Survivor Cochran: Hero or Villain? The Perils of When Nerds Stand-Up for Themselves

Geek Culture
John Cochran
Survivor contestant: John Cochran. Image courtesy of CBS

Warning: The following post contains spoilers.

I’ve been a huge fan of this season of Survivor. The reason for this is because I’ve turned into a huge supporter of Survivor contestant, John Cochran, or Cochran as he is simply referred to. I’ve been a supporter of his from the very first moment he reached my eyes. Instantly, I even developed a bit of a crush on him, as I previously wrote on GeekMom.

From the very first episode, he was the underdog. He was picked on, both behind his back and to his face, because he is physically weaker than the other male contestants–and some may argue, the female contestants–and because he is a nerd. Every week, those two qualities have placed him in danger of being voted off. Every week, you can hear me yelling at my screen as the other contestant talk about getting rid of him. Every week, something happens at the last minute to save him and keep him in the game, much to my great delight and joy. Every week, I see the internet being quite cruel because he is still in the game.

Last week, Cochran did something amazing. He stood-up for himself. He made a decision that was sure to incite the anger of his fellow tribe members. He flipped. Cochran decided to vote in his best interests, in the process buying himself a few more weeks in the game.

Upon returning to camp, the hate and vitriol began. He was called a whole lot of names. That was how this week’s episode began. Until the opening title sequence, it was nothing but a lot of venom, all of it directed towards Cochran. I felt really terrible for him. My heart broke into pieces when he was referred to as an ‘expletive nerd’.

Personally, I’ve never been bashed for being a nerd. I have been bashed and have been the object of hate for other parts of who I am. Now, just because I’ve personally never received teasing or anger as a result of being a nerd, that doesn’t mean I do not have an idea that it exists. I’ve seen it in television shows and movies. I’ve heard stories from others. But watching it on a reality television show, and watching it directed towards someone with whom I’ve developed a bit of a relationship, really hurt. I wanted to grab my nerd posse, rally beside Cochran and show the ‘cool kids’ what happens when you pick on nerds, Revenge of the Nerds style. However, this is not a movie where everyone lives happily ever after. It is reality. Cochran is a real person, with real feelings being visibily hurt, who, heaven forbid, stood-up to the ‘cool kids’ and did what was best for him.

There were some interesting comments made during this week’s first tribal council.

Hantz had the following commentary:

I can understand that feeling, getting tired of being made fun of. Enough’s enough. The smaller people don’t have to take it anymore. We’re not going to be bullied around.

Ozzy asked Cochran if he ever made Cochran feel small. Cochran replied:

You made me feel like I was small by basing your first several votes against me and trying to get people to vote me out on the basis of my weakness.

Ozzy greeted Cochran’s open and honest remarks with a dismissive look.

Coach, whom I’m not a fan of, actually said something that I agreed with:

[Voting Cochran off] would send a message to everybody that if you stick up for yourself, you’re gonna get screwed.

One of the people who did the bullying started to cry during tribal because she felt like she was being villainised. I could not muster any sympathy for her. It was okay for her to call Cochran names but not okay for him to stand-up for himself.

This makes me wonder how much hate would be spewed at the others if they did what Cochran did. People make moves like this each season and people cheer them on. They say it is part of the game. The jock gets a high-five for steamrolling the competion. Where is the outrage when the person who is perceived as weak is blind-sided or voted off? High-fives go out to the ‘cool’ kids, whilst those who are perceived as weak silently accept it. Then when the nerd does it, he gets called ‘expletive nerd’.

I also made the mistake of watching the mentions Cochran received on Twitter following this week’s episode. The amount of hate and anger, the name calling, was beyond cruel. I have to give huge props to Cochran for the way he responded to and handled all those hateful comments. Despite defusing them with humour, they have to hurt. He is a rather remarkable human being.

By voting off Keith, Cochran made one of the most daring moves in Survivor history. I’ve watched every season of Survivor. I’ve seen people flip all the time. Is it because Cochran is being labelled both weak and a nerd, both by viewers and his tribe, that this is being labelled as ‘one of the most daring move in history’?

The message being sent out is that being physically weak, a nerd, or, heaven forbid, both is bad. And you’re certainly not allowed to stand-up for yourself. You’re suppose to accept the bullying like a good little nerd. If you don’t, then you’ll receive even greater amounts of hate for doing what every one else is doing: Playing the game and trying to win the million dollars.

