Phillip Sheppard: I didn't expect to win 'Survivor: Redemption Island'
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 05/23/2011
Phillip Sheppard's strange antics throughout the season may have had his fellow castaways and Survivor: Redemption Island viewers questioning whether he was "crazy," "acting crazy," or neither, but one thing was certain -- Phillip's strong belief that he would make it to the final three was far from crazy.
While he "outlasted" Survivor: Redemption Island's nine jury members, the ousted castaways -- except for Ralph Kiser -- determined he had done little to "outwit" or "outplay" them and his controversial behavior turned them off completely, resulting in four-time Survivor castaway "Boston" Rob Mariano being crowned the game's winner via a 8-1 vote during last Sunday night's live finale broadcast on CBS. Phillip received the one vote, while the third final Tribal Council castaway, Natalie Tenerelli, did not earn a single vote.
During a conference call with reporters last Monday, Phillip, a 52-year-old technology executive and former federal agent from Santa Monica, CA, discussed his Survivor: Redemption Island experience with Reality TV World -- including what he said his thought process was behind his opening speech at the final jury, when he claimed he first suspected Rob had found a hidden Immunity Idol, and how he described his apparent contentious relationship with fellow castaway Ashley Underwood.
Reality TV World: Could you explain your opening speech at the final jury? It seemed a little strange and before then, you mentioned you thought it was important to remind people that you're one of the final three and they were on the jury, which seemed a little bit of an adversarial way to go about trying to win votes.
Phillip Sheppard: I wasn't really there to try to win votes. I had already figured out early on in the game that a number of people from the Ometepe tribe were in total awe of Boston Rob.
As such, none of them -- in fact, you didn't see for the entire season where anyone from the former Ometepe tribe actually came to me and had a conversation about a strategy when they were thinking about winning the game.
Whenever I approached one of them, they would immediately go back and report it to Boston Rob. So I figured I had to go big or go home, and with that, I went to Boston Rob with that strategy, and you saw how is manifested. I basically was the guy that everybody focused on, and that allowed Rob to go ahead and play the game and manipulate people the way he needed to.
In return, he said, "If you do that, I'll bring you to the end," and he brought me to the end. And as such, I also knew from some of the comments that people were making throughout the game, that there was nothing I was going to say at that point that was going to get them to actually give me all the votes and not vote for Rob.
So I just said, "You know what? If you're going to get up here and come at me, you're going to try to attack me," at that point, I didn't care whether or not they gave me a vote or not. I didn't really expect to win, so I just said, "You know what? I made it to the end. I'll settle for being here at the end."
Reality TV World: So you were kind of fibbing to Survivorhost Jeff Probst when before he revealed the votes during the live portion of the season finale [and] you told him you thought you had a chance?
Phillip Sheppard: Um, basically at that moment, I was a little bit frustrated because I felt like maybe I would have a chance and maybe somebody in that group realized that Phillip actually played a pretty good game. After all, I didn't break any alliance for anybody that was on that jury.
Nobody on that jury could say, "Phillip told me he was going to bring me to the end and he didn't. Phillip told me he was going to be sitting next to me in the end." I didn't do that. The person who did, I was sitting next to and they still gave him their votes. So I thought, "Well maybe somebody could have went back in there and stirred up the jury a little bit, so why not?"
Reality TV World: You were shown saying you had suspected Rob had the hidden Immunity Idol. Why? What was it that made you suspicious?
Phillip Sheppard: Because lots of times, Rob would say, "Oh, I'm not feeling good. I'll be right back guys." He would say something like that and then he would go off and disappear. I thought, "He's looking for an idol."
Reality TV World: Could you talk about your relationship with [Ashley Underwood]? A lot of viewers seemed really surprised that she expected you to sit there silently [during the jury questioning] while she gave you a hard time.
Phillip Sheppard: Well, I think that Ashley kind of indicated, you know, she's a young person first of all, and I think she's a very engaging person in terms of the fact that she's a nurse and that she was a professional athlete at one time in her career.
Any time I'm talking to her or I'm dealing with a young person, I try to go with kid gloves on unless I feel like they're not doing something they should be or need to be doing like I did throughout the season when I'd say, "Hey, you know what? You need to help get some wood. You need to do this." And she'd be offended by it.
But [the live reunion special], I thought was kind of unusual, because Jeff gave everybody a chance to speak and if you noticed, nobody stepped over anybody when they were speaking. We were all -- each person was given an opportunity to speak, and Jeff saved me for last.
As soon as I said, "I tried to play the game with some level of integrity," and when I did my one-off interview, she immediately jumped and stepped all over my interview and we ended up cutting it short. I didn't really get to say a number of things that I wanted to say [on the reunion show]. Again, I think that was more -- and then afterwards, she says, "Oh, oh, oh. I misunderstood," and of course, it was too late.
She stepped all over my interview and basically what I was going to say -- which has been factual -- what I was going to say was if you go back and you look at the one-off interview that I did throughout the season, I didn't talk about people.
