The Survivor superfan archetype is something that is almost as old as the show itself. Aware of its own popularity, producers have wanted to find people that love the show and come off decently well on camera. Despite the show having fans of varying demographics and backgrounds, when it comes to casting said players, they have almost always been physically weak, nerdy and unassuming players.
Of course, I am talking about the Ryan Shoulders, aka Skinny Ryan and Brian Corridans of the world. Players who completely understand the show’s dynamics and love the strategic aspect of it but don’t understand how important its social aspect can be. Both players were intelligent people who failed to advance in the game because they could not curry favor with their respective tribes. One could argue that Rob Cesternino would fit the mold and did very well on his season but from his own words, Rob was primarily a Big Brother fan when he was cast for Survivor. Only after his season did he become the big fan he is now known as.
It’s easy to sit on the couch and watch the events of a season unfold while thinking you could do better. The audience gets a complete overview of what is going on and who is trustworthy, out on the island, players can only rely on their point of view. Superfans who always think about the strategic part of the game don’t really notice all the socializing that is needed to even get the chance to play the strategy angle. You can be the best strategist in the world, if no one wants to work with you it won’t matter.
In Guatemala, the producers had a superfan on both tribes. The aforementioned Brian did poorly but his counterpart on the other side, Rafe Judkins, became the first superfan archetype to experience real success. He formed great bonds with his alliance and it carried him all the way to the final three. Had he won the last immunity challenge, he would have crushed Stephenie LaGrossa in final tribal council and become the first superfan to win the game.
Instead, that honor ended up going to Todd Herzog only a few seasons later in Survivor: China. The tiny gay Mormon became the first player to show that you could win despite having the stigma of being super into the show and understanding its strategy. He dominated his season from start to finish, never letting his alliance crumble despite its shaky inner workings and was rewarded for his efforts. Todd’s win legitimized his archetype and allowed producers more room to cast more people like him.
That is how we eventually got to John Cochran, possibly the biggest Survivor fan the show had ever cast. This is a man who stated on the show itself that he owned a buff collection and had written a thesis on the jury and final tribal council. He lived and breathed Survivor. He was also the living stereotype of his archetype. Cochran was small, weak and lacked self-confidence. He was also quite awkward but had a good sense of humor that made him endearing.
In his original season, Cochran got a fairly terrible draw in terms of tribemates. Put on the Savaii tribe with players like Ozzy Lusth, Keith Tollefson and Jim Rice, Cochran stuck out like Justin Bieber in a DJ Khaled music video. Bunched in with alpha-males who did not respect the calmer and quiet type of man like Cochran, he quickly found himself on the bottom of his tribe’s totem pole.
Because of his ability to mock himself and make his tribe laugh, combined with Semhar Tadesse’s inept showing at their first immunity challenge, Cochran was able to avoid becoming the first boot. It was one of his biggest fears after hoping for so long to be on Survivor and being humiliated by being the first one out the door.
Eventually, Cochran skated by some more and becoming part of the Savaii alliance, although begrudgingly from most of its members. At the merge, he was to become the tribe informant of sorts and try to gather information from the other side to try and find a seam. Both Savaii and the incredibly cult like Upolu were even in numbers and Cochran was going to be key in helping Savaii successfully use Ozzy’s idol to gain the upper hand in numbers. Instead, Cochran flipped on his original tribe and doomed them all in the process. In terms of strategy, it was an outrageously dumb move that ensured he would also not win but he had just spent weeks with a bunch of people who could not care less about him and now he had a chance for payback.
From that point on, Cochran in South Pacific just mostly gets yelled at and made fun of until he is voted out as the last remaining member of Savaii. While he did not make the strategic impact he had hoped, Cochran resonated with a lot of the fans in a way not many people had before. His fish out of water story became very popular with the people who saw themselves in Cochran and you could even see Jeff Probst’s resentment towards Cochran turn into admiration the longer Cochran stayed in the game.
So when it came time to cast for Survivor Caramoan which would be Fans vs Favourites II, Cochran was an easy choice for production to make. He had made a mark in his original run and was desperate for redemption so there was no way he would ever turn down a second chance at the game. From both sides, it was a shoe-in and just like that, Cochran was back on Survivor.
