Cochran: But, steroids are bad for you.
Holmes: Yes, if any kids are listening to this; don’t do steroids. But it’d be worth it to get Probst by the back of the neck.
Cochran: I’d look like Sheamus. It doesn’t look like Savaii, it looks like a group I’m cautiously optimistic about. I don’t want to say they’re dumb people, but they made some dumb moves. There are actually some rational people I can see myself wanting to work with. It’s a nice balance.
Holmes: Any early thoughts on who you’d want to align with?
Holmes: Besides everybody.
Cochran: That’s actually one of my thoughts; everybody. It’s one of these strategies I’ve been toying with. It’s very dangerous, but I align with everybody and tell them that my only genuine alliance is with them.
Holmes: Seems like you get two people talking and that might unravel pretty quickly.
Cochran: Yeah, but I’m telling them everything. If I keep complete openness about everything and I’m only being genuinely honest with a handful of people. Again, it’s such a departure from my last time around. It’s Kim-like. I feel like Kim did something similar.
Holmes: Where you’d get in trouble is people think you’re a strategist. Not to say you’re not, but they’d be looking for an angle.
Cochran: I have to be a strategist, I can’t do anything else. I can’t be Ozzy. I can try to do Sandra’s “anyone but me.” Actually, I want to sit out a challenge. That’s my big dream to sit out a challenge.
Don’t miss the two-hour premiere of “Survivor: Caramoan – Fans vs. Favorites,” Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.