Quick Note: Be sure to come back throughout the week for interviews with the rest of the final seven. Follow me on Twitter (@gordonholmes) for up-to-the-minute news.
One of the things you always hear in “Survivor” exit interviews is how a lot of moments end up on the cutting-room floor because the editors are cramming three days of video into a 42-minute show.
Unfortunately, it seems like we missed some solid strategy from the final threesome.
I had a chance to talk with first runner-up Monica Culpepper the morning after the “Blood vs. Water” finale and got to learn about how she faked knowing about the idol to try to win Tina’s support, how her and the Coconut Bandits never discussed strategy during the day, and the controversial strategy she had in her back pocket that she never used…
Gordon Holmes: You had a really rough Tribal Council last night and the sentiment from the jurors was that they didn’t know the real you. Was that something you had anticipated?
Monica Culpepper: You know, Gordon. No matter what I did I was going to get it. Being called paranoid? That’s a negative word. Cautious? Yes. Paranoid? No. After I’d been blindsided before I wasn’t going to let it happen again. A doormat? That’s crazy. A lapdog? I was prepared for anything going in there. They said I talk too much, so I stopped talking. Now I go to final Tribal and they say they don’t know me. Yes, they do, it’s just that they’ve never met anyone like me. You’ve never met somebody that’s just genuinely nice. I’m not the type of person to run people over. The life I’ve had with Brad has been awesome. And I’m in a position to not jeopardize my integrity. The Tribals before were foreshadowing what I was in for.
Holmes: Ciera and Hayden were on you to flip, then Ciera and Tina. And obviously you were solid with Gervase and Tyson. But…and I know how editing can twist things…you’d say things at Tribal like Ciera and Tina “told me the truth” about Tyson and Gervase. Were you considering swapping at all?
Culpepper: No, when Hayden and Ciera were fighting over me, that would have been a dumb move. I’m guaranteed the final three. You’ve got to be in it to win it to pitch to win. If I go with them I’m fourth at best and maybe five. I’d be the most selfless player out there, as Hayden had said, I’d won the most immunities, and now I’ve made the biggest move in the game by splitting up Tyson and Gervase? I’d have been the next to go. I had to go with the guys and at that point the lightbulb went off that not everybody likes Tyson and Gervase. I thought the best move was to drag the gangsters to the end and put their feet to the fire. It didn’t work out, but in the end it really did. Second place for me, a forty-three-year-old scrappy mom, is awesome. And let’s not forget that Tyson played a really good game.
Holmes: Were you upset when Tyson played the idol for Gervase?
Culpepper: I knew he had the idol, he’d told me. I knew he was going to play it for Gervase. We’d talked about it.
Holmes: So, when you approached Tina and said you were upset about it, that was just a ruse to try to win her jury vote?
Culpepper: Correct. At that point Tyson and Gervase were relaxing in the hammock, so I was trying to work those jury votes as best I could.
Holmes: Before the game, you, me, and Brad sat in a gazebo…
Culpepper: I wanted to tell you, Brad and I’s favorite interview was sitting out there in that little hut.
Holmes: That’s very kind of you. I enjoyed it too. When we were out there you two told me about a very controversial strategy where you’d tell the other members of your alliance that they should take you to the end because you don’t need the money and you’d pitch for them to win. Did that strategy ever come into play?
Culpepper: You know, it would’ve 100% come into play, except when Tyson played the idol the first time, Gervase did know about it. Tyson played it and I turned around and was blown away. I went back and said, “I’m crushed that you have that idol and you didn’t tell me.” We made a final three pact when we got to the merge. And the pact was, “We’ll never be seen by the light of day.” A threesome voting the same way is so hard to break up. Nobody knew that we were together. We’d talk at night when everyone was asleep. I’d play the poor mouse role and say, “I’m the last to know, what do you guys think.” And as long as they said what we’d talked about the previous night, we went into Tribal feeling pretty good. So, when Tyson played that idol I felt like a second-class citizen in that alliance. I went to bed thinking, you know what? I’m going to grab Katie and I’m going to grab Ciera and we’re going to dump these guys. And I woke up and got a clear head. Katie and Ciera both have their mothers on the jury. It’s almost a flaw in “Survivor” that jurors go back to Ponderosa and can talk and be persuasive. So, I didn’t want to go to the end with someone with a loved one. And I wasn’t going to pitch Tyson or Gervase to win because I didn’t think they were as true to me as I was to them. And that’s why I didn’t. And I also felt like I deserved to win. I don’t think anyone dragged me anywhere.
Holmes: This is kind of a silly question, but a friend of mine was watching “Survivor” for the first time, and she refused to believe that you weren’t wearing make-up.
Culpepper: (Laughs) That’s a nice question. I’ve been asked that a lot of times. I’m very flattered that people say that. All I can say is it must be the bug spray and SPF combination that they give us out there. I credit that or maybe I need to stay on that diet of unripe coconuts and plantains.
Holmes: No, no…you were looking dangerously skinny, and that’s with the camera adding ten pounds.
Culpepper: I lost about 23 pounds, that’s over 20% of my bodyweight, so that’s a lot for me.
Holmes: Alright, word association time. We’ll start with Tyson.
Holmes: Laura M.?
Culpepper: Lacks self-control.
Culpepper: Lacks self-control again.
Culpepper: Just a heart of gold.
Culpepper: A caged lion.
Holmes: And Brad?
Culpepper: A meteor. He’s a super stud.
Holmes: How did the Culpepper kids react when they saw mom down a shot glass full of worms?
Culpepper: They weren’t surprised. They said, “Mom, we’ve always known that you’re tough and awesome.” But that’s a typical day at the Culpeppers. Look who I’m married to with Brad. He’s so much fun. He’ll go fishing and the guys are like, “I double dog dare you to eat that mealworm.” That challenge meant so much to me because no woman has ever won it. I just think, it’s the epitome of “Survivor.” And they eliminated the cow eyeball round.
Culpepper: It was the most disgusting. You chew into these eyeballs and they explode. It’s just this viscous…thick fluid. And then chewing it is like chewing tire rubber.
Holmes: You certainly paint a picture.
Culpepper: I felt bad for Gervase to go through all that and get the big goose egg. But it was such an empowering moment for me.
Any Questions? Drop me a line on Twitter: @gordonholmes