Sunday, January 21, 2018
TV and Media

'Survivor' kicks off with Tampa's Monica Culpepper

She's not sure what kind of omen it was.

But when Monica Culpepper flew out to Los Angeles last year for meetings with 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 all to be a surprise."

The news is out now. Monica Culpepper, wife of ex-Tampa Bay Buccaneers star-turned-attorney Brad Culpepper for nearly 20 years and mother of three, joined the cast of Survivor: One World, recruited for the show after producers initially sought her husband.

Monica Culpepper described an intensive, five-day interview process in Los Angeles last year, involving lots of personality tests and talk with a psychiatrist, culminating in a meeting with several CBS vice presidents and executive producer Mark Burnett.

Their goal: to really know the person who might be a key cast member in the network's most enduring unscripted TV franchise.

"I knew they kind of 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) needs to identify with the kids and have their pulse on what youth culture is these days.' "

Indeed, at a bikini-ready 41, Monica Culpepper is a different kind of mom on a Survivor that splits contestants into two tribes divided by gender, but forces them to live on the same beach.

"My strategy was to take a page out of my life at home," said Culpepper, who told TV Guide she didn't plan on telling anyone who her husband was. "Find that Alpha Male and be a great teammate to him. Win challenges, plan and scheme and come out on top."

Survivor host Jeff Probst had a different take on Culpepper's chances, expressed in an online video.

"What's working against Monica, is Monica," Probst said. "Monica's going to have to come in and be humble. (Young people don't like direction) from somebody beautiful and fit and successful and rich."

Brad Culpepper, who survived 10 hours floating in the Gulf of Mexico after a diving boat sank in 1990 — the accident led to him getting drafted in the NFL and even meeting wife-to-be Monica — seemed the more likely candidate for Survivor.

So when his wife was cast, the Eagle Scout took her to Anclote Key over Memorial Day weekend for a crash course of building shelters, peeling coconuts, catching fish and slinging nets.

The attorney, known for a series of TV commercials and billboards promising "aggressive, tenacious" representation, also erected a billboard in Tampa wishing her good luck, noting she shared his law firm's qualities.

"My first throw with the net, I got a little fish, reeled it in ... and ate it," said Monica Culpepper, who also practiced making fire every day for a month in her kitchen. "The kids were like, 'Mom, you just ate that fish raw!' I said, 'I'm getting ready to go out there and survive. I'll do anything.' "

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