Tampa's Monica Culpepper debuts tonight on Survivor: One World
She’s not sure what kind of omen it was, even now.
But when Monica Culpepper flew out to Los Angeles last year to meet with the producers of CBS’ hit reality show Survivor, she had an interesting seat mate on the trip from Tampa.
Talk show host Jerry Springer.
“He and I laughed the whole way up,” said Culpepper of Springer, who lives in Sarasota. “But I couldn’t tell him anything about the show. They want it to be a surprise, when they announce the cast.”
The news is out now; Monica Culpepper, who has been married to ex-Tampa Bay Buccaneers star-turned-attorney Brad Culpepper for nearly 20 years, joined the cast of Survivor: One World, recruited for the show after producers initially sought to get her husband in the cast.
Monica Culpepper described an intensive, five-day interview process before she was included, involving personality tests, meetings with a psychiatrist, and culminating in a meeting with all the vice presidents from CBS and executive producer Mark Burnett.
Their goal: to really get to know the person who might be a key cast members in one of the network’s most enduring unscripted TV franchises.
“I knew they kinda liked the NFL hook, and I think the misconception is that (I’m) going to be this kind of spoiled lady on the show,” said Culpepper, who just earned her black belt in kickboxing. “I said, ‘Mark, frankly, I feel like I am today’s mother..(who) need to identify with the kids, and be able to exercise with the kids and have their pulse on what youth culture is these days.”
Husband Brad was so supportive, he even put up a billboard in Tampa -- drive southbound on I-275 near Hillsborough Ave. and you'll see it -- and CBS has even encouraged her to talk about the show on Twitter and Facebook.
Selections from our interview are below:
Deggans: So, tell me a little bit about how you came to the decision to actually do the show ‘cause Brad told me that initially they were talking to him and then they …
C: Well, you know Brad and his career with Florida football and being an All American there and then, of course, nine years in the NFL and then landing actually in Tampa. Somebody had gotten in contact with Brad and said, man, you would be the ultimate survivor. You remember, he got in that boating accident with Ralph Haben, who was speaker of the house of the state of Florida, and his dad, out in the Gulf of Mexico when he was playing at Florida. He was captain of the team then and they ended up being stranded, swam for 10 hours … it was April, it was cold, and people know that story. Heck, that’s why Tony Dungy and Denny Green even drafted Brad to Minnesota is they’d read the story and said, my Lord, if he could survive at night and swim 10 hours in the ocean, we think he’ll be able to survive mini-camp.
So, he grew up on Dog Island, which is in the Panhandle, and you can only get there by boat, and grew up just kinda giggin’ and fishin’ and living off the land, and dug cotton and doing all that kind of stuff, so of course he would be the perfect candidate. And then, I’ll be darned if things didn’t get mixed up and next thing you knew, somebody said, well, what about your wife? You know, it’s always been about you. Would you ever allow her to do something like this? And Brad said, by all means. I’ve been married to her for 20 years and she gave up medical school. I went to physical therapy school instead while Brad was playing for the Vikings. And it was that way ‘cause, Eric, you know, the NFL doesn’t stand for National Football League; it stands for Not For Long, and if you’re gonna play … it’s true. If you’re gonna have a long career in the NFL, football’s gotta be first, and so, you know, not your mom, not your girlfriend, not your kids. I mean, it’s just a selfish game and it’s just a dogfight every practice of every day. And I told Brad, I said, you know what? You go play football and I’ll take care of everything else."
So how did you apply?
Brad said, try out for Survivor. I will help you. But I said, honey, but I’ve not even camped. You’re the one that’s the eagle scout, and he said, you know what? And we laugh at my house, always saying he’s Tarzan. Well, he said, I’m not gonna let Jane go away without … so over Memorial Day weekend, while all the application process was going on, which they asked me, can you send us video and can you fill out this application, Brad said, let’s run down to Anclote Key. So we went down there for four nights with the kids and we camped, and we had very little provisions. And it actually was such a neat experience for all of us, and Brad made sure I could make little tinder bundles out of cattail brush, build shelter and build fire and, you know, we brought coconuts. We bought a bunch of coconuts in the store and peeled all those, and he made sure that I could throw a cast net and a seine net and catch fish and gig stingrays and remove their barbs and make more swords, and he made sure that I could … that I was comfortable, you know, using the Hawaiian sling and putting out seine nets and getting fish in and out of it, and …
Gotta be honest … did you remember any of that when you got to Samoa?
C: I remembered all of it … listen, Eric, my kids would laugh because the whole month that I was going through this interview process, I was so frantic ‘cause on Survivor I guess if there’s a tie and a challenge or a tie and a tribal council, it comes down to making fire. And the person that can make the fire first and burn out this rope above it – and I’d seen that for many years of watching the show – actually then stays. And so my kids laughed. I made a tinder bundle every single day for 30 days on the kitchen counter and would use my little magnesium bar because they do … you know, that’s kinda the way that you can make fire out there, making it with bamboo. But I would practice every single day. During dinner, the kids’d be like, oh my God, here’s Mom making fire again. But all three of the kids can do it now and it’s great.
Cool. So, what was the process of sort of applying like for you? Lots of interviews, I’m assuming …
C: Yes. You know, what I did … there’s a lengthy application and so, of course, I filled it out and then they ask you for a video. And a little bit was, like, what do you do on this video? And Brad and I had come to the conclusion, just be you. I mean, you’re a mom; just be you. So I started out just talking about why I wanted to be on Survivor and that, you know, it was a chance for me, at 41 years old, to go and do something for me. There were tons of clips of us out at Anclote Key. My first throw with the cast net, I got a little fish and I reeled it in, and I pulled the fish out and I ate it. And I said, there’s breakfast, lunch, dinner, I’m not quite sure. And he almost fell out … the kids are like, Mom, you just ate that fish raw! I said, you guys, I’m getting ready to go out there and survive. I’ll do anything.
So I went out there, and you go through a series of interviews. It was five days long. They spend time with … you get some gym time, you get some dining time, you get some working, sitting-by-the-pool time, and they kinda get to know you as a person. They talk to you about what to expect on the show and then … I was just so blown away with how professional and thorough they are to be sure … you take lots of personality tests and you meet with the psychiatrist and … I think there’s a reason why Survivor has been on for 24 seasons and lasted so long. It’s a credit to Mark Burnett and the assembly of people that they put together. And the last day, it ended up that I was in Hollywood studios on the top of the building, interviewing with all the vice presidents of CBS and Mark Burnett himself, convincing them on why I’d be a great competitor on the show.
Was that intimidating?
C: I kind of knew that they kinda liked the NFL hook. I think that’s, you know, interesting to somebody to find an NFL wife because I think the misconception is that, you know, it’s gonna be this kind of spoiled lady out on the show, and I’m so far removed from any of that. I stay home because I feel like it really matters. It matters that my children look you in the eye and shake your hand and they answer the phone “Culpepper residence, Rex speaking. How can I help you?” You can’t hire 10 people to be one mom, and so I knew that they liked the mother role, I knew they liked the NFL role, but I think they saw something in interviews in me that was different, that’s like, hey, I am tough. I think today’s mother needs to identify with the kids, because there are so many more things that our kids are exposed to than we were. And (Burnett) said, you know, I like that. He said, one thing I do want to say, though, when you leave this is, you’re on and he said, I like what you stand for but please go eat 10 cheeseburgers ‘cause you’re gonna lose some weight out there. I said, you got a deal. (laughter)
Did you take his advice?
C: Absolutely. I left that interview and I went back to the hotel and I had a cheeseburger and fries.