Interview: Monica Culpepper on 'Survivor: Blood vs. Water'
Runner-up discusses her lone vote, husband Brad's bad edit
It may not quite equal Sue Hawk's "rats and snakes" speech from the original "Survivor" Final Tribal Council, but Monica Culpepper had a moment in Sunday's "Survivor: Blood vs. Water" finale that stands as its own definitive statement-of-values.
Well into a Final Tribal that became a referendum on Monica's sincerity and her possible ulterior motives, the "One World" veteran just broke.
"Have you all never met a nice person? Have you all never met someone who wasn't selfish?" Monica asked.
It perhaps says something that Monica received only one vote from the "Blood vs. Water" Jury, a nod from Vytas who was stubbornly sticking to his word to not give eventual winner Tyson his vote.
In her exit interview, Monica discusses whether nice people can win "Survivor," why "Survivor" conspired to keep us from realizing how much everybody loved Brad Culpepper and why she's done actually playing "Survivor."
Click through for the full Q&A...
HitFix: So how closely had you anticipated the way the votes played out last night at the live reveal?
Monica Culpepper: I had a very strong feeling that Tyson had won the game. And, of course, I was hoping for second and that's a win for me.
HitFix: What do you make of Vytas giving you his vote and how important was that in terms of getting you that second that you wanted?
Monica Culpepper: Yeah, I feel like with Vytas he was not willing to draw rocks for Brad and that's what ended up spending him when Caleb had that last minute/hour flip on, "Wait a minute," you know, you're playing with the 21 Player with Probst. Brad was never going home that night. And Probst keep peppering Brad with questions and he said, you know, "Brad, do you think about what type of moves you're gonna make on what might impact your wife on the other side?" And Brad said, "Well, of course. Voting somebody out it doesn't have a leveling on the other side, you know, is something to think about." And right then Caleb thought, "Whoa, Colton's just quit. I'm going to Brad before he gets me." So they get to that Tribal and, of course, Vytas is not wiling at that point in the game to draw rocks for Brad. And I think it was almost like Vytas's redemption and love for Brad that he just wanted to say "I have a say in this." And he did say to me in the end when he hugged me and he said, "You know you got my vote because I've never seen, and I'm a huge fan of this show, somebody take so much heat out here no matter what they did." And he said, "I looked at you and thought you were just so strong." And that Tribal went on for over two hours. And it was every third question was for Tyson or Gervase. And I kept getting hit with the same exact questions over and over and over again. And for that he rewarded me the vote and it meant a lot.
HitFix: Talking about that, what response had you expected from the jury and what did you sort of learn or get from the way that they actually did respond to you at that Final Tribal?
Monica Culpepper: I was prepared for the fireworks that that Final Tribal was, because look at what every Tribal was before that. The disappointing part to me is typically when you see people try to get someone's vote, they talk about game play, they talk about strategy, they talk about "Survivor." And truly, Dan, I was hurt to the core out there because they made it personal. They attacked what my kids were gonna think about me, what America was gonna think about me, hat my husband who matters so much -- who's my life and world -- was gonna think of me. The names that they called me and the things that they said, I was really prepared for anything and I got it, you know, at the Final Tribal. And finally I just gave up and said, "You know, I really don't know what you people want from me. Have you just not yet ever met someone nice?" I'm just nice, you know. I mean I gave the Reward away when I won the challenge because I felt greedy. It felt greedy to stand there and eat hamburgers and hot dogs and soda and French fries with one other person when eight people are starving. And that's just the way I am, you know. And maybe people haven't seen somebody nice on "Survivor" and perhaps it would come across disingenuine, but everyone has apologized. Everyone has reached out with so much love. I think when they saw it on TV that perhaps, "Wow, I looked not nice." And all's well that ends well. A second place for me is just an incredible feeling and a win.
HitFix: Do you think that your second place finish proves that nice people can do well on "Survivor" or do you think that it proves that nice people can't *win* on "Survivor"?
