TV review: 'Survivor' winner forgoes law for writing role on 'The Millers'

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- John Cochran is best known as a winning "Survivor" contestant but he's now trying to survive in an even more cutthroat environment than a reality competition's tropical island: show business.

Mr. Cochran, a Harvard Law School grad, is on the writing staff of CBS's freshman comedy series "The Millers," which airs its Christmas episode tonight (8:30, KDKA-TV).

'The Millers'
When: 8:30 tonight, CBS.

And he has "Survivor" to thank for this latest opportunity.

On May's "Survivor" season finale episode, "Survivor" host Jeff Probst asked Mr. Cochran if he really wanted to be a lawyer, knowing the answer in advance from previous conversations.

"I said, honestly I want to write in some capacity," Mr. Cochran recalled. "The next day I got an excited phone call from Jeff. Greg Garcia, the creator of 'Raising Hope,' was watching the reunion show and Jeff said, 'He wants to meet with you for a possible position on his new sitcom.' I thought, what the hell. I have no real writing experience. I always thought I'd be good at it but it was this abstract aspiration of mine. It wasn't anything I thought was realistically possible."

Mr. Cochran met with Mr. Garcia, a "Survivor" fan who was then staffing the writers' room for "The Millers," and four days later Mr. Cochran had a job writing for "The Millers." So far he hasn't gotten a writing credit on an episode but that will likely come in time.

"In the last two months I won 'Survivor,' graduated law school and moved to L.A. and started writing for a sitcom," Mr. Cochran said in July. "It's been the wackiest few months of my life."

Mr. Cochran said it became apparent to him pretty quickly in law school that he didn't want to be a lawyer.

"I thought begrudgingly about being a corporate lawyer or working in government -- I'm from the D.C. area -- in some agency and be miserable," Mr. Cochran said. "Greg Garcia was watching from above and plucked me out."

Prior to his interview with Mr. Garcia, Mr. Cochran said he "frantically did some Googling to find out what goes on in a writers' room," rooms that are often populated with well-educated, former lawyers (see: David E. Kelley as just one example).

"I imagined it was people saying, 'Here's 10 ideas for an episode,' but it turns out it's more organic," Mr. Cochran said. "Somebody says, 'You won't believe what happened to me last night,' and then people share similar anecdotes and then a story emerges from that. So far all it's been is smart, funny people who make each other laugh, even if I'm not making everybody laugh as much as they're making me laugh."

CBS will air a marathon of "Millers" episodes on Dec. 26, 8:30-10 p.m.

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