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, Tyler Fredrickson, had his torch snuffed by Jeff Probst, Cochran sat down with the former Survivor player for a Q&A. Read on to see how the interview played out.
By John Cochran
COCHRAN: For the first half of this game, it seemed like the Blue Collar tribe—despite all their dysfunction—was one of the most cohesive, impenetrable groups in Survivor history. Once the merge hit, though, you and Carolyn somehow managed to not only break into their alliance, but to secure yourselves power positions within its controlling suballiance. When did this happen, and how did you manage to pull it off?
TYLER: It was my strategy the moment I hit the beach: relate. In Survivor, everyone is looking for an ear. I got in there and Sierra was frustrated over her first tribal, feeling disgraced and ridiculed. Mike and Dan could finally strategize with, and feel empowered by, someone who was smart yet slightly naïve with the outdoors. I tapped into Rodney’s loyalty and, when broken, fed his ego. And I relentlessly calmed Mama C’s paranoia when she got fired up. You have crazies from all walks of life who are insecure, suspicious, panicked. Be their rock and you become a necessity to them. That’s just difficult to edit.
COCHRAN: Last week’s tribal council—which included Mike’s shocking idol fake-out—didn’t go so great for you. Yeah, Shirin went; but you were called out as a big threat and cast a vote against Dan, which should’ve raised some red flags for him. How did you smooth things over with Dan? Were you afraid your vote against him might inspire him to jump over to Mike’s side? Or was winning him back just a matter of him being, as you put it, “gullible”?
TYLER: I felt I had a good excuse with Dan. We were close, and I had to write someone. I chose Dan simply because Mike had been throwing Dan under the bus for days, claiming he was gunning for different people. Mike did this a lot, and his reputation was pretty damaged. On the spot, I needed to figure out the name Mike would potentially write down. In essence, my argument to Dan was: it’s wasn’t my call, it was Mike’s – he’s your trash-talker, he’s still your bad guy. We all knew the alliance would eventually turn inward so votes weren’t a surprise to Dan… but I was confident that he was still so completely alienated by Mike’s auction tango that it would simply be a matter of time before we were off strategizing together again. And it was. And we were.
COCHRAN: If your alliance contained its fair share of gullible players, it also had a nice serving of crazy. And, as you observed, a huge part of Survivor is being able to “anticipate crazy.” No one, however, could have anticipated the crazy reaction Rodney had to being snubbed for a reward (ON HIS BIRTHDAY, OF ALL DAYS! HIS BIRTHDAY!). What was your take on that outburst, and Rodney’s behavior more generally? Was he the sort of “crazy” you could predict and control for, or was having him as an ally more of a strategic liability?
TYLER: “I’m frickin’ stahvin, bro! No rewahd!” (laughs). Hot Rod came up with this “ingenious” plan to be so angry over being ditched from reward that he would act as if he wanted to quit for two straight days. It would be a tantrum for the ages; one that would leave Oscar voters shredding their tear-stained ballots, standing, and slow clapping him toward the podium. Whatever. After we got back from the challenge, he was furious. Enraged. This was good for me: “I got you, bud, we’re in this together,” which was always my response to Rodney’s outbursts. He was consistently predictable, the Terminator to my John Connor – bursting through a police station as 2,000 rounds unload into his torso. When the smoke clears, I simply skip by.
COCHRAN: Having done exit interviews with other contestants, and just watching the show in recent weeks, it’s become clear how much everyone considered you a huge threat. When did you become aware of your reputation as a favorite to win? And what steps, if any, did you take to control for or downplay that perception of you?
TYLER: Honestly, it was when Shirin and Mike outed me at tribal. Up until that point, I never wanted to take ownership that I was leading anything, whether an alliance or the game, because it could all implode in a heartbeat if that word got out. When they blew me up–whether strategy or truth–it dawned [on me] my impact had intensified and that a passive aggressive strategy was no longer an option. I countered that Mike and Shirin were hopeless and, like dogs on a leash out of reach, all bark and no bite. There is no danger within us; I’m loyal, I haven’t lied… the danger is over there. We’ve got the real power – the numbers – so stay the course and we eliminate the nonsense that is their dwindling alliance.
COCHRAN: Alright, I’ve avoided the topic long enough, but we have to discuss it: Carolyn. What went wrong? How did she go from seemingly your closest ally to someone who was apparently willing and eager to vote you out? And what do you make of her decision to vote for you?