I hope for a Revenge of the Nerds ending, one where the nerd wins. At the very least, I hope he comes in second place AND brings home the prize of being voted fan favourite.

In the meantime, I think it is time to start sending a different kind of message. Let’s send a message that encourages those of us who are perceived as weak and nerds to stand-up for ourselves, especially in the face of being bullied. I had made a tweet stating, “It is a good thing I’m twice the man Jim will ever be, otherwise I’d be sending him my own brand of hate right now.” There was a very big part of me that wanted to bully the bully. However, had I done that, I would have been no better than the bully.

Just when I think we’ve made a lot of progress in this area, I see adults on television behaving like schoolyard bullies.

Join #TeamCochran on Twitter. Tweet Cochran some support @SurvivorCochran. Send a message that it is not okay for anyone, especially adults, to bully each other. If we don’t stand-up for each other and for ourselves, how are we going to teach our children to do so?

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8 thoughts on “Survivor Cochran: Hero or Villain? The Perils of When Nerds Stand-Up for Themselves

  1. Cochran’s decision was entirely a Survivor decision; it’s how the dad gum game is played. There’s a merge, the lowest player on the totem pole flips, and power shifts. It is part of how the show stays interesting.

    Those people yelled at Cochran because it’s safe to yell at nerds. it’s not like he’s going to punch me or yell back. (OH, no, he’ll just tell Coach which of you he wants out “for personal reasons.” Oh, I loved that moment. Goodbye, Jim.)

    I have not liked Brandon Hantz this season. He bugs me, with his reason for wanting Mikayla gone, and how he runs around saying, “I’m not my uncle, I’m not my uncle.” BUT. I felt my heart warm towards him a little when he spoke up on Cochran’s behalf, both at tribal and back at camp.

  2. There were a couple of people telling me on FB how lacking in honor in integrity Cochran is, which made me feel horrible because they were geeks.

    I was bullied a lot when I was younger for a variety of reasons, including being a geek. So I’m rooting for him and have been since the beginning.

  3. I was very tall and skinny and geeky all through my school years. I was also beat up all the time because I was scrawny and alienated because I was a nerd/geek.

    When I first saw Cochran, I felt sorry for him because I could relate. He didn’t deserve to be singled out for being scrawny but in this game, the tribe has to think about its well being and they thought about voting him out several times BUT DIDN’T. They kept him around.

    When the time came, he became SELFISH and threw his whole team under the bus to be picked off, one by one and his reasoning was very immature, petty and vindictive.

    In essence, instead of standing up for himself when people were saying things, he cowered with his tail between his legs instead of having the courage to stand up… so first chance he gets, he back stabs the whole tribe and look where it gets him… (he’s the last of his tribe to be voted off) sorry – spoilers!

    So backstabbing is not a courageous or honorable thing. He WAS my hero… he’s now a VILLAIN. I was hoping to see the tribes duke it out evenly. Now there’s no chance because of Cochran.

    Ah well… Gotta love Survivor! 🙂

    1. Thank goodness for this blog post, because it totally needed to be said. Agree 100% that it’s distressing that somehow it’s still okay for society to bash someone’s decisions simply because they’re a “nerd”. It’s like all these bystanders have an opportunity to be the “cool kid” by making fun of Cochran and trying to villainize him. But really what you’re showing is that you just don’t understand the game of Survivor at all.

      @Steven… I completely don’t get this point of view that so many people seem to have. “Selfish”? Um, it’s Survivor. Only one person can win. Exactly how are you supposed to play, if not for yourself? It stuns me how many people who purport to understand the game of Survivor seem to have complete blinders on when it comes to Cochrane and his move. Cochran turning on his tribe wasn’t vindictive… it should have been expected! More than anything else, Survivor is a social game. When you overtly treat your at-the-bottom tribemates like they’re… at the bottom, you’ve played the game poorly and you deserve your fate. The smartest and most savvy players (Boston Rob and the like) made sure everyone in their tribe felt included — which in the context of the game means a final three or final four deal. No one in Cochran’s tribe could even bring themselves to play the game enough to LIE to him and tell him he had a deal.

