Exclusive: Brad Culpepper: 'Survivor's editing was frustrating, I wouldn't have dumped Tai Trang if he gave me an idol
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 05/25/2017
Brad Culpepper finished Survivor: Game Changers in second place, losing the $1 million grand prize during the live portion of Wednesday night's finale broadcast on CBS.
Brad, a 47-year-old retired NFL player from Tampa, FL, finished as the runner-up on Season 34 behind Sarah, a 32-year-old police officer from Marion, IA. However, Brad defeated Troy "Troyzan" Robertson, a 55-year-old photographer from Miami, FL, in the Final 3.
Sarah appeared to receive seven votes to win, while Brad earned three votes. Troyzan walked away with zero jury votes. Tai Trang landed in fourth place, and behind him went Aubry Bracco in fifth place. In Wednesday night's finale, fan-favorite Cirie Fields was ousted from the Maku Maku tribe in sixth place.
During an exclusive interview with Reality TV World on Thursday, Brad talked about his Survivor: Game Changers experience and victory. Below is what he had to say.
Reality TV World: Jeff Probst made it clear you made a million-dollar mistake by taking Sarah to the end with you instead of Tai. How frustrating was that to hear and do you think that's really the way it would have played out or that people were claiming they'd vote that was in hindsight?
Brad Culpepper: It's hard to tell. That's what I was so hesitant for Jeff to even do anything like that, because the perception when you're watching a TV, you know, you're seeing different conversations that you're not privy to on the island. It kind of alters your opinion on certain things. It's probably not a true representation, but Monday-morning quarterbacking is a lot easier than Sunday.
Reality TV World: Given how confident you were at the end of the season, were you surprised you only got three votes? Were you anticipating to receive a vote from anyone else in particular?
Brad Culpepper: Well, the perception you have on the island is a lot different than when you watch the TV show. So, I'm not privy to a lot of conversations that are happening outside of my ears. And quite frankly, while I was on the island, I thought Cirie and [Andrea Boehlke] were really kind of controlling that side of things.
And maybe they were and Sarah got awarded that [credit] by proxy being that they were out and she was in there. And also, I had never seen [Zeke Smith] play before. If I had seen him before, I would have realized he was sort of a cutthroat player, and he doesn't really care that someone stabbed him in the back.
All he cared about was good gameplay and respected that. Tai was universally liked by everyone because he didn't really step on anyone's toes other than mine. (Laughs)
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But, you know, he was great around camp and he was very good at challenges, so I thought there would be a lot more good will towards Tai than there would be Sarah, because I knew Sarah had a lot of blood on her hands.
But I didn't realize that would be rewarded. I thought there would be more bitter feelings. But watching Zeke play, he clearly was going to reward that, but I didn't know him when the game started.
Reality TV World: Yeah, I was going to ask you if you think you underestimated Sarah's gameplay or just expected a very bitter jury.
Brad Culpepper: No, no. I underestimated her gameplay for sure. She played tremendously. Watching it unfold on TV, I was very impressed with her game and she did an awesome job and deserved to win. So, again, when you're on the island, you don't really see that. So I expected a more bitter jury and I was definitely impressed with her gameplay.
Reality TV World: There is this school of thought that given you're already a wealthy athlete, a jury wouldn't want to reward you the money at the end. Do you think that played a role in Sarah's victory? Was that a concern for you out there towards the end? We didn't see much talk about that.
Brad Culpepper: No, I mean, at the beginning of the game, I was using that a little bit, saying, "Look, you want to get to the end with me because a jury is going to be hesitant [to give me the money]," especially talking to really good players and they're worried about their resume being too good and someone underneath potentially has a better chance.
And my plan when [Tony Vlachos] got out and [Sandra Diaz-Twine] got out, had I been with them, I'd say, "Look, you'd like to sit with me at the end because I'm in the same stratosphere as far as whether money is going to matter when rewarding the victor."
But I don't think that had anything to do with it. I think they were just trying to award the player who best played the game. So I don't know if that had something to do with the decision making.
Reality TV World: If Tai had given you one of his idols to hold on to, would you still have voted him out at the first opportunity? We saw you telling Troyzan that, but obviously you promised Tai Final 3 if he actually followed through with that.
Brad Culpepper: No, no, and this is what was frustrating about the show last night. You were seeing the tail end of frustration with me and Tai. We had a very complicated relationship, and it's Survivor, so they're going to only show the dramatic portions of conversations.
But first of all, Tai and I were together. We got underneath, we were on the bottom, everybody is scrambling to secure a vote to save your life. And while the opposition told me to vote for Tai and the opposition told Tai to vote for Sierra, we were disconnected.
And so I was trying to reconnect with Tai. I said, "Look, you've gone against me three times in a row. Let's reconnect, but I'm not really going to trust you unless you give me one of your idols to hold."
And I 100% was going to hold onto it if I won the [Individual Immunity Challenge]. I was going to give it back to him and say, "Okay, I trust you completely now. Let's keep going." So he was just waffling. Early on in the conversation it was, "Okay, I'll do it." And then he'd come back five minutes later and say, "No, I can't do it."
And I was like, "Why can't you?! Tai, you've got to do this. We've got to have some kind of coordination. We've got to get back on the same page." So it was back and forth for, I'd say, three to four hours.
What you were seeing was the tail end of that, and my conversation with Troyzan was at the very end, like, "God dang, I can't get Tai to commit one way or the other. Gosh, if he even gives it to me I swear I would [vote him out]."
So that was more frustration when I said I would vote him out. I was really planning on not doing that, but it was lost in translation, the way they edited it, so. But no, I wasn't planning to -- I would have been much more loyal to Tai had he done that for me.
Reality TV World: How would you explain your relationship with Sarah up to the Final 6? She always seemed to be a swing vote or a flipper, yet Sierra was pretty convinced Sarah was her loyal best friend -- even after Debbie went home -- so where did you stand with her?
Brad Culpepper: We connected pretty good. I mean, we were together early but then she of course took Debbie out of the game, and that startled all of us. But we still had a connection. She was like, "Look, I thought Debbie was a Wild Card. She had another agenda."
So I felt pretty good about Sarah. And that was good on her part! That's why she won the game, because she created relationships with everybody and everybody was buying in even if they were not with her.
Reality TV World: When Aubry went home, why did she become the target instead of Sarah, who was once again put in a powerful swing-vote position between Troyzan and yourself vs. Tai and Cirie.
Brad Culpepper: I can't really remember. Right then, you're trying to secure relationships. It was a matter of, "Aubry is here; she has battled back." Again, it's perception. And what you've got to understand too is that just because someone is not onscreen, like Aubry or Troy, it doesn't mean it's like Westworld and they're frozen in time.
People are working relentlessly trying to cultivate relationships and trying to talk strategy. So Aubry had very much been a part of the game, and at that point, it was like, "Well, she hasn't made anybody angry. She's been on the bottom the entire game, and boy, if she makes it to the end, she'd probably garner a lot of votes." She's a very good player, and I think that's what the thought process was then.
To begin reading what Sarah had to tell Reality TV World about her victory in an exclusive interview, click here, or click here to read our interview with Cirie. Check back with us soon for more interviews with Survivor: Game Changers' Final 6 castaways.