HitFix Interview: John Cochran talks ‘Survivor: South Pacific’

Given that he was doing exit interviews with reporters on Thursday, we can probably say this with empirical certainty: John Cochran’s Big Move on “Survivor: South Pacific” didn’t work.
That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good (or at least “valid”) idea. It just means it didn’t work, at least not for the man who asked Jeff Probst to call him “Cochran.”
Switching his allegiance from the Savaii tribe to Upolu after the “Survivor” Merge, a move that completely changed the game’s balance of power, didn’t win Cochran the million dollars or get him to the Final Three or even help the self-described superfan outlast a single member of Coach’s Cult.
No, the 24-year-old law student didn’t win the million dollars, but he was certainly the most talked-about new player of the “Survivor: South Pacific” season.
In his “Survivor” exit interview, Cochran discusses bullying, mythical Final Three plans, Jeff Probst’s respect and, of course, his Big Move.
Click through…
HitFix: So are you still “Cochran” these days? Or are you back to being “John” again?
John Cochran: Either one. Friends who have known me for a long time, it’s still “John.” But if you wanna call me “Cochran,” it’s always a thrill.
HitFix: The thrill isn’t gone?
Cochran: No! It’s great! What are you talking about? I’ve been obsessed with this for 11 years. It’s not gonna wear off after a couple months.
HitFix: I’ve had four or five straight weeks of these exit interviews in which people have done pretty much nothing but talk about you. Now, that’s not a million dollar achievement, but does it feel like an accomplishment to you?
Cochran: The fact that it’s universally negative commentary about me is not that huge of an accomplishment, but I guess it’s nice to hear my name occasionally. It’s like I said, I like hearing my name, “Cochran.” So yeah, I like that I’ve inspired strong feelings one way or another, I guess.
HitFix: I want to run through a few of the claims that people have made about you and get your opinion on them.
Cochran: [Laughs.] OK, go.
HitFix: First of all, I was told that everybody in the Savaii tribe had a Final Three plan with you involved and that you knew this. Does that seem right to you?
Cochran: No. So, a lot of people are saying that they wanted to take me to the Finals because they could beat me. In terms of explicit Final Three deals… Jim and I at one point had a deal and I think Dawn was supposed to be the third person, though now Jim is saying that Dawn was never really a part of it. So I had a deal with Jim, but what shattered all of that was after the “Jack & Jill” challenge when the entire tribe sat me down and said they were going to vote me off. So I figured, “OK. That means any deal isn’t valid. If you’re going to vote me out before the Final Three, that means we don’t have a Final Three deal.” So I had a deal with Jim. I never had anything with Keith, Whitney or Ozzy. Dawn and I had an understanding that we wanted to work together. But I think there’s some revisionism in that they’re saying that everyone would have taken me to the end.
HitFix: Do you think there may have been some amount of “Oh, I had a Final Three deal with him, but mostly in my mind…”
Cochran: I don’t necessarily believe they would have taken me to the Finals and if they did, it would be because they thought they could beat me. Is that supposed to be music to my ears that people are clamoring to beat me in the end? I don’t know. I think now that I have this reputation of being a disliked person, now it’s easy to say, “Oh yeah, we always wanted to be in the Finals with him, because we could beat him.” I don’t know if that was actually the thought process they had going on at the time. Maybe I guess it’s because they think I’m not a challenge threat, which I obviously  am not.
HitFix: OK. On to the next thing. Jim referred on the show and afterwards to you playing a perfect third place game. How long into the game did you feel like you were playing a *winning* game?
Cochran: Yeah, the “Third Place Game” claim is weird to me, because Jim will say that and then he’ll also say, “He’s an idiot, because if he’d stuck with us, we would have taken him to the Final, where we’d have beaten him.” So according to him, I’m third place either way. 
I don’t think I played a great game. I had enough self-awareness pre-Merge to sorta slip through the cracks several times. If I had been that awful, they would have gotten rid of me. But in terms of winning, I don’t think I ever stood a great shot at winning. I think had I stuck with my old tribe, I would have had *no* shot at winning, because basically I would have been dragged to the end as somebody who was not a threat and is annoying. I thought that by flipping, I marginally increased my chances at winning, because if I get to the end that way, Upolu will feel betrayed that some of their own took me to the end in place of them and I would get Upolu votes and then maybe get a Dawn or an Ozzy vote and might win. But again, it’s like a 10 percent shot at winning, as opposed to like a one percent shot if I stuck with Savaii. I have no delusions that I masterminded some great and winning move, but I wasn’t playing for third place.
HitFix: Next… I was told repeatedly that you weren’t bullied at camp, because if you’d been bullied, they would have showed it and that if Coach hadn’t put that word in your head, nobody would have used that word. How right does that sound?
Cochran: So “bullying” is like a super-charged word. Kids in schools kill themselves over being bullied. So I hesitate to use any word even resembling that to describe stuff that happened on a reality TV show. So no, I don’t think that anybody was a bully. I think there was a certain level of condescension and maybe some disrespect, but it’s possible that I asked for it, because I’m a self-deprecating guy, so it’s easy to be condescending to somebody who’s always so down on himself. But certainly flipping was not some sort of Revenge Against the Bullies fantasy of mine. It was a little bit more calculated than that and not completely an emotional decision. But no, I have only fond memories of everybody now. I don’t consider anybody a bully.