      Saying Cochran “threw his tribe under the bus” implies that his tribe had made some sacrifice for him that deserved repaying. Sorry, but “keeping him in the game a little longer” is not doing something. Every vote Cochran survived wasn’t because they were doing Cochran any favors; it was because they had another agenda they felt more important. They all viewed Cochran like an ineffectual insect, or as Cochran put it best — as a pet. Jim was more concerned with Ozzy’s control so he got rid of Elyse. Ozzy was more concerned with making a big move that he went to Redemption Island instead of sending Cochran. They all just assumed that they could string Cochran along and get rid of him whenever they wanted. Well, they were wrong.

      Flipping when your tribe is going to eventually vote you out anyway is not being villainous. It’s, um, SURVIVING. I don’t think Cochran really has a chance of winning, but his place in Survivor lore has been cemented, and he’ll be remembered long after people forget about “the blonde, the guy with the pacemaker and the poker player”. Also, making such a big move may well win Cochran the fan favorite, and $100k is nothing to sneeze at.

      So kudos to Cochran for standing up for himself and not drawing a rock like a good little pet, and to Jules for writing this blog post. The nerds and geeks of the world will forever remain in the minority; all the more reason to stand up for each other.

  4. Well,

    Cochran made a move which was well, expected.
    I don’t get why he gets praised for doing that. Well, if I was in survivor, it would be intiutive to flip since I am at the bottom of the totem pole. (although it would be impossible for me to be at the bottom)

    I give him the credit, but seriously, he deserves no more than that credit for a decent survivor move.
    Well, Parvati’s JT and Amanda scam as well as Russell’s Tyson scam are much better moves than allow the minority to overtake the majority. These kinds of moves deserve much more praise and glory.

    On the other hand, it is not a surprise why so many people hate him. You can say his social game is a tactic to make himself look like a retard such that everyone will be willing to drag him to the final 3. However, his confessionals just show how stuck up, arrogant and ridiculously irritating he is. Brandon is a tad more spastic, but the both of them make me only feel that Coach has the best end-game strategy. From day 1, Coach was ‘loyal’ to Brandon and Edna just due to the fact because they will not garner votes in the Final 3. Cochran just made his game even easier by allowing him to decide which of the 3 losers he wants sitting beside him.

    Kudos to Coach.

    So, before you start praising the geek, think long term and congratulate the dragon slayer.

    I’m sorry for dashing your hopes, but I like to bully geeks too 🙂 TEEHEE

  5. @Jeff

    Have you never followed Survivor before? People are ALWAYS upset about moves. that people are outraged over Cochran’s move should come as no suprise.

    Also I can’t begin to comprehend how you think this will be a big move respected in Survivor history. Weasely or not, good or bad, smart or dumb… there are plenty of far more sucessful nerd idols in Survivor History. Yau-man is the first to come to mind and I’m very upset because thats what I was hoping for when I first saw Cochran. But alas he has been a bust and a whiny goat more along the lines of Lill.

    Was it a big move? Yes, but its more due to Coach and Albert convincing/manipulating Cochran than him taking a moral stance and defending himself.

    To Geek Mom. You don’t sympathize with Whitney. First off consider the physical pressure these people are under. Just being out in that environment is going to wear down on people’s psyche no matter what. Now consider this. Before Cochran flipped when did you ever see Whitney call him a name or belittel him? Yes she was disturbed by his talk of herpes after they lost the meat challenge, but does reacting when a kid makes an awkward and inappropriate jerk make someone a bully. Now when did she ever attack him? She insulted him after he betrayed her. Insulting is not bullying and Cochran is not a kid. A man should be able to handle criticisms and insults. Even if his feeling were hurt, that doesn’t make it bullying. Perhaps their actiosn were wrong by social standards- they certainly weren’t good by strategic standards- but insulting someone is not bullying.

    If there are bullies in this game its Brandon who has blown up against women who couldn’t understand his irrational thoughts and were outnumbered in the game. Mikayla and Dawn couldn’t truly stand up for themselves because they were in the minorities. Brandon even targeted her for being an attractive woman- now thats the mark of a bully.

    That you orignally liked Cochran is understandable. For you to like him now is just odd, especially if you are a survivor fan as you claim to be. He has not been playing a good game by any standards(though he might become a giant killer in the last week- that remains to be seen). If you want Survivors who don’t fit the typical mold and were good look to Yau-man, Todd Herzog and Rob C.

    Cochran was too scared to face the rocks and thats fine. Its logical and reasonable. But there is no real evidence that he was bullied, no evidence that even if he was his actions were about taking a stand, and no evidence that he has been playing a good game since then.

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