HitFix Interview: Monica Culpepper talks 'Survivor: One World'
Why was the latest 'Survivor' castoff so surprised by Colton's betrayal?
"Survivor: One World" may have changed things up last week by recomposing its formerly gender-aligned tribes, but one thing remained consistent: Another week, another victim of The Reign of Colton.
This week's Colton-approved evictee was Monica Culpepper, wife of former NFL defensive tackle Brad Culpepper.
Monica was blindsided after being repeatedly reassured by Colton that first Christina and then Tarzan were his actual targets. Instead, the puppet-master decided that Monica was so strong and well-liked that she had to be booted first.
In our exit conversation, Monica discusses why she felt so betrayed by Colton, why she had a bad feeling before taking her tribe-selecting egg and what she wishes she would have done to stave off her elimination.
Click through for the full interview...
HitFix: Earlier in Wednesday's episode, you'd at least noted the possibility that Colton might be an untrustworthy puppet-master. Why were you so surprised when the votes were read?
Monica Culpepper: Well, what the audience did not see is I had a personal relationship with Colton that went back to Day 3. He was really struggling and very homesick and just really having a hard time staying in the game and he came to the Women's tribe and he said, "I need Mom-ica." He was calling me "Mom-ica" during the game instead of "Monica." I talked him into staying. I said, "Listen, Colton. You've gotta dig deep and you've gotta be strong. This is a wonderful opportunity, this is something you've always wanted and you can't jeopardize your integrity. You live and you die and that's all you have. One day you're gonna become a parent and your kids are going to watch you on this show and you do not want to set an example as somebody who doesn't have thick skin and fiber. Dig deep and be a fighter." So he and I kinda had a relation beyond just the tribal swap and it was very logical, on our tribe, to have thought: A) I'm not the weakest player and B) Even if Colton does decide to go with the guys, they're going to vote off a weaker female, which isn't me, and C) Tarzan really was the weakest link on our tribe and it makes a lot of sense if you're being told he's going home, that he is.
HitFix: And, having watched the season on TV, does Colton's betrayal there make more sense to you now?
Monica: I, in all honesty, was just appalled at what happened in Episode 4. As women, we were not in that Tribal Council and we were not debriefed on what happened at it at all. I thought the comments to Leif were sad. Munchkinland from Oz? Go back wherever you came from? I was sad for Leif, because he's such a kind person. I was sad for his family and for little people. And then the roasting that Bill got was just very uncomfortable to watch. It was difficult to see that after that tribal switch, that Tarzan, Jonas and Leif still wanted to be led by him. If I'd have been privy to that information, he would have been the first target I would have gone after. It's very disappointing, watching all of this, that Jonas actually came forward after all that and said, "I'll be Colton's bitch to get further in the game." If I were Jonas, I would have come to me, I would have come to Christina, I would have come to Leif and I would have said, "The four of us could do the biggest blindside in history and that's send Colton home with the Idol, because I don't want to be led by that kind of person." We just didn't know what he was like and it was very uncomfortable to watch.
HitFix: Do you think that that side you saw of Colton on Day 3 was sincere and genuine? Or was that him playing the game as well?
Monica: I think it was sincere and genuine. There were tears and hugs. I really didn't know him. He spent an exorbitant amount of time at the Women's camp at the beginning of the game, because he said, frankly, "I'm gay. This is the worst experience I could ever have. Men vs. Women and I'm with the Men? I'm more comfortable with women." He actually stayed with us in our shelter for the first couple nights. No, he wasn't acting. I think what happened was... You could see, in the beginning, he said, "No. We've gotta keep Monica," but then I think half-way through, he realized, "She's the strongest one here" and Colton the Player played it right and said, "I'd better get rid of her." After Episode 2, you can see that even though those Women have an alliance of five, Jeff asks at Tribal Council to Chelsea to Kim to Sabrina, "If you knew what you know now, would your alliance be different?" And every single one of them said, "Yes." I had found that crack. I had moved into that alliance. I was with them. The tribal swap was not helpful to me, but I was optimistic and said, "Let me make lemonade out of lemons here and see what I can do here." So I really did believe that Colton was with us and I had reason to believe, because of the relationship that I had with him in the beginning of the game.
HitFix: You just anticipated my next question. So you felt like you'd worked your way into that core alliance on the female tribe? Who did you feel like you had particularly close ties with before the swap?