Monica Culpepper: I think perhaps nice people can win. I think there was a lot of talk and feeling that "Brad and Monica's position in life is going to sway my vote. It's not gonna change their life." And I feel like that played into play. And I would be sad, everybody is a different person and I do think that nice people can win "Survivor." Bob Crowley is a nice person and he won "Survivor." You know, everyone kept saying make your big move, make your big move. But my big move was my social being. What a brilliant position to be in going into the last three Tribal Councils as the vote. I was guaranteed Final 3 and I was picking who I want to go with. There is merit in social maneuvering like that. You know, blowing somebody up or sending them home? I mean, truly Hayden came across to me with his comments, "But you're a lap dog." Really? You're the lap dog because you're the one that needs me right now, you know. Had he played it socially a little bit better, your life in this game wouldn't depend on Monica. And, you know, I took a lot of heat from the way he wanted to attack and play it but it was really, "I think you're my lap dog, you and Ciera, because you need me."
HitFix: So you were the swing vote in those three votes but you stuck with Tyson and Gervase on all three of them. How close at any point did you come to breaking away?
Monica Culpepper: I was handcuffed. Hayden was Mr. Congeniality out there. If I made a move with Hayden and Ciera, number one it's dumb because I'm No.4 with them. Whoever comes out of Redemption Island's it's gonna be three with them and perhaps [unintelligible] the biggest move in the game. I was a selfless player out there. I've won three Individual Immunities. The biggest threat I go five. And Hayden, if I flip it's not gonna be "Look at Monica's move." It's gonna be, "Look how manipulative Hayden and Ciera are. They got Monica to split." That was the climate and culture out there. So I was handcuffed. And I really kind of felt what Gervase said at the Tribal Council before that when he said, "This isn't 'Big Brother,' this is 'Survivor.'" And out of respect for every single person that's ever gone through the rugged brutalness of the game of "Survivor," I didn't want a guy who won "Big Brother" to win "Survivor," too.
HitFix: I kind of like that. Now at the reunion show both you and Brad made reference to the edit. Watching the show this season, what was the biggest difference between what was shown on TV and the experience as you remembered in your head?
Monica Culpepper: The biggest thing is Brad was absolutely loved by his tribe. They never wrote his name down. They had absolutely no footage of, "Gosh, I want this guy gone." He was so entertaining and so loved by them. It was a paranoid move by Caleb, who was affected by the 21st Player in the game, Jeff Probst, that Brad went home. Yet the "F-U Brad Culpeppers" and the "F-U Brad Culpeppers" that kept coming on really were idiotic and it's unfortunate that their voice, because it was so loud, somehow was able to cloud people's mind about Brad. Candice never spoke to Brad once. And that was disappointing.
Candice was angry at me and it was all dropped from the edit. Jeff had yelled at us on the beach and said, "Monica, I wanted a f-ing good answer. I don't want beauty pageant answers. I want an answer that's the truth." So we asked everybody why they wrote down Candice and people said, "We should have coffee. I don't know you." "We haven't met." Of course, Colton said, "I heard ca-ca-ca and I wanted to say -andice and not Colton." And then he calls on me and says, "Why did you write down Candice." And I said, "You know why I did? I do know you. I think you're beautiful. I think you're intelligent and I think you're the least trustworthy person here and the biggest threat to me and that's why I think you should go." And she said, "It's Survivor. Of course you're gonna tell lies." And Rupert behind me said [in a very fine Rupert impression], "Ho, ho, ho. No you don't have to tell lies, Candice. You can be honest out here." And, you know, Rupert kind of touched my shoulder. Well from that point forward all that vitriol and hate that she threw on Brad was really directed at me and it was unfortunate that my husband beared the burden of the edit of her voice. And it was paralyzing. I mean it was so upsetting. And Jeff had said to me, "I've not really ever seen a player take it as hard as you took it from Day 1 to Day 39 on the last Tribal Council." And he said, "I just want you to know I was touched by your story and I was touched at what a nice person you are. One of the most touching moments in the history of the show and thank you for that." And he said, "I get you and I get Brad and thanks for sharing your story." And so there we are.
