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, Dan Foley, 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
In his parting words, Dan Foley stated that he entered Survivor with three goals: to have fun, to be remembered, and to win. Well, two out of three ain’t so bad. Whether he was juggling coconuts or chomping into a juicy cheeseburger reward, it was clear Dan was having fun. And, as one of the most talked-about players of the season, there’s no question that Dan carved out his place in Survivor history. After last night’s thrilling tribal council, Dan and I talked about keeping it real, whether flippers ever win, and the unforeseen disadvantages of advantages.
Cochran: Before we get to specific questions about your gameplay, let’s talk about “Dan” more generally. A lot of the players I’ve spoken with said you were a fun, great guy to be around —that is, apart from when they felt you were putting on an act. You even said in your final words last night that you played the game with the goal of being remembered. How much of what we saw was the “real” Dan, and how much of your behavior was guided by that desire to be a memorable Survivor “character”?
Dan: I’ve gotta tell you, I think that pisses me off more than just about anything else. Seriously. And it’s not against you, Cochran. The whole thing started with Jeff Probst saying the exact same thing — in an interview, he said “We just want to see the real Dan Foley.” But this is the real Dan Foley. Good, bad, or indifferent: this is it. Tyler actually asked Sierra at one point in the game, “Do you think this is really Dan, or is he just putting on airs?” And Tyler came up and asked me, and I’ll tell you the same thing I told him. I have two modes: awake and asleep. That’s it. There is nothing in between. When I’m at home, when I’m at work, when I’m playing with children, when I’m at church, when I’m at the grocery store, when I’m fixing cars, it doesn’t matter. This is me, all the time. And I can give you a list of phone numbers to call people, and they will tell you the same thing. There were no airs. This is me, and that’s part of the reason why they cast me. They just couldn’t believe it. Probst couldn’t believe it, but two weeks ago he said in an interview that I am the most interesting character they have had in all thirty seasons. Even he changed his tune. So, no. I am a man that speaks his mind. I put my foot in my mouth a lot, and I own that. There’s a lot of things I said in the course of my life that I have to apologize for, but you’ll know where you stand with me.
Cochran: At the beginning of last week’s episode, we saw you return to camp — following the tribal council in which Mike’s idol fake-out resulted in Tyler and Will voting against you —understandably irritated that you’d received votes from your allies. At that point, I fully expected you to jump over to Mike’s side, but you instead remained loyal to your allies. Why weren’t Tyler and Will’s votes more of a red flag for you? Did they cause you to at all question your place in your alliance’s pecking order?
Dan: What really upset me about all that was, earlier, Tyler and I had been down at the river and he’d actually said to me, “Do you think Mike has an idol?” And I said “Yes, I do.” Because when we went on the candy reward, we tore that place apart looking for a clue, and there was no clue. And I said, nobody’s found the Blue Collar idol that we know of, Joe found a clue when you went ziplining with him, and the very next reward there was no clue. Which means somebody found it. And there’s only four people with enough gumption to find it: you, me, Mike, and Joe. Clearly, Joe didn’t have it. And Tyler looked at me and goes, “I swear I don’t have it.” And I said “Me, too. That only leaves Mike.” And he asked whether I thought Mike would give it to Shirin, and I said he would be the dumbest man alive if he did that. So, we suspected that Mike had it. So, when Tyler cast his vote against me, of course it pissed me off. But if I jump ship with Mike, now it’s five of them versus me, Mike, and Shirin. I can do basic math, and that’s a dumb move. So I really didn’t have much of a choice. However, when somebody went through my bag — and, at the time, I didn’t know it was Tyler — I knew I was in trouble because somebody could now divulge my secret. So, what better way to get your power back? Tell somebody what your secret is. Let them in on it. So I pulled Rodney and Sierra off to the side to let them know what was going on. I re-solidified connections with Rodney, and I’d already won Sierra back over at that point. I had legitimately groveled to her. And Mike would’ve clung onto anybody — if I’d come back to Mike and said “Blue Collar strong, man. Blue Collar holler,” he would’ve come right into bed with us. That math works. Because it is, was, and ever shall be a game of numbers, and I played this game by the numbers. Last week, I got zero votes. This week, they all sided with me. I went out on a minority vote. I was doing the right thing. It was an idol that took my game away.
Cochran: As we saw on the yacht reward a couple weeks back, you were perhaps the biggest proponent of “staying the course” with your alliance, wanting to wait until only the six of you were left before battling it out. What were your plans beyond the six? What was your ideal Final 3?
Dan: Well, nobody wanted to go to the end with Mike. Nobody. Period, end of story. That was a clear consensus amongst everybody. I had actually talked about a potential “three collar” finish — me, Carolyn, and Will. I had talked about me, Will, and Rodney. And I had talked about me, Sierra, and Rodney. A lot of it was going to depend on how people reacted — what people wanted to do. Last night, I went around and asked everyone who they wanted to vote for, and they all said “Carolyn.” I’m not going to sit there and rock the boat at that point. When Mike whipped out the immunity necklace and he goes, “I’m giving it to Shirin,” everybody knew that he was a public enemy after the auction. Everybody knew he had to go at that point. We all made it pretty clear: if you align yourself with Mike, you align yourself with the enemy, and you stack the jury against yourself. I actually brought you up several times, like the first time you played. You flipped on your own tribe. For someone that’s a big fan, that’s a stupid move. Stupid. However, it gets you substantially further in the game. I think the bigger stupid move was Coach getting rid of you. He should’ve dragged you to the end kicking and screaming. Whether you wanted to go or not, I would’ve thrown you over my shoulder and dragged you. The fact that he got rid of you proves that Coach doesn’t know how to play the game. I bring you up constantly to defend my comment “Flippers never win.” There was no chance — even if you had gone to the end, there was no chance you were going to win that game. None. Because the majority of the jury was against you. They were pissed.