HitFix: Realistically, how representative did what we saw on TV feel compared to the way you remember it out there?
Cochran: It’s representative in that I did say and do all of those things. It’s not representative in that I didn’t exclusively tell embarrassing stories about myself to the disgust of everybody around me. You get bored there and you’re telling stupid stories to pass the time. They just happened to show more of mine than other people’s. In terms of representing my strategy accurately, they didn’t show that I went to pretty great lengths to… at one point I was trying to pit Albert against Coach, because when Albert was floating around the idea of keeping Dawn and Whitney and it was clear that that wasn’t going to happen, I tattled on Albert to try to get Coach against Albert so that maybe we could do something against Albert. I tried to recruit Brandon and Rick, feeling that they were kinda at the bottom of the totem pole, but they were very resistant to doing anything. But the problem was that none of that went anywhere, so there wasn’t any real reason to show it. But I feel that overall it was representative. It showed that I felt on the outs and that I made a big move that ended up not working for me and that hopefully I ended on a positive note.
HitFix: Speaking of the way it ended. When you got to Redemption Island, you had to have had some sense of what possible Duel might allow you to beat Ozzy. What were you hoping for and what were your thoughts when you saw the actual Duel?
Cochran: I went into it thinking, “I’m guaranteed to lose this.” My only hope was that maybe they’d do a memory thing. I knew they did a memory challenge last season. So would have been a completely even playing field. Or even the shuffleboard would have been anybody’s game. This was obviously better than hanging onto a pole or something or standing onto little foot-things for a long time. So it wasn’t completely something I couldn’t do, but it takes hand-eye coordination and I’m very uncoordinated, so that was difficult for me. The grappling hook thing was a disaster. I don’t think they showed the full extent of how horrible I was with the grappling hook. It really a miracle that I ever got to the maze portion of the challenge. I was throwing the grappling hook and I was giving it no slack, so it would swing back in my face, like an idiot. All of the people in the Redemption Island Arena were yelling at me to stop throwing it that way. It ended up being something that I was somewhat capable of doing, which was a shock.
HitFix: You knew you were never going to be Jeff Probst’s idea Alpha Male player, but did you feel by the end of the game that Probst had grown to respect you and what you were trying to bring to the game?
Cochran: Yeah, I think Jeff likes me. I mean, I’m not Colby. I’m not Andrew Savage. I’m not Boston Rob. But I think he respected that I made a big move. I think respected that I was really candid during Tribal Council. Tribal Council was a little bit weird, because he was asking me like, “So, are you are you this much of a nerd in real life? Are you always being picked last for the soccer team in real life?” They were weirdly personal questions, which I took as a sign that he had interest in my as a person. I think he respects me. You heard him at the Redemption Island Arena. He seemed pretty supportive of me. There was majestic music playing in the background as he praised me. I think I earned his respect. Which was all I wanted all along. Who cares about winning? All I wanted was a 20-second speech from Jeff. That’s what I came there for.
HitFix: Wearing your “Student of the Game” hat, how would you rate Coach and Ozzy’s performances this season compared to their two previous times playing?
Cochran: So obviously, Coach is blowing away all expectations. You think of him as the guy who’s on Exile Island with the dragon cane, posed atop some mountain top doing… Well, I guess he’s still doing the Coach Chi… But what’s wild to me is that he came into this game with a reputation as a joke and was immediately targeted. He was supposed to be a temporary player, according to Christine. The fact that he created this really devoted, dedicated alliance is super-impressive to me. Ozzy’s impressive for other reasons, not really so much for changing the way he’s perceived. He’s basically always been great in challenges and a little bit lacking in the social game department. He’s a nice guy, so I’ve got nothing against him. But Redemption Island is tailor-made for him. He doesn’t have to interact with anybody, really. He gets to basically play parlor games, which he excels at, because he’s really cool under pressure. So he’s not surprising me, so much he’s excelling at what people love him for. That’s why he’s getting Player of the Week. He’s great at catching fish and he’s great at climbing trees and he’s great at challenges. So he’s living up to his reputation, but he’s not surprising me in the same way Coach is.
HitFix: As a last question: “Survivor” can’t seem to do a season anymore without at least one or two previous players. Do you expect your phone to ring again for a future season? And with a second shot, what would you do differently?
Cochran: Whether I expect it, I think there’s a possibility, just because I was very visible this season. I don’t know. In terms of playing differently, my concern is that other people wouldn’t want to play with me, because they might think of me as untrustworthy and a liability in challenges. First, I’d have to work out a lot. I thought I was in OK shape, but that obviously wasn’t the case. I’d need to practice balance and agility and stuff, or something. I was a mess out there. But playing differently, I’d be a little bit more proactive and aggressive in terms of creating an alliance, I think. My pre-Merge game was just me bouncing around at the mercy of everybody else, so I’d definitely have to play it differently. But I’d love to play again. I’d just be afraid that I’d be kicked off early because my reputation precedes me.