When [Francesca Hogi] and them were trashing me and talking about my droopy underwear and all that stuff, when we came back and we started up the next thing, you didn't hear me talking about any of those people.
I would talk about my Buddhism, I would talk about -- I would say favorable things about [Matt Elrod], I would talk about how I was going to try to approach the game, but I didn't trash people.
That's all I was going to say [during the reunion special], so Ashley probably got offended as a young person watching and heard me say something like, "I got seven sisters and you know what? I've never seen anyone as lazy as her."
So she saw me say that last night. I think it got under her skin, and so as soon as I spoke as the number two person in the game, she immediately spoke up and started trampling all over the last final statements I was going to make in the season. So, yes, I have no issue with her per se or any of the contestants that played this season.
Also in the call, Phillip told reporters whether he'd be interested in giving the game another shot if given the opportunity, what his reaction was when he had discovered people were unconvinced he is a former federal agent, how he claimed his combative relationship with fellow castaway Steve Wright has changed, and why he said he chose not to implement his "I was acting crazy" strategy to win votes at the final Tribal Council session.
If you were asked to come back to this game, would you and what sort of strategy would you use? How would you change things from what you did this past time around?
Phillip Sheppard: As I said, I'm the type of person having been trained as a former federal agent, I read every single book that's been published on the show Survivor. I watched most of the previous seasons in their entirety. I read a book called The Psychology of Survivor, which is 13 Ph.D. psychologists who analyzed the game this way to Sunday.
They got under the very sands of the show and even analyzed Boston Rob and gave personality traits to people who played the game. So when I came into the game, I was going to play it totally totally different and had a completely different strategy, which I'm not going to completely share here because in fact, if I were to be invited back, I would take advantage of that strategy and the homework that I did.
But once he stepped off the helicopter, you saw what I saw, which was, "Oh my God, there's almost like a cult-like feeling to this." If Rob said he was specifically going to the bathroom and walked down the beach, everyone would be -- [Grant Mattos], Matt, and the three girls -- would automatically get up and walk behind him.
He didn't have to say, "Hey guys! You want to come for a walk?" They would just follow him. Its was like, "Oh my goodness." So, I had no choice but to develop the game that I did, and ultimately, it played out quite well. It was entertaining to the audience at home, which is part of my personality.
I love entertaining people, having fun, and being bigger than life anyway. And so, I did that part of it with a twist. I made sure that Rob and the others felt like, "You know what? If I had to go to the end, I'd take Phillip with me, because he may not win."
For me, the first time out, to go out with Michael Jordan -- the mastermind ofSurvivor -- and come in second place, kudos to Phillip Sheppard. I still love Phillip Sheppard, a little tongue and cheek there fellas.
Once it was proven that you really are a former federal agent, what reaction did people give you in your life? Were you shocked that people were ridiculing you as if that was a made up fact?
Phillip Sheppard: No, I'm not surprised by anything that happens in life. I'll tell you what really did surprise me a little bit. As the season wore on and it was clear all you had to do was go out and google my name and go out to linkedin and look at my professional profile, it clearly showed that this is a very capable guy.
He's actually running a company where he's selling enterprise application software that costs hundreds and hundreds and thousands of dollars, and then part of that profile, it clearly says, "Phillip was a former agent. He is a retired army soldier." I'm a retired army soldier.
At some point, you'd think a bulb would go off -- even some of the reporters doing their reporting saying he's crazy and they don't believe I'm a former federal agent, like where's the homework here? So, I was more disappointed by some of the reporting that was done than the general public, because they've got lives. They got family support.
I can understand why from the editing that was done that they might have a little question mark, and frankly, I'm grateful to the editors and the way the story was presented.
I'm totally self-assured being one of 12 brothers and sisters who are highly educated -- my twin is a doctor, my brother is the chief of police for the city of Rochester, NY, my sister's a co-founder of primal therapy, my brother has been a teacher the year before, my sister Francis is a senior executive at a major casino -- I could go on and on.
I'm from a very successful family. My father was the vice president of sales and marketing for Eastman Kodak Company. It's like, we are very self-assured people. We know who we are. We don't need the public or anybody else to define that for us.
Just like Nelson Mandela when he sat in that prison cell and was able to walk out of it, even though he'd been defined for 25 years, he still walked out of it ready to be the president of that country. So, that's how the Sheppards role. We don't need the world to tell us who we are.
It looked like Steve comments really affected you in the end. How do you look on what happened with him now?
Phillip Sheppard: Um, Steve and I after we left, we all went over to a party and while we were at that party, he and I spoke. I am doing something with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International to help save the 480 gorrillas that are left in the world today by helping them raise hopefully millions of dollars through some of the Survivor fans and other initiatives going forward and the Phillip Sheppard campaign.
I asked Steve if he would be willing to do some joint appearances with me, and he said he would, and I in turn told him that with his energy company he's forming to go out and help save the environment, that I'd be willing to do some things with him as well. So, he and I talked a lot.
I think it's his older brother or younger brother -- I'm not sure -- Dave Wright met with my sister when they did the family visit. They loved each other and when I said the remarks I had, I think Steve took it to heart, and I really like the guy, frankly. We played the game. I was starving out there.
