UPDATE, WEDNESDAY NIGHT: Tampa's Brad Culpepper make it to the final 3 on Survivor, but jurors chose Sarah as the winner of the $1 million.
Original report follows:
Heading into Wednesday's finale of Survivor: Game Changers, former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Brad Culpepper said his fans need to know there are still plays to make before the end zone.
"There's a lot of Survivor left before they get down to three," Culepper, now an attorney, said in a telephone call from his downtown Tampa law office. He was wrapping things up before heading to California for Wednesday's finale. "I can say that the next Tribal Council has something that's never happened before in the history of Survivor."
A member of the storied late 1990s Buccaneer defense alongside Warren Sapp, Culpepper is on his second season of the hit reality show, and he has fared much better this time. Still, he knew last week that it was critical he win the immunity challenge. The other players were up front with him, he said, that he was going home.
A complicated water obstacle course and puzzle challenge ended with Culpepper cheering like he had a stadium full of fans. If ESPN's Chris Berman were doing the play-by-play it would be: "Culpepper's got the immunity ... He's headed to the finale!... He ... could ... go ... all... the.... way!"
But really, could he? Will people who have starved and scraped and fought for more than a month on a desert island award $1 million to a prominent lawyer and ex-NFL star?
"That could be used as a ploy to get to the end," Culpepper said. "You'd want to sit next to me because no one's going to want to reward me."
And a group of veteran Survivor players is a different jury, he said.
"Look, we are all game changers," Culpepper said. "Reward the person who played the best game regardless of their social status. Vote for the person who earned the title of best survivor. I think that would resonate with a returnee group more than a newbie group."
It could have been her social status that hurt his wife, Monica, who made it to the final two in 2013's Blood vs. Water season and lost in the final vote.
"It's obviously the elephant in the room with she and I," Culpepper said. "It's probably human nature to let outside influences dictate your voting."
It has been a much different season this time on Survivor for Culpepper, who was famously flipped off and cursed out when he played in the Blood vs. Water season. He was portrayed as locker-room ruler of the dudes who pushed little ladies aside.
Culpepper has insisted that was never true, and fans have come around this season.
Going into the finale, it looks like Sarah Lacina, the MVP who keeps making masterful moves by shifting alliances, voted with her old alliance of Culpepper and Troyzan Robertson to evict Michaela Bradshaw and Andrea Boehkle last week.
Fan sites have been giving Sarah and Brad the edge as the most physically or strategically strong in the final stretch.
Reality TV writer John Benutty is sticking by his prediction of Sarah as the winner for the skillful way she has straddled two opposing alliances all season. Still, Benutty wrote, "If the jury wants to reward an honest, loyal game, then Brad is going to be the winner."
Culpepper himself won't know the winner until the final vote is revealed on live television Wednesday. After that, he says, he doubts he would do this reality series again. If other reality shows come calling, like The Amazing Race, he said he could be interested.
"I'm always interested in doing something with my wife." It would be complicated to figure out with three kids, he said. But he feels done with Survivor.
"I'm kind of sick of Brad Culpepper right now," he said with a laugh. "I got my chance to really play the game and even if I get voted out next, I played a long time and got the full Survivor experience. So my knee-jerk reaction would be no. Never say never, but I'd be happy to let others have a chance right now."
Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at email@example.com. Follow @SharonKWn.