If Cochran had been on the outs in his first time around, the second time would be completely different. Thanks to former alliance-mate Dawn Meehan also being cast, Cochran had a built in relationship from day one. He took that and built an entire majority alliance around it. With Phillip Sheppard as his figurehead, Cochran suddenly had the numbers and was insulated extremely well to outside attacks.
Caramoan is not the most popular season but its winner is one of the most dominant. Cochran never really faced a moment where he would be put in true danger. From coast to coast, he called almost every shot and took out any threat to his supremacy. He became the second person after JT Thomas to play a perfect game by never being voted for in tribal council and sweeping the jury vote. If South Pacific had made him a memorable character, Caramoan turned him into a strategic force, the kind he had envisioned being as a child watching the show.
Unfortunately for Cochran, his victory came with a price. On the way to becoming the sole survivor, Cochran won a bunch of unlikely individual immunity challenges. It lead to Jeff Probst constantly referring to him as a challenge beast and worshipping the ground Cochran walked on. Being the self-deprecating jokester that he is, Cochran filmed a bunch of confessionals also talking about how much of a challenge threat he had become. While it was in jest, a lot of people took it very seriously and became annoyed with this suddenly “cocky” Cochran.
Some of his sarcasm was also now disliked by the fans. In particular a confessional he cut about Julia Landauer and her similarity with vanilla ice cream which is better watched than described.
That is a confessional that was done completely in fun but did not come across that way to a lot of people. It is also a confessional that Cochran has since gone on record to completely regretting because of how mean spirited it came off. For a guy who had been called a dodgeball target in his original season, his vanilla confessional really does not seem that bad in my personal opinion, it was clearly just Cochran having some fun.
On top of all that, Cochran’s dominance was astounding but a lot of people blamed him for Caramoan’s less than stellar reputation. A good player does not want any drama surrounding his season and Cochran was no different. Even with the Specialist on his team, Cochran was able to minimize any explosions post-Brandon Hantz meltdown and really did not allow for any strikes against his majority alliance. The one moment that is often remembered from Caramoan is the “Three Amigos” tribal council which is something Cochran could not control. Even so, Cochran did such a good job making Phillip the figurehead of the alliance and convincing him to talk as much as he did that Malcom Freberg and company took out Phillip instead of the much more logical choice in Cochran. The one moment where Cochran could have been in trouble and his name didn’t even get written down.
It doesn’t help Cochran that even after Caramoan has come and gone, Jeff Probst finds way to talk about him. Outside of Boston Rob, there is no player that Probst loves to talk about more and it makes sense. Like it or not, a large part of Survivor’s audience can relate to Cochran more than it can relate to a James Clement. To have a winner of his ilk play so dominantly, why wouldn’t Jeff, as an executive producer, want to highlight Cochran’s achievements? It has led to multiple awkward reunion moments like the time he filmed a skit about his new writing job on We are the Millers or the time he was shown on camera at the Game Changers reunion despite looking extremely uncomfortable about it.
Those are things that Cochran really can’t help. Through all of that and the vitriol that has been sent his way since Caramoan, Cochran remains a huge fan of Survivor. He hasn’t changed from the person he was in South Pacific, he’s just a bit richer and gotten some name recognition out of it. If you listen to him when he goes onto Rob Has a Podcast or makes any kind of television appearance, he remains the self-deprecating humorist he was in South Pacific. He is incredibly kind to his fans and loves to talk in-depth about both his times out in the game. Why the vocal internet fan base has such a raging hate boner for him I will never understand.
In my opinion, John Cochran is a Survivor legend. I don’t think anything can change my viewpoint on this matter. Few people have the ability to talk about the game so easily on camera. Not only can he do it freely, he does it in a way that is easily understandable. Like it or not, Cochran also possesses a ton of charisma that allows him to play the character that he does. Like us, he is a gigantic fan and has kept up with the show after his time on it has passed. Recently, there has been the beginning of a turn in general opinion on Cochran for the better. My wish is that this keeps going and the internet shows Cochran that he is part of our community and welcomed to participate in it. After all, this is a superfan who went out and played a perfect game. Instead of hating him, let’s vicariously live out our Survivor dreams to him.