He absolutely dominated in challenges — tying a Survivor record with five individual immunity victories, including a clean sweep of the last four — but as Brad Culpepper’s competition game soared, his social and strategic game crumbled. Brad went too hard at Tai in an attempt to get one of his idols (making himself the bad guy in the eyes of the jury), and then made the mistake — a million dollar mistake — of bringing Sarah to the end instead of Tai.
It was a pretty stunning turnabout for a guy who seemed to be playing a stellar social and strategic game before the Survivor: Game Changers merge. So what happened? We asked Brad that and a whole lot more when he called into EW Morning Live (Entertainment Weekly Radio, SiriusXM, channel 105) and you can now hear the full interview right here on the EW Morning Live podcast. Here are a few highlights from our chat.
On when it started to hit him that the jury was not going to go his way:
“Immediately. I had no idea that blood in the game was gonna be considered a badge of honor. It’s hard to read juries before you get in there. I knew that Sarah had cut some throats. I didn’t know much about Zeke’s game. I knew he was a good player, but had I watched the season before, I would’ve had an inkling that this guy is kind of a game-bot and doesn’t care what throats get cut — he’s gonna reward that. As soon as he stood up, he says, ‘Sarah, I’ve got a question for you.’ He was kinda cagey about it, like, ‘You told me this, and then did this. You told me this, and then did this.’ He goes, ‘You’re an assassin, I love it. You’re my champion to win this season.’ I was like, Oooh, that was not what I expected. So it was pretty immediate.”
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On what it was like having to watch back the finale footage of him talking down to Tai:
“It was terrible. I hated it. Tai and I had a very complicated relationship. We were very close early on, and then as soon as we got on the bottom, everybody started scrambling to find a boat. We all had to do what we had to do to keep our life on the island. I was kind of instructed by the upper hand to vote Tai, and he was instructed by the upper hand to vote Sarah. After that, I tried to get back with him like, ‘We need to not take all that serious, let’s get back together.’ I tried to run small alliances with him and Aubry and Troy, and he went immediately to the other side and was like, ‘Listen, Brad’s trying to get all you guys out.’
“That’s when Michaela came and said, ‘We need to go catch fish and you’re going home.’ I was trying to repair that relationship the whole time. You were catching the tail end of frustration on my part, because he kept frustrating me. What you’re seeing is the end of a three-hour back-and-forth that started kind of simple, like, ‘Hey Tai, look, if you let me hang onto an idol, then if I win, I’ll give it back to you,’ and at first he [said] okay, but then he was like, ‘No.’ I was like, ‘C’mon, let’s do it — we gotta repair our relationship.’ ‘Okay, we’ll do it,’ but then he’d come back with a no. By the end I was like, ‘Goddammit, Tai, we gotta do this,’ and it came across terrible. That’s why I wanted to, as soon as Jeff asked me a question in the finale, I was like, ‘Jeff I don’t even know what you asked me, but I just want to hold Tai, just so everybody else knows it. I’m not a bully.’ I hated it. That’s a very long answer to your question, but I was uncomfortable.”
Listen to the entire interview with Brad — as well as our chats with Sarah, Tai, Aubry, and Cirie — above. Or subscribe on iTunes to listen on the go. Also make sure to check out our full Survivor finale recap as well as intel on next season from Jeff Probst. And for more EW Morning Live podcast news, follow us on Twitter @EWMLPodcast.
On whether he thought his epic challenge-winning run would help him more with the jury:
“Yeah, I mean clearly I thought it would. I was nervous taking Tai to the final three, I really was. He was very much liked by everybody. The things you see on TV, of course, I’m not privy to Sarah’s conversations with the other side. I think she was a part of those, but I really thought Cirie had a hand in a lot of it, I really thought Andrea had a hand in a lot of it, so I really didn’t know while I was out there. I knew [Sarah] was on the right side of votes, but I didn’t know if she was a major player or not, and maybe by proxy because she was the only one left from that side, they were just giving her all the credit for that, but I just couldn’t see that.
“Winning the challenges, I felt good about that. Obviously playing the game you’re gonna have friends and enemies. I knew people were angry. I knew Michaela [was nonplussed] with my game, I [was nonplussed] with hers. I thought that would swing it, but clearly I underestimated Sarah’s game and she played a fantastic game. It doesn’t really bother me. She played really well. It would be one thing if I thought she played a poor game and I lost because everybody was sour grapes, but that really wasn’t the case. I thought she played a fantastic game.”
On finding out he would have won on a tiebreaker had he brought Tai instead of Sarah to the end and if that will haunt him:
“No, not at all. I tried to say, that perspective now about whether you would vote for me or not if Tai was still in the game, it’s different. The jury can say, ‘Oh yeah, we can definitely place ourselves as it was on the island,’ but Tai was universally liked and did not have any enemies. So the perspective of, ‘Okay, after his edit, did he really have a hand in much stuff? No, maybe not’ — that wasn’t the case on the island. I think, had I brought Tai, maybe I would’ve lost or maybe I would’ve won. I don’t know. I just don’t think it’s a fair test at this point, after you’ve watched the show from a different perspective.”
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On what his wife Monica, who also made it all the way to the end and lost in her second time playing, had to say after watching everything:
“Well, she was a little disappointed by them kinda painting me evil on that last episode. She wasn’t happy about that. She didn’t care about coming in second place. She was like, ‘Gosh, they could’ve showed different ways,’ but I was like, ‘Listen, honey, that’s the way it goes.’ So she was more upset about the Tai thing. Not mad at me, just at how they wanted to portray it.
“Sarah was — it’s a little disjointed. You see me talking about how Tai stabbed me in the back, but they didn’t really show much of that. You also didn’t see Sarah talking about swearing on her kids and that other stuff. Andrea was up there crying. It was pretty harsh. Good gameplay for Sarah, but she would throw her family under the bus to get votes. It was just a different angle that worked. So Monica was just disappointed they were trying to focus on me bullying Tai more than anything else.”
On if he has Culpepper family bragging rights because he got more votes (three) than Monica did (one):
“No. She’s the best Survivor player. It’s not even close. I’m definitely second fiddle to her. If she played, she would win. Neither of us are gonna play again so it doesn’t really matter, but I will always be second fiddle to her.”