By Dalton Ross
Updated January 16, 2013 at 05:01 PM EST
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Image Credit: Mitchell Haaseth/NBC

Image credit: Monty Brinton/CBS[/caption]

There really was never any doubt that John Cochran would be coming back to play Survivor again. A huge fan of the show, Cochran became the face — and voice, as he will tell you later — of his South Pacific season from day 1 when he insisted Jeff Probst refer to him by his last name. He vacillated between cocky and self-deprecating and went on to make one of the most controversial moves in Survivor history, opting not to risk going home on a colored-rock-picking tiebreaker and instead turning on his Savaii tribe, which insured that his tribe (including himself) ended up being picked off one by one by the Upolu opposition. Now he has a chance to redeem himself as one of the returning players on Survivor: Caramoan — Fans vs. Favorites (premiering Feb. 13 on CBS).

Contrary to all the horrible things I wrote about Cochran last time due to his aversion to taking a well-calculated risk with the rocks, I genuinely like the guy. We’ve spoken several times and I always root for super-fans of the show to do well. A few days before filming commenced on Survivor: Caramoan — Fans vs. Favorites, I spoke with the man who made sweater vests cool again (or…maybe not) about his chances this time around. It’s an interview so action packed it could not be contained to a single page! (Read through both pages for the whole conversation.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Okay, here’s how we’re going to start this. Repeat after me: I, John Cochran…

JOHN COCHRAN: Well, shouldn’t I find out what you’re saying first?

EW: No. I, John Cochran…

COCHRAN: I, John Cochran…

EW: Will not be scared of colored rocks.

COCHRAN: Will not be scared of colored rocks.

EW: See! There you go! Wasn’t that easy?

COCHRAN: Yeah. Now that I’ve said it, I’m committed to that. No, you’re still harping on that being my big downfall, being afraid of rocks?

EW: Absolutely. You know how I feel about that.

COCHRAN: It especially hurt coming from you. I remember my mom was like “That Dalton Ross. Such a meanie.”

EW: I was looking out for your best interest, John. That’s the thing.

COCHRAN: I know, it was disappointment, right? If Elyse had been scared to pull a colored rock would you have been berating her? I don’t think so. There’s a certain kindred spirit, or something.

EW: You and I have talked about this. Is there any sliver of a chance in hell you win this season?

COCHRAN: Oh, God! You’re like my mom!

EW: You know what I’m talking about when I say that.

COCHRAN: You mean my reputation going into it?

EW: Exactly.

COCHRAN: Well, since you have returning players, everybody has some sort of baggage. I think mine is worse than most of the people’s, and I bring virtually nothing to the table. Except promises. I mean, I’m bad in challenges. I’m bad around camp, which I’m going to try to work on, but I’m always going to be bad in challenges, I’m annoying and I’m a traitor. What I can say is, “Look, I’ve changed this time. It didn’t work out for me last time.” So there’s a sliver, yeah. I wouldn’t be playing again if I didn’t think there was a sliver. I think it’s going to be an uphill battle. I think the first few days are going to be very, very important. If I’m being kicked off for my reputation, that’s going to happen within the first two times I go to Tribal Council. So if I manage to dodge those bullets, I think, yeah, there’s a great shot if I’m able to entrench myself and ingratiate myself into some sort of alliance that lasts. Because that’s the thing — I never did have an alliance last time. I was never part of a cohesive unit of 5 or 6. And that’s an unstable way to play the game. It’s not the right way to play the game. And psychologically, it takes a toll on you. So if I can get myself into some sort of good position, I think I have a shot. I don’t know. What do you think?

EW: I think the key is to say to people “I’d be a fool to play that way again. I know I can’t do that in terms of backstabbing. I know I need to prove my loyalty.” And you go in really humble and say all those things. And we’ve seen other returning payers change their game up and it has worked.

COCHRAN: Yeah, that’s my philosophy. My only fear, like I said, is that I offer nothing. It’s not like they can say, “Well, at least he’s good in challenges.”

EW: But then you say you’re not a threat down the line.

COCHRAN: But that’s dangerous to play pre-merge. That might be getting ahead of myself. As for the flip, part of me wants to rationalize it, but that’s not going to earn me any favors. Obviously, I’m going to say that there’s no way that’s going to work. It didn’t work out last time. It was a poor decision. It’s something I regret.

EW: And I remember you telling me before last time that you were really bad at puzzles. Of course, you told your tribemates you were good at puzzles so they would keep you around, but we hardly saw you performing in them, so you can always tell your tribe again they need to keep you around for those.

COCHRAN: If I blow a puzzle, though, is that the end of the world or do I say “Well, it’s a good thing you didn’t have Brandon do it or it would have been even worse!”?

EW: Unless Brandon actually beats you in the puzzle, in which case you’re completely screwed. But listen to me, it’s a fresh season. Keeping that in mind, we’ve seen people like Coach always coming up with new nicknames for themselves. What about a new nickname for you this time around?

COCHRAN: A new nickname — that will really endear me, right? The more it seems like I’m trying to get even more camera time, it really makes my tribemates fall in love with me. Let’s see, I could do an amalgamation of everybody that’s ever had a nickname. I could be like ChickenShamboGC. Or I could say, “Look, Jeff, I know the players you really love you call them by their first names, so I’d like to be called John from here on out.” I think I’ll stick with Cochran. I think it works. And it lends itself to insulting nicknames, which is the cornerstone of any good nickname.

Image credit: Monty Brinton/CBS[/caption]

EW: You also have Dawn and Brandon from your season playing again. Is this a good thing with a possible instant alliance, or is this a bad thing because people are going to want to break you up? How do you view that?

