Survivor notebook: Brad Culpepper on the deal he made, the outing of Zeke as transgender, kinder editing
After trying for several weeks to get an interview with Tampa lawyer Brad Culpepper on his current run on Survivor: Game Changers, I finally got a sit-down with the former football star in his downtown law office. You can read that here before tonight's episode that promises to be a tear-jerker. The exhausted players get a visit from loved ones so Brad and Monica Culpepper will join forces like the Wonder Twins.
In my story, Brad talks about finally getting the edit he deserves as a good guy who works hard and treats people decently -- pretty much the opposite of the narrative he had when he played Blood vs. Water with Monica in 2013. But my story was written for the average reader who might not be a Survivor fan. Have no fear, island nerds, I saved more info for you from my notebook because the guy talked for an hour and a half and I think could have talked Survivor all day. He’s really into the complex strategies it takes to win the grand-daddy of reality show competitions.
Among the nuggets he passed along:
He and Cirie made a deal: Remember that weepy episode where Brad and the women seemed to be having an encounter session about how hard it was to play Survivor and your family back home doesn’t understand? Culpepper said what started that was a discussion of who they had coming to the island for the famous “loved ones” episode that the show always does to unleash the waterworks. Culpepper said that’s the day they made a pact, so Cirie Fields could see her son and he could see Monica.
"I said to her, ‘You and I need to make a pact that we get to the loved ones episode, you hear me?’ She said yes. absolutely. We said let’s not target each other at least until we get to the loved ones.” He thinks that might be why his name hasn’t come up yet, that Cirie was shielding him. “Now after loved ones, all bets are off.” But he said that it was his biggest goal from the very start. The first goal is not to be voted off first, next was to make the merge. But making the loved-ones episode was the most important to him. “She’s a part of everything I do so to have her out there to experience this adventure makes it real."
On the outing of Zeke as transgender: Culpepper said he and Zeke Smith text back and forth all the time. Zeke said Brad had one of the best reactions in that he didn’t treat him any differently after he was outed as transgender at Tribal Council by Jeff Varner.
“I tease him a lot,” Culpepper said. “I tell him this is just awful how now he has like 27 thousand more Twitter followers and gets to go to the GLAAD red carpet gala.” The universal support among the cast, some of whom have very conservative backgrounds, was a great sign of decency and showed how the culture has changed, he said. “Regardless of what you believe in I think everyone was very human and understood that this is going be awkward for him back home.”
But Culpepper said he also has reached out to Jeff Varner since the news broke because he feels empathy for him. “He didn’t realize Zeke wasn’t out publicly. He thought he was just outing him to the group. It’s still wrong, but his intent was to talk to the tribe about him and not to out him on national television.” Varner should be forgiven, Culpepper said.
“He didn’t murder him. He’s very contrite. He’s handled himself as good as he can and Zeke has forgiven him. So if Zeke can forgve him, why can’t the rest of us?”
He loved the Funny 115 blog post about him: Before talking to Culpepper I was reading a lot of Survivor blogs and message boards when I ran across this post by Mario Lanza. The writer is one of the most popular Survivor bloggers because he’s so darn funny counting down top moments from Survivor seasons.
That post entitled “Thank you, Brad Culpepper” (a cheeky reference to the infamous, “Eff you, Brad Culpepper,” from Blood vs. Water) meticulously shows how the former Eagle Scout was unfairly portrayed as a jerk. Meanwhile, not one bit of footage shows him doing anything remotely jerky.
So I called Lanza to talk about it and get some suggestions for questions I should ask Culpepper when I talked to him on Monday.
Funny enough, Culpepper himself said to me “Did you ever see this blog Funny 115 or something like that? It’s where he analyzed how unfair my season was?” Why yes, I said, not only had I read it but I had talked to the guy. “That’s great,” Culpepper said. “That guy got it.”
It’s all in the editing: One of the questions that Lanza suggested for me was to ask Brad if he is playing differently this time or is he being edited differently. His game play is the same, Culpepper insisted. The editing is different. Lanza's blog post, Culpepper said, backed up what he has been saying all along how producers have a story to write each week and don’t let the facts get in the way of a good narrative. He's getting a much kinder edit this time.
“They don’t invent anything, but I could be talking to you and 10 minutes later something else is happening and you give an eye roll to something else and they edit it so it looks like you are rolling your eyes over what I just said,” Culpepper said. “I saw it all the time.”
It wasn't totally unselfish giving up that feast: At the merge, the two teams were presented with a feast but the catch was each team had to come up with one volunteer to sit it out. Otherwise all anyone got were crackers. Culpepper didn't hesitate to volunteer, and Zeke later snarkily said he was just pushing his "brand" as a self-sacrificing provider. What a jerk right? Culpepper chuckled at the dig but said he will admit he thought there might have been a hidden immunity idol or other reward buried for the two who sacrificed. "Tai and I dug and dug and dug, but there was nothing there."
He didn’t know it was Game Changers: Culpepper said he didn’t know what he was in for when he was first called up for this season. It wasn’t until the group was assembled in Fiji that host Jeff Probst revealed to them that the theme this year would be Game Changers.
“There are all these legends in there and I’m sitting in the back of the room,” Culpepper says, (pantomiming looking left and right in dismay), “Game changers? I’m not even the best Survivor player in my own house.”
He’s a liberal: “I’m very left and there were conversations very very right and I would just stay out of them. I just wouldn’t get involved because I can't fake I like Trump or fake I agree with conservative beliefs so I just wouldn’t get involved. There was a lot of religious right commentary out there and I just went for a walk.”
He’s not on social media: Culpepper now has a new kind of fame on a reality TV show fueled by fans who post endlessly on social media — something Culpepper refuses to engage in. His wife has also abandoned her once-busy Twitter handle where she posted chirpy comments on Survivor episodes. “We are both of the understanding that other peoples’ opinions of us are not our business.”
The side effects: "I didn’t eat regular food until day 26 when they took the airlplane ride as a reward and got to eat. I started the game at 200 lbs and prolly about 170 at that point." But it was the mental acclimation to society that was more difficult than physical, he said. He felt bizarre and a little crowd phobic at first.
"You basically go from, I don't trust anything you are saying to me to OK why would I distrust everything you say?" He said the show has two pscychiatrists available as soon as you get off the island.
"When I got back I was out of it a little bit. I could function but you are off for about two weeks or so. You are dreaming like you are still there and you wake up and you are not. It's bizarre."
Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @SharonKWn.