It was his low-key demeanor, and non-threatening ways that the Survivor: Caramoan winner, John Cochran, credits for his win. ET Canada caught up with the newly-minted millionaire winner and his fierce competitors after the finale episode of the season.
"I don’t look like a Machiavellian villain. I look like this unassuming, scrawny guy, kind of the Richie Cunningham look from Happy Days and maybe that kind of worked in my favor. Nobody was going to overestimate me. I was underestimated the entire game. The fact that nobody even tried to vote me off is miraculous."
Despite having been underrated, the Harvard law student did not go into the challenge unprepared. Prior to competing, he won the Dean’s Scholar Prize at Harvard Law for an essay he wrote on the Survivor jury system. And though Cochran modestly says playing the real game is a lot harder than anything he could have strategized in his essay, Cochran’s win did not come as a surprise to his Survivor cast mates or other former Survivor winners.
"I thought Cochran played a great game. You would think at some point somebody out there would say, 'Let’s get rid of the kid from Harvard?' I would have," said Rob Mariano better known as ‘Boston Rob,’ the series’ first and only four-time contestant.
"He played a great game strategically. He was able to switch his colors and knew when to go in what direction and that is key in the game of survival. His humility and self-deprecating ways didn’t hurt him. He played to who he was and he knew who he was," 'Boston Rob' continued.
Season 26 brought together ten fans and ten returning players. After the first month, more than half were voted off and the cast was reduced to fan Sherri Biethma, fan Eddie Fox, Survivor: South Pacific’s Dawn Meehan, Erik Reichenbach and of course, Cochran.
"I’m really happy for Cochran. He played the best game he possibly could have….Cochran was in control most of the game and nobody ever realized it. Cochran played a great game," said Caramoan contestant Eddie Fox who was the first voted off of the remaining four finalists leaving Dawn, Sherri and Cochran to take up the tiki torch.
Allies since the very beginning of the season, Dawn Meehan and Cochran’s pact proved to withstand the test of time, though often embellished with Cochran posing as a therapist to Meehan’s insecurities and paranoia. And though Cochran may have come out as a crowd and cast favorite, Meehan said fans’ reactions to the way she played the game since the episodes have aired have been less than kind.
"This past week with the episode airing, I received so much negative feedback. Thousands of Twitter messages and Facebook messages and even death threats and I think it was kind of healthy for me to explore and say you played a decent game, you played a certain game, own it. And so that helped to watch tonight and just say that was then. You obviously hurt some people but that’s the consequences of Survivor," Dawn said.
Of the final five, former Survivor: Micronesia contestant Erik Reichenbach drew a lot of attention for his late-season departure. After the second-to-last Tribal Council, Erik felt dizzy and incoherent and when treated by a doctor, he was deemed unable to continue to compete, an exit that confused both Erik and his fellow survivors.
"I was very conflicted about all that because I thought I was playing a really good game until this random thing happened. It didn’t happen overnight. I had gotten an injury on my leg, it had gotten infected…over time it got worse, I started to get a fever and going into the tribal council when Brenda was getting voted off, I was already starting to get dizzy and that whole entire council I was spacing out, I wasn’t answering any of the questions," Erik says of the night he left the show.
Though Erik may have been surprised of his early exit, one contestant that was less taken off guard when she was voted off was final three cast mate, Sherri.
"I knew I didn’t win to be honest. It wasn’t a big surprise based on the jury and the questions, just the way things went. It wasn’t a big surprise," Sherri says.
After waiting 10 months for the finale episode to air and the winner to be announced, Cochran says the wait was torturous, but now that it’s over he can focus on the prize and move on. As for what the winner plans on doing with his new winnings, Cochran says most of it will be smartly invested and then he really wants to buy a Segway.