COCHRAN: It’s both of those things. There’s also three people from Redemption Island, so fortunately it’s not like I’m the only season with three people. It’s tricky. It’s going to be really telling how Dawn interacts with me once we get a chance to really start talking. Because there might be a part of her that’s still really upset that I screwed her over and voted her off. Brandon voted me out, but he’s actually someone I got close to during the game. I lent him my sweater vest on many occasions. I’m happy in that it’s nice to have an instant rapport with someone. That’s one of the scariest parts of the first few days of Survivor, not knowing what makes these people tick. Like, saying the word “crazy” around Phillip, I know not to do that. But I am especially intimately acquainted with what makes Brandon and Dawn tick. And having that comfort level — even if we have a weird past together — I think is a good thing.

EW: Who are you most surprised to see?

COCHRAN: Well, I was very surprised to see Dawn. But in addition to Dawn, probably Francesca, who is an obvious choice. On a personal level, she’s a fellow lawyer/law student. And she’s smart and funny. So that seems like an instant bond. The big question with her is that we haven’t seen her playing enough of the game to know how she’s gonna react beyond the first Tribal Council. What would she do if she had to pull rocks or there was some backstabbing that takes place? I was looking around all the CBS stuff to see if I could find a logo for the season somewhere because I’m dying to know what this season is subtitled because it sure isn’t being called Greatest Survivor Players of All-Time. I’m afraid it’s going to be some sort of unflattering thing like Dunce Island where we have to wear dunce caps instead of buffs or something. Because there are a lot of people that made weird moves or poor moves like me. I can name flaws in everybody but Dawn and Corrine. Corinne was a surprise because I feel like Gabon is a weirdly forgotten season. And Sugar and Randy were the very first people kicked off Heroes vs. Villains which really didn’t help its legacy.

EW: In terms of the other players that you’ve seen, anyone that you are think you may want to work with or stay away from?

COCHRAN: Well, Erik is someone that jumped out at me for both good and bad reasons. On the good side, watching Micronesia, I saw myself in him in that he has the same wide-eyed boyish wonder when he sees Jeff approaching the challenge. But in addition to that, I’m friends with Yul and after my season I spoke with Yul a great deal and the thing he always talks about is you need rational, self-interested players because they behave predictability. The fact that Erik Reichenbach is capable of giving up an immunity necklace makes me think he does not behave rationally within the confines of the game. Maybe he’s learned his lesson. I’m hoping to change my reputation. I’m sure he’s just as eager to change his. So he’s a mixed bag. Corinne is somebody I’m drawn to because I think she is the self-interested, rational player that Yul talks about. She didn’t play a crafty game in Gabon. She stuck with her people. She’s only remembered negatively because she said bitchy things. She says mean stuff. I don’t care! What does that matter to me? She can bad-mouth me all she wants in her confessionals or give a really nasty jury speech, but that has no bearing on whether I think she is a loyal and trustworthy person. So I’m optimistic on her.

EW: What about Phillip?

COCHRAN: You watch his season and he seems erratic and kind of like a lunatic, yet it’s unclear if that’s really him. Reading his post-game interviews, he seems like a put-together guy and that it was all part of his master plan. Although if it was part of some master plan I don’t think he would have continued with that character through the final Tribal Council. That made no sense. I could see him becoming kind of like a Coach figure, and you know how drawn I am to that sort of thing. Maybe he’ll stick to some sort of loyalty and honor mantra that I can exploit. And if he is super-abrasive, then he’s an obvious first boot, which is great! And he got to the end last time, which is also great. There might be some resentment among the other returning players. Like, not only is a jerk who is horrible to live with, but he made it to the end last time and none of the rest of us can say that. That might make him an easy target.

EW: You’re such a huge fan of Survivor. You make in on the show and now they are asking you back. How surreal is it?

COCHRAN: It’s surreal and it’s going to become a lot more surreal when I step on location. Also, it’s an ego thing. It’s like, “Yeah, of course I got the call. I’m a 7Up Survivor original. I deserve this! I had 56 confessionals.” I love telling people that. I tell people my confessional count.

EW: Wait, you counted your confessionals?

COCHRAN: Somebody online did.

EW: Oh, somebody online named “John Cochran”?

COCHRAN: No, there is whole community dedicated to it.

EW: There’s a whole community dedicated to counting your confessionals?

COCHRAN: There are strict rules. It has to be 10 seconds long. It can’t just be a voice over. 56! That’s pretty astounding. That’s more than Phillip, man. It’s one of the most inflated edits in the show’s history, relative to my place in the game.

EW: I’ve saved the most important question for last: Have you had discussions with CBS about your wardrobe this season?

COCHRAN: You might be seeing a familiar wardrobe.

EW: The sweater vest? Again?

COCHRAN: Look, man, I wear it proudly. You know how obsessed I am with Survivor and being part of Survivor history. And if you look at articles of clothing, you have a Boston Red Sox hat. You have a tie-dye shirt. You have a fedora, which could be either Penner or Russell. Or Leif, actually. No disrespect to Leif. So I like the idea of a sweater vest being one of those things. And it’s functional. It was a Godsend in that it can be used as a pillow, or a hip-cushion. I wore it as a t-shirt when it was too hot. So you’ll be seeing it again.

EW: Collar up or down this season?

COCHRAN: It depends on the conditions. I really didn’t like how it looked though. I really hated how it looked, so I may just withstand the sunburn. I’m very nervous about that by the way. So it might pop up much to my chagrin, but we’ll see.

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