Cochran Survivor Essay

[Warning: Spoilers head if you haven't seen Sunday's episode of Survivor: Caramoan -- Fans vs. Favorites.]

John Cochran -- a self-professed Survivor super-fan -- won the game in his second attempt, as revealed on Sunday night's live finale.

PHOTOS: Jeff Probst's 'Survivor' Picture Diary

The 25-year-old Harvard law student who lives in Washington, D.C., was perceived as a weakling in his first time around, but he did a total 180 to win four individual challenges this season and win the $1 million prize in a unanimous vote. He received all of the eight possible votes to take the win over Dawn Meehan and Sherri Biethman.

After the finale aired Sunday on CBS, Cochran talked to The Hollywood Reporter about what he plans to do with the $1 million prize, to what he attributes his transformation and what's next.

The Hollywood Reporter: How do you plan to spend your winnings?

John Cochran: It's going to be a lot of boring stuff; it's going to be invested, probably a down payment on an apartment, and I'm thinking of a little impulse purchase. Nothing extravagant that I'm going to spend my money on. When I get a new apartment, I'll probably … soup it up? Soup it out? I don't even know the lingo. I'll probably make it as high-tech as possible, a lot of wireless gizmos and stuff. And I kind of want to get a Segway, as lame as that it. I don't know how often I'd use it, but I'd like to just ride around on one. Even if it's just doing circles in my living room.

THR: You said in the finale, you probably won't become a lawyer and instead have aspirations of becoming a writer. What kind of writing do you want to pursue?

Cochran: It's an abstract aspiration at this point. I've always been a good writer in school. … Maybe I'll write some sort of screenplay, or comedy writing. Then I start thinking, am I really that funny, or am I just deluding myself?

THR: You wrote a thesis paper on Survivor and the jury system. Is this available to read online or anywhere else?

Cochran: It's not that good is the thing. It's been mythologized as this incredible work of Survivor genius. It's basically Survivor for Dummies. … But it's not that great, and I feel like it's better left a mystery than revealing how lame it is to the world.

THR: You won the title of Sole Survivor by a unanimous vote, which is a pretty amazing feat.

Cochran: Not to toot my own horn, but I won unanimously, and nobody cast a single vote against me the entire game, which is only the second time in Survivor history that's happened. J.T. [of Survivor: Tocantins] had the same thing. On the one hand, you could I'm say not a threat; nobody bothered voting for me because I'm such a loser, but I'm kind of a winner now, so maybe they should have voted against me.

THR: We really saw a big turnaround in you this time around. When did this transformation take place?

Cochran: Watching yourself on Survivor is a tough experience. You get a lot of criticism online. You have to grow thicker skin. I think that helped going into this season. I had thicker skin. I was very aware of what my flaws were. And I'd been ridiculed so much that it loses its sting. You're a little bit more callous and you don't have to worry about your character flaws, and I have an abundance of that. Not only that, but the people I played with and on my tribe, we got along great. The first time, nobody liked me. Getting along with people is a huge benefit. It put me at ease. I was able to think about the game in a very focused way instead of worrying, oh my god they think I'm some loser. I was probably still a nerd, or loser, but I got along with everybody and it wasn't always dominating my thoughts.

STORY: 'Survivor: Caramoan's' Brenda Lowe on Being Blindsided: It Was 'Painful'

THR: Was there a point where you felt like you had it in the bag?

Cochran: Dawn and I always talked about the game, that it was like Whac-a-Mole. From the very first day, I was thinking [Malcolm] was my biggest threat. He's a smart, charming, athletic strategist, so we knocked him down, but then Andrea pops up. And Andrea's playing a very strong game. She has an idol. She had kind of wooed the enemy [and secured jury votes] from the other tribe. So we knocked her down, and all of a sudden Brenda is someone who's a legitimate threat because she hadn't really crossed anybody. So there was never a moment where I was like, now Malcolm's gone, and here's my victory march to the end. I think when I won immunity, and I knew I was going to be in the end, I thought, "I actually played a well-rounded game." …. [At the final tribal council], I felt pretty confident. I thought I answered my questions pretty well, and people seemed receptive to my answers. But this was filmed 10 months ago, and that's a long time for doubt to start creeping in. I felt pretty confident, but a lot of that confidence kind of diminished as time went on.

THR: Is there a scenario in which you'd ever play again? Say they did some sort of all-winners edition?

Cochran: I feel bad saying this but I don't think that I would. I don't think I'd do as well. I'm aware of my limitations. I'm aware that I lucked out a lot this time, that a lot of stars aligned, the timing was perfect, everything was great. And I had such a great tine in addition to all that. I really enjoyed it. First of all, I'm not going to do as well, that's inevitable. I probably won't have as good of a time, and my last Survivor memory's going to be losing and not enjoying myself as much. I kind of would like to end on this note, where everything is going to be perfect me and I'm happy. Doesn't it seem better to quit while you're ahead rather than coming back and bungling it?


“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part II, act 4, scene 2, line 86.

The first Survivor season I saw was Survivor: Phillipines. When I stumbled upon the show, I had no idea the cultural impact it had, its enormous fan base nor that I was watching its 25th season. As I started doing some research, I became fascinated by all the layers of the game and how it wasn’t just a competition show, it was a social phenomenon that dated back 15 years!

Right before the 31st season began back in May of this year, I had already watched every single season of the show. Needless to say, I was a Survivor fan to the core. I had watched every episode, read every possible article I could find about the show; I followed on social media many of the castaways, and I was seriously considering buying all the Survivor buffs available on the Internet.

