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

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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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