As I said, once I got home and I saw what I saw and realized what had aired, like a man and like the example I want to set for my 17-year-old son who is currently in military school -- I might add with a 3.6 average -- I did the right thing and I think Steve did the right thing in that he embraced me and we talked afterwards.
He said, "Man, you're a good man. You're okay with me. You don't need to do any of that," but I'm grateful that he did. So, I appreciate your question, and the race issue and anything like this, this is a learning lesson for both sides. It doesn't necessarily go just one way, and you know what? The specialist got a lesson.
You said that being in the final three wit Rob was enough for you, but did you ever consider switching over to the Zapatera alliance after the merge in order to make a big move?
Phillip Sheppard: Actually, I saw exactly what you saw at home. You saw that when the Zapateras voted out [Russell Hantz], there was a little bit of gloating that showed up. They immediately won the next challenge afterward. Ralph got up on the table and did the rooster call. There was a certain little pride like, "Nothing can stop us here."
They felt like they did such a huge accomplishment in throwing Russell out of the game, and to Rob's credit and to his leadership, any time we were going to win anything, he would say, "Keep it quiet. Keep it low," and I agreed with that assessment too. When the merge finally came, there was a little desperation.
I don't know if it transferred on television for you guys as well, but I had thought about that, and I was waiting for that day. You may remember that one clip at the end of one episode when I went, "It's anybody's game now, baby!"
And then of course, the merge came and we actually got to eyeball those people -- well at least I got to eyeball them -- and I just realized that's where "Stealth-R-Us" got created so that we would be an impervious organization so that we could keep everybody close and tight.
Because I realized that if any one of them got in, [David Murphy] who was trying viscously to exit himself and [gravitate] himself to Rob and our tribe, and [Mike Chiesl] tried a couple of moves, and Steve tried a couple of moves with Matt and [Andrea Boehlke] and others, we realized they had a little desperation about them.
My mother always told me, "Sometimes people who are in need are not friends in need," so you couldn't accept that. I'm glad I made the decision I made, because I finished number two.
Throughout the game, viewers saw you mentioning numerous times that you were strategically "acting" crazy and that you were going to talk about that at the jury, but you didn't. Why didn't you tell the jury that you were acting and you fooled everyone?
Phillip Sheppard: Well the reason I didn't do that, I didn't think it was going to get me anywhere. I've been out there for 39 days with these people, and none of them, you can't go back and rewind or watch previous episodes where you'll see one of the former Ometepe tribe actually walk up to me and say, "Hey Phillip, here's what I think we might want to do. Would you like to do this?"
The only two people who tried that were in desperate mode and that was [Kristina Kell] and Francesca. I already knew that the Rob alliance was going to vote them out. I had nothing to fear and I wasn't going to join an alliance like that, so I listened, but then something told me -- a sixth sense said to me, "These two girls don't really like me. They don't respect me. They're probably talking about me behind my back."
And like the rest of you, I came home and watched the episode where it was exactly what happened in their private interviews. They were trash talking me, talking about what a horrible person I was or whatever, and in the meantime, their saying, "Let's make an alliance. Look, I'll show you the idol I found," said Kristina.
In the meantime , she just couldn't wait to get rid of me. Now the difference is, you have to get rid of your alliance before it gets rid of you, and I made that decision the first Tribal Council -- we're getting rid of those two. So, I realized I wasn't going to do myself any favors by saying, "Please guys, vote for me! I deserved it! I played this magnificent game! I didn't really mean to yell at you."
I think we're a little of that last season where [Sash Lenahan] got up and tried to describe about what he did and how he played and what he was trying to do in that game, and what did it get him? How many votes did he get? He got one less than I did. Zero.
Where did your vote from Ralph come from? Did you two form some sort of bond that viewers didn't get to see?
Phillip Sheppard: Well, I think the same kind of bond that you saw that Boston Rob and I had, you never saw it. You never really saw it. Matter of fact, you heard it in the conversations we had and the comments we made, right? You never really saw me and Rob really closey, closey, close. We hugged a couple times, but you know what? With Ralph, it was a little bit different.
Ralph said... "You know what? I like Phillip. He was playing the game, and I saw it. He was just playing the game." And so many people that walk up to me on the street, particularly teenagers, I love it -- they're 17, 18, 19-years-old and they'll come up to me and they'll say, "You're brilliant."
I'll say, "You know what I'm doing?" And they'll say, "Oh yeah. I know what you're doing." They explain to me the game and then I'm like, "Who told you that?!" They go, "I saw it." So they actually understood the game I played and Ralph, to his credit, realized that I was not crazy.
He knew that I was working my tribe, that I was keeping his tribe out, and as long as I kept his tribe out, I could stay in the game. It doesn't take a scientist to do that.
It just takes somebody who's an astute observer and listens to somebody over a period of time and can appreciate the fact that there is some editing going on to keep the entertainment value high here. Overall, I played the game, and anybody who wants to do some business with me will learn that I can play that game too.