HitFix: Well I guess I'm sort of wondering how much your experience out there was negatively impacted by the negativity that was sort of ultimately directed at Brad and if you think that you still would have done as well if it had just been you out there and would it have been better even if you hadn't had to deal with that negativity and you could have played a hundred percent just as Monica.
Monica Culpepper: Absolutely not. I got second place because of the moves that Brad and Tadhana made in the beginning of the game. Think about it. John was a force to be reckoned with. He would have been fantastic in challenges on the Individual Immunities. He's in his twenties. He's well educated. He would have been tough to beat. Marissa was almost, you know, just a round peg in a square hole or a square peg in a round hole, however you want to put it. The vote was six to one. It wasn't Brad's choice to send out Marissa. So the moves that he made put me in position. Also, you know, I was Tyson's No.1. Had Rachel not been gone, I guarantee she'd have been Tyson's No.1 and worked with him. So the moves and the things that happened and the sacrifices that Brad made, I think, helped me in the game because when we got to the Merge I was flooded with stories about, "Oh my God, we absolutely adored your husband. The football stories. The life stories. He was just comedy hour all the time" and they were so endeared to him that they really weren't after me or paying attention to me until they finally realized, "Wait a minute, she's in a good position and I need her to further myself." So playing with Brad was, it took two to get second place and I genuinely feel like that.
HitFix: Okay. And Ciera told you a lot of things about things that Gervase and Tyson were saying about you to try to sway you out there. Watching the episodes and seeing sort of some sense of what they did or didn't actually say, how did that sort of make you feel about that alliance that you had as you were going along watching the season?
Monica Culpepper: I was with Tyson and Gervase. Tyson is hard to read. You saw me asking him, "Are you sure? Are you sure." People judged me and said, "Whoever says 'Are you sure?' to someone on 'Survivor'?" Play with Tyson Apostol. You see how he is. He's snarky. He's hard to read. And so I knew they were with me, but they made me feel unsure when he played that Idol. And I thought, "They're a twosome and am I the third wheel?" You know, hard to play with. How did she make me feel with those comments truly? Dan, I came home inside-out. And it became personal out there and they hurt me to the core. I'd be a liar if I told you they didn't. And I just thought, you know, what are you gonna do? Am I gonna quit? No, I don't even know what that means. What a terrible example. We're so philanthropic in our town. You know, we mentor kids. We're parents. We're out there and that's not in my nature. So it's just continued to be you. Stay higher than all that. Don't become them. And, you know, the cream will rise to the top. And it did. You know, second place for a 43-year-old scrappy mom from Tampa is a win. It truly is.
HitFix: Feeling that way and sort of having seen how this season sort of impacted your life outside of the game – Do you sort of leave the "Survivor" experience fully satisfied or do you still have some craving to go back and get first place now?
Monica Culpepper: I am wholeheartedly satisfied. At the end of the day, you have campfire stories to tell with your grandkids and Brad and I have some great stories. Do I want to play "Survivor" again? No. You've seen my story. I don't have the make-up to be something that I'm not. And to win three Individual Immunities, the most out there, is amazing. Would I have liked to tie Kim and Parvati for four for the most and Jenna? Sure. Did it happen? No. To win the food challenge and be the only woman to do so is fantastic. And I had a great experience but I think I'll give somebody else a turn. And more than anything I'd like to see Brad go out there and get a chance to play "Survivor" for himself, because he really genuinely put me first. In every move that he made he wanted me to get redemption since I didn't get a chance to play the game on "One World" when I was blindsided by Colton. And nothing would give me more pleasure than to see him get a chance to go out and play. And I think next time you see me on "Survivor" is when Brad gets to the loved ones visit and I fly out and I'm there with him. And hopefully they'll give us a food challenge so that he can win Individual Immunity that night.
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