Originally, it was supposed to be him.
But former Tampa Bay Buccaneers star Brad Culpepper said the moment producers for CBS' hit reality TV show Survivor did a Google search and saw pictures of his wife, inquiries about getting him on the show quickly shifted to her.
Months later, Monica Culpepper was among 18 contestants announced Wednesday for the most recent edition of the show, Survivor: One World.
The contestants will be separated by gender for the competition, which was filmed over this summer in Samoa. The first episode debuts at 8 p.m. Feb. 15 on WTSP-Ch. 10.
"I pushed her to do it," said Brad Culpepper, noting that his wife abandoned plans to go to medical school when he got drafted to play for the Minnesota Vikings in 1992. (CBS declined to make Monica Culpepper available for an interview.)
"This is her opportunity to shine," he added. "Now I'm in the stands and watching her."
In promotional clips for the show, the athletic and youthful-looking 41-year-old says her status as a mom and onetime NFL wife might be her secret weapon in the contest, which features one person voted off each week until a single survivor wins $1 million.
But it was those roles that her husband missed most during the 50 days she spent filming from July to September. "We had zero contact for 50 days," said Brad Culpepper, adding the two have been married for nearly 20 years and have three kids aged 14 to 10. "I just missed her emphatically."
In addition to being the only parent in the house, Brad Culpepper couldn't tell friends or colleagues why his wife — typically a very involved parent and wife — was suddenly gone for nearly two months.
He feared rumors might start about a frayed marriage or rehab, but all he could say then was that she had taken the trip of a lifetime.
Brad Culpepper, an Eagle Scout who grew up on tiny Dog Island in the Gulf, helped his wife prepare, heading out to Anclote Key Preserve State Park with minimal supplies and the older children in tow, learning how to build shelter.
In biography materials posted on CBS' website, Monica Culpepper said she was a former homecoming queen at the University of Florida, where she and her husband attended college. "I'm never afraid to go out on a limb when it comes to getting something I want," she added.
Monica Culpepper's addition marks the second consecutive season to feature a Tampa resident; last year, lingerie football player Mikayla Wingle competed on Survivor: South Pacific, only to be eliminated before qualifying for the show's final jury.
Now Brad Culpepper, who retired from the NFL in 2000 and runs his own law firm, Culpepper Kurland, gets to watch his wife compete.
But he has a quick answer for the natural question: Would he ever do the show?
"Oh yeah," he said, with an NFL star's confidence. "I'd do it and I'd win it."