This Survivor Season’s Spunkiest Castaway Talks Quitting and Tears: Off to Ponderosa she goes

John Cochran, simply known as "Cochran" to Survivor fans, competed on the show during Season 23 and walked away as Sole Survivor on Season 26. After the most recent castaway Jenn Brown had her torch snuffed by Jeff Probst, Cochran sat down with the former Survivor player for a Q&A. Read on to hear how the interview played out.


By John Cochran

Despite being one of the more cool, calm, and collected (or “collective,” if you ask Rodney) players this season, Jenn Brown had a truly bipolar “Survivor” experience. The highs were dizzying, like when she correctly sensed danger and played her idol to blindside Kelly. But the lows were devastating — after Hali left, Jenn appeared ready to throw in the towel. Unfortunately, just when it seemed like chaos at camp might let her regain some strategic footing, Jenn was voted out and became the third consecutive No Collar member of the jury. The day after her elimination, Jenn and I talked about quitting, the Will versus Shirin showdown, and the art of messing with people.

Cochran: Several weeks ago, when you found the hidden immunity idol, you expressed your hope that it would prove helpful in “messing up” other people’s games. You reiterated this desire last night, stating that your sole motivation for staying in the game was to screw up the plans of all the players you disliked. Was this always your guiding principle in “Survivor”? Were you playing to win, or just to have fun and cause chaos?

Jenn: Well, I don’t like the word “chaos” because that’s associated with Kass [from Survivor Cagayan], and I’m like… no. Because I do not think we should be associated with each other. At the beginning of the game — everyone wants to win, of course — but it was never about the money for me. I mean, it’s cool, that’d be awesome. But it was more just to have fun and experience it. And I was totally playing not to cause problems, but to play and have fun… until the merge. And when the merge happened — even after I played my idol and Kelly went home — that’s when I decided that I need to start messing with everyone, because I saw how horrible these people were to each other for money. And I was like, I don’t like this; this is horrible. Now I’m just going to try to [expletive] with you guys because you’re not good people, so I might as well mess with your games and piss you off like you’re pissing me off.

Cochran: While we’re on the subject of your reasons for playing, let’s talk about last week. Stuck in the minority and witnessing the systematic elimination of your friends and allies, you seemed eager to leave the game. Was that genuine? Or was it a strategic move, since you knew the appearance of resigned hopelessness would make you less of a target?

Jenn: There was a point where I was sticking my hand down snake-holes to try and get snakes to bite me. Part of me did want to leave, because of how horrible people were to each other. You didn’t see quarter of it. I didn’t like it. I wanted to be away from them, but I didn’t want to leave the game. All that stuff you saw with Joe, where I was like, “Vote me out”: that was strategic on my part. Because, historically, if you say “Vote me out,” they usually don’t vote you out right then. I’d tried every other avenue and realized, you know what? Maybe if I don’t play, they’ll keep me in. They’ll vote out Shirin before they vote out me if I say I don’t want to play anymore. So that’s what I did.

Cochran: Considering how things turned out, is there any part of you that wishes you would have quit and allowed Joe to stay in the game? Or is that something you would never do?

Jenn: I would never have quit. No chance in hell. I would’ve given Joe the immunity necklace if I’d gotten it, just to see the looks on everyone’s faces and how pissed they got. And then they probably would’ve voted out Mike. But I never had any intention whatsoever of quitting the game. There was nothing you could’ve done to make me actually up and quit. Everyone saying “Oh, you don’t deserve to be there, you’re a quitter” — I was still playing the game. Chill out.

Cochran: The tribal council in which you played your idol to save yourself and knock out Kelly remains one of the most exciting moments in the season. The euphoria of that experience seemed short-lived, though, since you and your allies were back on the bottom of the totem pole the next morning. Were you at any point optimistic that you’d be able to pull over new allies from the majority, or was it always a lost cause?

Jenn: When Hali was still in the game, we thought we could get a girls’ alliance going, but at that point, we did not know that Will had flipped. We didn’t know Will had flipped until the tribal council Joe went home, pretty much. We weren’t sure we could trust Shirin. Because Will had been so loyal to us up until that point. After Hali left, though, it was like, “Yeah, we’re doomed.” We had tried every single thing we could think of, and it was like “Well, this is a sinking ship. At least Ponderosa will be fun because all the cool people are there.”

Cochran: Speaking of pulling people over, what led to the formation of the Jenn, Shirin, Mike trio? Was it just the natural aftermath of Mike’s bungled post-auction confrontation of Rodney, or is there more to the story? I found it surprising how quickly Mike went from top dog to on the bottom with you and Shirin.

Jenn: Rodney is running the game. He has been since the merge — maybe before. If it seemed like Mike was on top, he wasn’t. Rodney has always been pulling the strings; he’s one of the most strategic, smartest players out there. But the whole Mike auction situation — whatever the hell that was — gave a reason to be like “Mike’s on the outs now!” Rodney always had a solid four; Mike was always going to be the next target after Joe. But the reason the three of us ended up together is because no one would talk to Mike after that happened. Rodney was smart and grabbed everyone and said “Screw this guy, look what he did” and got the rest of the alliance to be like “[expletive] Mike.” And no one would ever talk to Shirin. I don’t know why. They all hated her. They were so horrible to her for no reason. They were so malicious. I never understood it. So Mike and Shirin were outcasted and no one would talk to them. And I wouldn’t talk to anyone. Shirin eventually came over to the cave I practically lived in, so we became close. And eventually Mike was like, “Hey, no one will talk to me, either.” So we were just the island of misfit toys that all banded together because we had no one else.

