John Cochran Survivor Caramoan winner
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Interview: Survivor Caramoan Winner John Cochran

I am a huge Survivor fan. From the inherent strategy and physicality of the game, to the awesome blindsides, I never miss an episode! With that said, it’s always fun when there is a Survivor from DMV-area to root for! Luckily for us, one of the best Survivor contestants to ever play the game, John Cochran (or “Cochran” to any true Survivor fan), hails from Northern Virginia!

Like me, Cochran was (and still is) a huge fan of the game! Before becoming a contestant himself, Cochran — then a law student at Harvard University — even wrote a paper on the Survivor Jury system! When he was finally chosen to don the Survivor buff himself, Cochran made the most of his experience, appearing twice on the show: first on Survivor: South Pacific, where he was the 13th person voted out,  and then made a triumphant return last season in Survivor: Caramoan, where he went on to WIN the game!!! Cochran’s quick wit and Survivor expertise cemented his place as not only a Probst favorite, but a fan favorite as well.  Not to mention, his flawless second game, where he received no votes cast against him for the entire time he was on the island, makes him the first Survivor winner from the DC area (and in my mind, one of the best to ever play the game)!

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to Cochran about his time on Survivor, his thoughts on the current season (Survivor: Blood vs. Water), and his writing gig for CBS’ hit new show The Millers!! Check it out below and make sure you tune in to CBS to watch Survivor: Blood vs. Water, Wednesdays 8 PM/7PMc  and The Millers, Thursdays 8:30/7:30c !

Jeff Probst John Cochran immunity
Courtesy of CBS

CC: Cochran, congratulations on your “Survivor” win!! If my memory/research serves me right, you are the first “Survivor” winner from the DMV area! Coming from such a highly political/strategic area as D.C., did that help your ability to play the game?

Cochran: Growing up in the DC area – and having worked at some government offices – I learned from an early age the importance of diplomacy.  Being in such a politically-charged environment, it was crucial that I was able to ingratiate myself with people on both ends of the political spectrum.  “Survivor” is no different: when you enter the game, you have no idea whether you’ll be living (and aligning!) with Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives, and so it’s essential that you frame your interactions with everyone in the most diplomatic, bipartisan way possible.  Revealing too strong of an ideological or political leaning can strategically alienate you in Survivor, just as it can alienate you in DC.  

CC: As a destroyer of “Survivor” food challenges, I think we can assume you are a fan of food. What are your favorite restaurants in D.C. and what did you crave the most when you were on the island?

Cochran: Despite my ability to down beetle larvae and duck embryo without batting an eye, I’m really not much of a foodie.  Most of my days are spent gorging on fast food.  That said, when I’m back home in Oakton, Virginia, I love ordering in pizza from Santini’s or getting some burgers from Five Guys.  And when I’m visiting my sister in Baltimore, my family always makes sure to swing by Woodberry Kitchen.

Cravings on the island are a little unusual.  Virtually everyone develops an intense desire for peanut butter, regardless of how much they enjoy it back home.  That’s why, when peanut butter was presented at the Survivor “food auction” one day, I didn’t hesitate to lick it off the fingers of my [married] tribemate, Sherri.

CC: Are contestants allowed to bring luxury items anymore? If so, what did you bring?

Cochran: Although” Survivor” contestants are still asked to bring a luxury item with them, it is rare that we actually ever get access to them in the game.  This second time playing, I brought the original red sweater vest I wore during my first time on Survivor.  I figured it was an item with some sentimental, nostalgic value, as well as functional benefits – I hoped it would serve as a nice pillow or hip-cushion for those uncomfortable nights spent sleeping on bamboo.  Alas, I never got access to my old vest in the game.

CC: Since “Survivor 26” was a Fans vs. Favorites season, which former Survivor were you most excited to play with? It had to be Phillip, right?

Cochran: From a strategic standpoint, I was very excited to learn that I was playing the game with Dawn; she was someone I’d played with previously, and there’s something deeply comforting and valuable about having an instant rapport with another player right off the bat.

Entertainment-wise, I loved the opportunity to play with Phillip.  One element of “Survivor” that doesn’t necessarily translate onto the TV screen is how excruciatingly boring the whole ordeal can be.  As a result, it’s great to have someone like Phillip around camp, who is, if nothing else, a fantastic storyteller.  While some people rolled their eyes at his eccentric behavior and tall tales, I appreciated his gift for narration – it spiced things up.

John Cochran and Malcolm Survivor Caramoan
Courtesy of CBS

CC: It’s so exciting that CBS is putting your wit to good use! You’re writing for the new show “The Millers”! What is your writing process like for the show? Can we expect you to sneak any “Survivor” jokes in?

Cochran: Writing for “The Millers” is an intense, but also intensely fun, experience.  Depending on where we are in the production schedule, our days can be very different.  Some days are spent just sitting around, brainstorming and pitching somewhat abstract story ideas, frequently based on personal experiences the writers have had.  As a story takes shape, the writers all collaborate to “beat out” the story into a more structured bulletpoint list of plot points and joke ideas.  After a writer completes the script for a given episode, we all work together to punch it up.  The script is always changing, even through tape night.  One of the most exciting parts of the job is when we film: all the writers are sitting off-stage, scripts in hand, trying to come up with alternate jokes to pitch to our boss, Greg Garcia.  It’s very rewarding, and a real rush, to come up with a joke on the fly, run it out to Greg on the stage floor, and hear it performed by our incredible cast just minutes later.

CC: Out of the cast of The Millers, who do you think would have the best shot on “Survivor”? I think Jeff would enjoy calling Beau Bridges, “Bridges”.

Cochran: I agree that Beau Bridges would do a fantastic job.  I was very surprised to learn that he comes from a family of “Survivor” superfans, so he knows the game well.  He’s a smart, charming, personable guy.  And Beau’s ability to seamlessly transition between dramatic and comedic roles shows that he’s very skilled at adapting to the circumstances, which is probably the most important part of being a good “Survivor.”

CC: I know that you are super busy writing for “The Millers”, but as an avid “Survivor fan”, have you been able to stay up-to-date with Blood vs. Water? If so, who is your favorite contestant so far?

Cochran: Even though I’m working late nights for “The Millers,” I make sure to watch “Survivor” every week.  I absolutely love the “Blood vs. Water” twist this season – it gives the game an emotional edge that makes the show feel really fresh, even in its 27th season.  I really love a lot of the cast, but I’m especially enjoying Tyson (of the returning players) and Ciera (of the loved ones) right now.

CC: And finally… the question all Cochran fans are dying to know… will you ever go back on “Survivor” to try to tie Sandra’s win record?

Cochran: I’ll always love and obsessively watch Survivor, but my playing days are over.  I feel like I did the best I’m ever going to do – won more challenges than anyone else, never had a single vote cast against me, got every vote in the end, and genuinely loved the entire experience.  Another run at the game would just be a downgrade and a personal disappointment.  These days, I’m more focused on helping to make “The Millers” a winner!  It’s a dream job with an incredible group of people.  But I will, of course, always have a big part of my heart dedicated to “Survivor.” 

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