TYLER: What can I say, I got Denise-d! (laughs) Before we even touched down in Nicaragua my intent was to find a woman I could partner with and influence. Nothing against women (I assure you!) but I had done a ton of final tribal-research and a gender-diverse male-driven pair was more likely to be successful than not. Fortunately, she came to me with an idol on Day 2 and we were sealed. I think over a course of a few tribals the camp vibe quickly morphed from, “Oh, he’s a good dude,” to “Uh-oh, we’re screwed.” And hats off, Mama C! She flipped (with immunity) before I had a chance to flip on her. Whether it comes back to bite her is yet to be seen.
COCHRAN: We saw you approach Carolyn and delicately bring up the possibility of her playing her hidden immunity idol on you. Did you ever feel like this was something she’d be open to? Or did her noncommittal answers tip you off that she had other plans?
TYLER: This was never something I outright confronted her about but it was something I tip-toed around. I never wanted her to feel like I was forcing her to save me, but I had been deflecting questions about her on her behalf for some time. She was noncommittal in the edit, but on the beach I still felt good about my chances of her kicking it over to me, probably to my demise. In retrospect, I should’ve pushed harder for either her necklace or idol at my last tribal… then again, I had zero idea my alliance was about to flip.
COCHRAN: In addition to knowing about Carolyn’s idol, you also took it upon yourself to find out the truth about Dan’s advantage. Once it became clear that the vote was going to be between you and Dan, did you ever consider revealing to everyone else what his advantage really was, to shift some attention onto him?
TYLER: Let it be known that people were going through bags long before I did! I just did it best! Yeah, I considered telling everyone in my alliance but ultimately concluded that their not knowing was even more scary than knowing. When the monster is revealed at the end of a movie it’s typically a letdown in comparison to the fear of the unknown. I wanted Dan’s advantage to be the most intimidating thing Survivor had ever conjured up. So what was it? Who cares? All I know is that it has to go, and he with it.
COCHRAN: In the end, Mike, Carolyn, and Sierra all voted against you. Were you surprised by Sierra’s decision?
TYLER: Not at all. From the moment of the mixup I had been trying to convince Sierra to join me. In fact, I told her I would take her to the very end – which is 155,000% true. It was obvious she was shaken from the way the blue collars treated her at the first tribal and I knew I could harness her desire for revenge down the road. Unfortunately, Sierra was so good at mentioning how her old tribe was dead to her yet would always return back into the arms of Mike and Dan. Frustrating, to say the least.
COCHRAN: On less of a game-related note, I talked to both Shirin and Jenn, who expressed disappointment that, during Will’s now-infamous blow-up at Shirin, nobody stepped forward to defend her to calm things down. Do you regret not doing more to speak up for Shirin during those tense moments? Or do you have a different take on the situation?
TYLER: These are complicated, layered issues that require patient and educated discussions, and so obviously above my pay grade. Plus, these are two of my friends, so I want to respect the way both are feeling. Bottom line is: there was an argument between two people, it grew pretty heated. I do believe Will took it much further than it needed to go and I encouraged him to apologize to Shirin after the fact. At tribal, he mentioned that I was the only one to approach him to do so but this was edited out for whatever reason. I also apologized to Shirin later on the beach for not interfering, which she also never mentioned and clearly never made edit. I worked it out with both of them. It’s now for them to work through.
COCHRAN: With your exit, yet another frontrunner to win has been eliminated, and it’s starting to look like maybe the lunatics really are running the asylum. Once it gets down to the final three, how are you going to make your decision? After all—whether they’re gullible, crazy, or disloyal—you’re going to have to pick someone from that group.
TYLER: Put your pride aside. Bitterness aside. Jealousy aside. It seems so obvious to say but whoever Outwits, Outlasts, Outplays gets my vote. I take that incredibly seriously… because I don’t want to be beat by an idiot. Bottom line is, I go into final tribal without any idea who I’m going to vote for. You’ll just have to stay tuned to find out what’s what.
Related Articles:Joe's Bold Fake Out Ends In His Own Survivor Farewell
Why Law Student Hali Couldn't Argue Her Way Out of Elimination
A Rude Awakening Kicks Kelly Off Team Merica