Monica: Sab[rina] and Kim and Chelsea and I had a bond. You can see lots of photos that are there. I'm out spear-fishing with Chelsea and Kim and spending a lot of time with them. I think that they realized I was such a hard worker. I was plucking chickens and cooking chickens and doing the canteens and spearing fish and doing everything I could do to make everything comfortable for the Women. I stayed up all night long keeping the fire going. I was tight with those women and I really felt like, had we stayed like that, Alicia and Kat would have been the ones to go. I probably would have come forward too. This whole time, I was holding really close to my chest just who I was and what I was doing there and I would have tried to use that to my advantage as well and say, "Hey. I'd lpve to pitch one of you guys for the win. I'm here to get to the loved ones' visit and have my husband come to 'Survivor' Stage with stars in his eyes and cheer for me." That was my goal and I fell short and that was disappointing.
HitFix: So your pitch was going to be that you didn't really need the money and you weren't really out there for the win, per se?
Monica: Perhaps. Perhaps. I was gonna wait and see how the game unfolded, but I felt like I was in good position with the tribal swap, because I felt like maybe this would give me some options. Some of the men seemed really interesting to play with. I thought that Troyzan was extremely likable and we spent some time fishing and he was just a huge plethora of knowledge for the game, so I felt like I would be in good position. I could really find out were Chelsea, Sab, Christina, Kim and I gonna stay together as women? Or was this an opportunity for me to move up higher, maybe, and join the men? So there were so many opportunities and it was cut short and it was just really hard to see and be a part of and I really did explain it well at the end to Jeff, by saying, "Wow." I was surprised.
HitFix: You're obviously a positive person, so we didn't see your reaction to how the colored eggs had arranged the teams at the swap. But what was going on in your head when you looked at your team and you looked at the other team?
Monica: "Wow. How can I get that egg back and recrack a different one?" That was initially what I was thinking. It was funny, because right when I grabbed that egg, I had that feeling that I should tap Kat on the shoulder just like I do with my kids when you're playing cards and say, "Hey, you wanna swap eggs with me? I think I've got the winning egg." I'm so sorry I didn't, because she landed on that right tribe. Immediately, I'm optimistic so I'm thinking, "Alright. This is renaissance. Rebirth. Let's go see what we can stir up over here." And I was looking and thinking that we three women and I had this relationship with Colton, being his Mom-ica out there, so I thought I should be OK. And Tarzan was just so out of touch. My kids and I were talking and they were like, "Mom, what was Tarzan really like?" and the only thing I could tell them was that he was like Don Quixote, chasing windmills, and I certainly would think that he was the weakest link and he was going to go.
HitFix: What had your relationship been like with Christina and Alicia? And were you surprised that Alicia turned on you that quickly?
Monica: Very. Very surprised. But, again, it's "Survivor" and everybody's doing everything they can do to keep the target off of their back and if it means that they've gotta throw somebody under the bus to go another day further, they will. But I was very surprised at that. When she really struggled on the puzzle challenge that we had, she was down and I built her back up, just as I'd done with so many people out there. She kept saying, "I know it's me going home. I know it's me going home." And I said, "Hey. It could have been any of us. The puzzles in 'Survivor' can sometimes get the best of you. Don't get down. Stay up. We need you strong. Salani's got to win." So it was just unfortunately. I was sad to see her jump ship. It'll be interesting to see if the women will accept her back if she happens to make the Merge.
HitFix: Thinking back on it, was there a way that you could have, perhaps, been less strong and less helpful at camp after the shuffle and maybe not moved the target onto yourself?
Monica: Not at all. You're in a precarious situation when you're 40-years-old and you're out there. You're not the youngest. Maybe you're the oldest. So do you lay back and do nothing? It doesn't seem that that works well either. They may say, "Oh, you're the weakest link and you're gone." So then you've also got to kinda flex your strength and show some muscle that you've got some worth. So it's finding that perfect balance that works and I felt like I had found it.
As I look back, what I just wake up at night, still to this day months and months later is: How did I not go to Jonas after that switch or to Leif. I did ask the Men, "What's going on over there?" But I should have pressed them more. Really and truly, I could have gotten Jonas and Leif and Christina and I and we would have blindsided... In my mind, Russell Hantz is a villain in the game and it seems to me, as I watched, that Colton is not only a villain in the game, but a villain in life. I could have gotten him and blindsided him and sent him home with the Idol. I didn't know that he wasn't going to have loyalty to me. I didn't know the real person that he was. And I didn't know that the three men who sat through that Tribal and sat in that camp would continue to be led by somebody like that. If I were them, I'd be looking for a change just to represent myself better at home.
HitFix: As a last question: We didn't see any of the deliberation from the time before the Men volunteered to go to Tribal Council in that last episode. Did you guys have a sense of who that vote was going to be against?
Monica: I don't know. It seemed to be that the vote was perhaps going to be against Christina, but we weren't sure. It happened pretty early in the day that we had caught wind that, wait a minute, these Men were going to Tribal. I'm not sure that the Women had crystalized exactly what was happening. But I had been told by Kim, I had been told by Chelsea and I had been told by Sabrina, "Girl, you are safe."