Cochran: I know you weren’t around camp for the heated exchange between Will and Shirin, but I was wondering what your take on it was. Did you feel Will was totally out of line? And did it frustrate you that nobody intervened and spoke up for Shirin?

Jenn: At first, I almost didn’t believe Shirin. I mean, I did, but Will had been so nice to me — he’s always been such a nice person to me. I cannot for the life of me figure out why that happened or what caused it. The way he acted toward Shirin? You didn’t even see a third of it. He was just screaming at her, saying horrible things. Same thing to Mike. He yelled at Mike, too. All three of us did the same exact thing that caused this blowup. But afterward, Will pulled me aside and was like, “Hey Jenn. You know I love you; you know I respect you. No hard feelings.” That was it. And I was like, “What the [expletive]? Why don’t you hate me, too? Why aren’t you yelling at me?” I don’t understand. And I feel horrible, honestly, because I heard him coming and heard him screaming and was like “I’m out; I don’t want to be here for this.” So I bailed and went to my cave. I wish that I hadn’t, so I could’ve been there to shut Will up and get him to stop attacking her. Because no one did anything. Mike wasn’t there— when Mike showed up, he immediately grabbed Shirin and got her out of there. The fact that no one — even Sierra, who was verbally assaulted many times by those same men — stopped it was so upsetting to me. And that’s when I was like, “You know what? I’m going to do everything I can to ruin these awful people’s lives.” Because it’s one thing if you’re the person doing it, but it’s another thing if you see it happening and you stand by and let it happen. That’s unacceptable.

Cochran: Beyond the tension between Will and Shirin, the other big event last night was the auction (and its ramifications). Since you knew you were in the minority, did you give any thought to saving your money for the advantage?

Jenn: Never in a million years did I want to pay for that advantage. The Survivor auction is my favorite thing maybe in the world. When I watch the show, if the auction came on — ask my roommates — I would almost start crying from excitement. I get unnaturally excited. When I found out it was auction day, I almost killed myself falling into the fire to go hug Mike, since I was so excited. Screw the advantage — I don’t want it. I want to buy fun things. And I knew I was going out anyway. What’s the point in wasting this amazing fun day for maybe a piece of paper? Screw that.

Cochran: I’m also interested in your thoughts on Tyler and Carolyn. We haven’t heard much from them, but it appears they’ve both secured themselves a pretty cushy spot in a controlling sub-alliance of the dominant majority alliance. Did you see them as helping call the shots, or simply as pawns in Rodney’s alliance?

Jenn: Well, no one knew about Rodney until we were watching it from home. And so now we’re like “Oh my God — no way this was happening.” But in the game… With Carolyn, I knew she had the idol. I never told anyone; I never blew it up when I saw it. I don’t know why. I really regret that, actually. Anyway, Mama C didn’t do anything. There was no strategy I saw from her, ever. She’d occasionally talk to us, but she would never really go through with anything. So it was like she was just riding coattails. And Tyler, actually, I thought was very good. He was better at challenges than other people. I thought he was dangerous, because he never talked to anyone. He always just observed, and that scared me. I told everyone: Tyler’s going to win this game if you keep him around. Because I didn’t realize what a strategic mind Rodney was. I thought Rodney was just a 24-year-old guy from Boston. But yeah, at the time, I was scared of Tyler. Watching it now, I’m like, “Are they really even doing stuff?” At the time, though, I just really didn’t know.

Cochran: When the votes were read at last night’s tribal council, it was revealed that even Shirin and Mike — your closest allies — voted you out. Did this come as a surprise, or was it something you’d given them permission to do prior to tribal council, since you figured Dan was a lost cause?

Jenn: Dan was definitely a lost cause. We knew there was no chance in hell. But we knew they were going to split the votes because everyone’s scared of idols now, obviously. Which I think is hilarious, because everyone split the vote the entire time and the one time they didn’t, I played my idol. It was great! Anyway, they were going to split the vote, and it would have been a tie — like a 3-3-3 tie. And then we thought they probably would vote out Shirin on the revote. So I was like, “You know what, guys? We’re on a sinking ship.” Shirin still desperately wanted to play, though, and I figured I was going to go out anyway. I might as well go out sooner rather than later. So I said they could vote for me, and I’d let the chicken go just to solidify it. So I knew, yeah.

Cochran: I’m always interested in the different reasons “Survivor” jurors vote for the winners they do. It’s for that reason that I’ve been asking this season’s jury members what criteria they each used in casting their vote for a winner. What are yours?

Jenn: I’ll vote for the person who outwitted, outplayed, and outlasted everyone. Or the person who’s close to enough to all three of those. You can’t have just outplayed everyone. You have to have somehow embodied all three in some way. And if the final three are people who didn’t do all three of them, then the one who closest gets to it. It’s not whether you were loyal — that doesn’t matter. This is “Survivor.” Whoever played the all-around best game.

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