Cochran: Although it ended up not saving you, you do have the honor of being the first ever Survivor to possess the “two vote” advantage. Given that the advantage seemed to put a huge target on your back, do you feel like it ended up being more of a disadvantage? Do you regret buying it at the auction?
Dan: No, I don’t regret it. I became the template for the vote doubler. There have been rumors about it for years, and I’m the first person who got to play with it. Sure, any time you have an advantage, it can potentially put a target on your back — so, again, Carolyn was very smart not to say anything about her idol. But at the same time, if you can leverage the power in your favor, then you can do something more than just what it represents. You can have tendrils that will reach out and draw people to you because you all of a sudden have an advantage. And if people think that you’re the goat — if Rodney and Sierra perceive me as the goat — well, then they’re more willing to ride with me. So, like everything else in this game, it’s a double-edged sword. But I ended up with it, and I played it, and it just didn’t work out the way I wanted it to. But I said it a couple episodes ago: I dictate my own fate. Nobody decides it. I didn’t side with Mike just to get rid of Rodney — that’s what he was proposing to me last night. If I had done that — gotten rid of Rodney — and convinced everyone else to turn on me because I turned on Rodney, I would’ve never forgiven myself. I played the game my way. I lost my way. And I’m okay with that.
Cochran: Do you think your use of the advantage might have tipped off Carolyn that treachery was afoot — prompting her to use the idol that ultimately sent you home?
Dan: I can only speculate. The way it looked on the show, it looked like she was going to play her idol one way or another. I don’t think that me not playing my advantage would have changed her mind. I don’t know. If it did change her mind, then whatever. I accept the consequences of my own actions. Because theoretically, if we were all gunning for her, there’s four of us and two of them. So if she’s doing the math in her head, whether I play the advantage or not, she’s still on the short end of the numbers, so she has to play her idol. So I think she was going to play it no matter what. But that’s just my guess.
Cochran: You coined something of a Survivor strategy mantra with three simple words: Flippers never win. Do you stand by that statement?
Dan: I do stand by it. Is it an absolute rule? No. There have been examples where it has helped people. But, for the most part, I think that’s a pretty steadfast rule. It’s gotta be a pretty rare set of circumstances where if you flip on your own alliance to join another alliance that you could actually win the game. But it has happened. People keep using Tony [from Survivor: Cagayan] as the reference — but Tony didn’t flip. He backstabbed. Kass is the one who flipped. That’s why she had a target on her back. So I do still stand by that.
Cochran: Early in the season, it seemed like you and Mike were the best of friends and allies. Last night, though, you described him as selfish and self-centered. When did things fall apart with Mike? Is that an alliance you wish you could’ve maintained?
Dan: In my world, the way I view things, there are four things in life that are earned, not given: trust, respect, family, and forgiveness. There’s gameplay and there’s something else. Where the line is between the two, I don’t know. But I felt like, at that moment at the auction [with the letters from home], Mike crossed the line. There was no forgiving him, because he didn’t earn it. He didn’t try. He just kept getting more and more angry with me because I wouldn’t work with him. And then he said we had to align with Shirin, and I’m like, “She is the devil, and I am not making a deal with the devil.” Mike just couldn’t understand why I was upset. And he kept saying “They’re coming for me!” But it’s, like, "Mike, everybody is coming for everybody. That’s the game! You’re not processing this! We’re all coming for each other!" But Mike just made it about Mike and nobody else. Which is fine — that’s the game, but it’s not just a game. You make personal connections. And when you feel like somebody that you care about betrays you — I don’t care what anybody says, if you leave this game with a smile on your face, then you weren’t here to play. Unless you go out pissed off, then you were not here to play. You were just here for the experience.
Cochran: As I’m sure you’re aware, you caused some controversy this season with comments you made about a few of the other players, particularly Shirin. Do you regret anything you said? What’s your take on the situation?
Dan: First and foremost, I had no idea that there was any type of domestic violence in her past. None. Zero. I would never have made that comment if I did. And I feel terrible about that. That’s the God’s honest truth. Now, my comment? Come on. The fact that people took me literally is foolishness. How many times have you heard somebody say, “God, I could just kill this person!” You think they go home and plot murder? It was a metaphor. And I was not alone. Every single person on our season said derogatory things about Shirin. Even Mike called her a “man-hater.” How many times do we have footage of Jenn saying “God, someone should get her to shut up already”? If that many people are saying pretty much the same thing about you, are we bullying you? Or do you need to rethink how you handle people? So, it was not meant to be promoting violence against men or women or anyone for that matter. It was just meant as an expression, and it was blown so far out of proportion. Did people lose their minds over Lindsey’s comments? “I want to just break your jaw and feed it to you.” Come on. And I think that was a far worse statement than mine was. But when it gets tied together with Shirin’s domestic violence, it makes me look a lot worse than I really was.
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