“What I have to do is focus on the positive, visualize success, and just get these negative thoughts out of my head.”
– John Cochran, Survivor: South Pacific
Cochrowned! On Sunday, Survivor super fan John Cochran swept the challenges and swept our hearts. More importantly, he swept the jury votes, becoming the third winner in Survivor history – after JT and Earl – to shut out his opposition. Congratulations, Cochran! You win a million bucks and the final Fishy!
When the season started, I thought Cochran was DOA. He was physically maladroit, he was a known backstabber and his skin blistered on exposure to sunlight.
But the politics of the Favorites tribe favored him. Phillip, Andrea and Dawn wanted to work with him while they settled old vendettas. Cochran served as therapist to a group of volatile players.
That provided him the room to develop he hadn’t had in South Pacific, where he was a nerd outcast among jocks. On the Island of Misfit Toys, Cochran could undergo his chrysalis from anxious caterpillar to slightly-less-anxious butterfly.
By the end, Cochran wasn’t just tribe counselor – he was its leader. He wasn’t a challenge cipher – he was a dominator.
And the Oscar Goes To …
Cochran’s greatest strength wasn’t his strategy chops or his challenge skills, however, but his gifts as a storyteller. All season, Cochran’s been narrating his own journey from super fan to superstar. Last night, he deserved an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
“This is the culmination of 13 years of passion for Survivor,” he said about himself. “I’ve seen every season of Survivor. I’ve never seen a collection of threats like this,” he flattered the jury.
Final Tribal’s biggest challenge is praising your own game while mollifying the jury for theirs. In a pitch-perfect speech, Cochran said his success came down not to muscle, charm or even strategy – but to timing. “Whenever a threat emerged, I would strike before I could be struck,” he said.
When the Q&A started, there wasn’t any question who would win. The jury bristled with anger at Dawn and disregarded Sherri. Brenda, in an ugly moment, demanded that Dawn remove her retainer.
I actually thought Dawn gave a stellar performance, owning up to the way she used her friendships to further her game. “If this is football, I have to be willing to tackle,” she said. She pointed out that if she hadn’t made those bonds, she and Cochran would never have had the information they needed to make their decisive game moves.
But nothing she could say would appease a hurt jury.
Meanwhile, everyone wanted to high-five Cochran. Eddie asked if they could hang out after the show.
A lot of that good will came from the way Cochran controlled his narrative all season. At tribal councils, when Jeff asked whom it made sense to betray, he answered honestly. He discussed with Eddie the reasons he should vote Eddie out. At Final Tribal, he fessed up that he was glad Dawn was getting berated.
Because he was so forthright, there was never any doubt he was playing a game. The jury considered him their buddy who had bested them, not the confidante who had broken their hearts.
If the jury questions were softballs, Cochran still knocked them out of the park. When Malcolm asked Cochran about his competitive edge, Cochran’s answer? “My insecurity.”
A Perfect Partnership
While Cochran won, and Dawn was humiliated, their journey to the finals proved how a strong bond between two players can overcome any opposition.
One of the most unusual qualities of their alliance was that nobody realized how “locked” they were. People regularly approached each about betraying the other.
Both played impressive games; Sherri, too, made strong moves throughout the season.
But there can be only one winner. This season, the right person won.