Though as I watched the show and read strategy related articles, a question came to mind: How come a lawyer has never won the game? Even though they are considered to be highly analytical, resourceful and sometimes charming enough to pull off a win, how come not one of the lucky 30 winners was one?

Out of the 460 castaways that have participated, 27 castaways are lawyers or were in law school at the time they played. Here is a list of them:

1. Stacy Stillman (Borneo 14th place)
2. Nick Brown (Australia 7th place)
3. Paschal English (Marquesas 4th place)
4. Deena Bennett (Amazon 8th place)
5. Andrew Savage (Pearl Islands 10th place, Cambodia th place)
6. Eliza Orlins (Vanuatu 4th place, Micronesia 10th place)
7. Caryn Groedel (Palau 5th place)
8. Willard Smith (Palau 13/14th place)
9. Jolanda Jones (Palau 18th place)
10. Brooke Struck (Guatemala 15th place)
11. Bobby Mason (Panama Exile Island 12th place)
12. Becky Lee (Cook Islands 3th place)
13. Alex Angarita (Fiji 6th place)
14. Charlie Herschel (Gabon 9th place)
15. Dan Kay (Gabon 11th place)
16. Candance Smith (Tocantins 15th place)
17. Russell Swan (Samoa evacuated, Phillipines 15th place)
18. Liz Kim (Samoa 13th place)
19. Monica Padilla (Samoa 7th place, Cambodia 16th place)
20. Jaison Robinson (Samoa 5th place)
21. Francesca Hogi (Redemption Island 18th place, Caramoan 20th place)
22. Kristina Kell (Redemption Island 16th place)
23. David Murphy (Redemption Island 12th place)
24. Matt Quinlan (One World 16th place)
25. Hope Driskill (Caramoan 18th place)
26. Kass McQuillen (Cagayan 3th place, Cambodia 13th place)
27. Hali Ford (Worlds Apart 11th place)

As the list shows, lawyers tend to fall either at the end of the ranks or in the jury phase, but never at the Final Tribal Council, except Becky Lee on Survivor: Cook Islands, who was considered to ride Yul Kwon’s coattails (the eventual winner) and received 0 votes. How is this possible? Let’s review.

At the beginning of this article, there’s a quote from one of the most famous writers in history, William Shakespeare. In Henry VI, Shakespeare writes about the life of King Henry VI and details the events of the King’s inability to control his nobles, the death of Humphrey, the Duke of Gloucester, the rise of the Duke of York and it culminates at the beginning of the Battle of St. Albans.

One of the most famous lines in the play, spoken by the rebel Cade’s sidekick Dick the Butcher, is the first mentioned quote: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Whether this means that lawyers are the protectors of justice or the agents of its corruption, is often disputed by those who have read and analyzed the play.

This quote describes how often lawyers are viewed as cunning, shrewd, corrupt and dishonest. Of course this doesn’t apply to all lawyers out there (myself included since I am in law school with two years to graduate) but unfortunately, this is mostly how lawyers are viewed in the world, including in the Survivor world.

Some lawyers are viewed as leaders (Russell Swan in Samoa, Andrew Savage in Pearl Islands). Others as strategic threats with witty humor (David Murphy in Redemption Island, Eliza Orlins in Micronesia, Chaos Kass in Cagayan). The ones that are annoying or overbearing (Matt Quinlan in One World, Jolanda Jones in Palau) And the likable and jury threats (Charlie Herschel in Gabon, Jaison Robinson in Samoa)… and the list goes on and on. Though no matter what other characteristics they have, they never reach the end.

One of the greatest exceptions is, of course, John Cochran in Survivor: Caramoan. Cochran is remembered in his first season (South Pacific) as being an awkward, over enthusiastic Survivor fan to the extreme, who flipped on his original alliance at the merge, which caused every single member of his original tribe to be voted off one by one, including himself when he was no longer needed.

Cochran came back in season 26, where he redeemed himself in every way and won the game, the million dollar prize and the coveted title of Sole Survivor. Though Cochran is now a writer, he did attend, and graduated from, Harvard Law school where he wrote an essay relating the US jury system with the Survivor jury system. He considers himself a writer and has never practiced law, so that’s why he is not included in the list mentioned a few paragraphs before.

Analyzing how and why each lawyer was voted out would take too many pages and would get tiresome, but I’ll try to be brief. Even though all these castaways possessed the analytical skills a lawyer should have for them to analyze the situation and pave their way to the end, they weren’t able to use them accordingly to the game they should have played given their circumstances.

Sure, there were ones who had it far harder than others. Kass was known for being chaotic and had an uphill battle to begin with in Cambodia or Hali Ford in Worlds Apart where she was on the wrong side of the numbers since the merge. But every one of them had the same chance as all the other players at succeeding.

Still, certain thoughts come to people’s minds just by the mention of someone being a lawyer and it creates a certain target on that person right at the beginning. Lawyers are expected to behave a certain way, they are supposed to have certain skills, and whether or not they live up to those expectations, I do think lawyers have certain stigmas to overcome in order to progress and advance in the game.

I certainly wish that someday, a lucky and skillful lawyer will enter the game and win it all, since it is nice to be represented and to be able to identify with the players on some level. I personally relate to Sandra Diaz-Twine for being Hispanic, I relate to Tyson Apostol for being snarky and sarcastic like myself, I relate to Cochran for being the underdog and still succeeding, and hopefully, someday I’ll be able to relate to a lawyer who against all the odds, goes all the way.

Mariana is a 21-year-old Law student from Mexico City, Mexico. Her hobbies include writing, reading and of course watching Survivor. The first season of Survivor she ever saw was Survivor: Philippines and she became so fascinated with the game and its many layers that she went back through the archives and watched every single previous season.

View all posts by Mariana

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