When we first met Monica Culpepper during "Survivor: One World," we knew she was the wife of former NFL star Brad Culpepper. This, apparently, has how she has always been known: As the wife of an NFL player, or as a mother, but never as Monica. Things in the game never really lined up for Monica or went her way that last time out, but those of us watching could instantly tell that she was one strong woman. "Survivor: Blood vs. Water" gave Monica a second chance in the game, this time playing alongside her larger-than-life husband. She came out with something to prove. And boy did she. On last night's Finale and Live Reunion Show, Monica finished in second place and today I spoke with her about her time in the game.
In case you want to get caught up, here is the full Finale Episode recap.
Of course, Monica may have had something to prove, but there was no question that she had already made a name for herself to the rest of us. Yes, she was described out there as paranoid and overly talkative, but Monica was not being cocky when she said she was in the pole position down the stretch. She won several individual Immunity Challenges and literally dictated how the game would play out. She was a physically impressive beast and matched with her perfect skin and natural beauty, its no surprise that the others suspected that she must be a thing of fiction.
Monica was given very harsh treatment at the Final Council, which in my opinion was completely undeserved. But perception is everything in Survivor and the perception was that Monica wasn't vulnerable enough with the others. It was also perceived that she was Tyson and Gervase's "lap dog" and didn't play her own game. These perceptions, whether true or false, made Tyson the only choice for the jury to select as Sole Survivor, although Monica did receive one vote, from Vtyas, giving her a second place finish ahead of Gervase.
Here is my interview with Monica Culpepper:
So how have you enjoyed this crazy ride of a season?
Monica Culpepper: It has been unbelievably, exponentially off the charts. It's been an awesome experience.
Let's go back in the game a bit to when you voted out Kat. That was a pretty big move because it was like a "your either with me or against me" moment.
Monica: The minute you catch wind that somebody has brought your name up, you're on alert. Like I had said, do unto others as you would like done unto you, but on Survivor its do unto others before they do unto you. When you hear your name, they have to go before you. I also knew that Kat, when I played with her on One World, she was in the driver's seat the whole game. She had made a Final 4 or 5 alliance from the second we hit the pavement. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely adore Kat. She and Hayden have been company at our house for eight days, they've come twice and we've had a great time. I knew she obviously wasn't in the alliance we were in. I also knew Kat would be very threatening had we made the merge. She would have played with Hayden and played Hayden's game. So there were lots of reasons Kat needed to go before me.
What factors played into you wanting to stick with Tyson and Gervase? Was it partially due to the fact that Tina and Ciera had loved ones on the jury? Why not go with some of the others?
Monica: You hit the nail on the head. The loved ones on the jury was definitely a factor. There's one other piece to that puzzle. The moms are on the jury, they can also lobby the jury. That's almost a flaw in Survivor, that the jury is just hanging around at Ponderosa for weeks, lobbying over there every day on who should win. The second thing that's the second piece to that puzzle, is when Hayden was telling me I was like a lap dog, I was thinking, well who is really the lap dog? You are begging me right now. I think you're my lap dog! The climate was, that would have been the dumbest move in the game. I'm guaranteed Final 3 with Tyson and Gervase. I wanted to play an honest game and there is merit in not breaking promises with people. I even feel like had I flipped, it wouldn't have been, oh look at the great big move Monica made! It would have been oh Hayden is so persuasive. He got Monica to flip. I really felt that way. Hayden was Mr. Congeniality out there. So it was a no-brainer. There's been a lot of hate on Twitter and stuff. And I finally said, hey Monica, don't pay attention to all of that. They're probably all Hayden fans. It's not for illogical gameplay. My best bet was to go with Tyson and Gervase. If you're a Survivor fan and you watch the game, that was by far my smartest move to make.
I was kind of taken aback at how brutal the jury treated you during the Final Tribal. Having watched it play out on TV and having some time pass, have you gained any insight as to why they treated you so harshly and why the felt that you had not been vulnerable enough?
Monica: Yeah, it was so perplexing to me. I really don't think that Survivor has really seen anything like me. I don't know what it is. Maybe it's the position that Brad has put our family in, with nine years in the NFL and a law degree and the life we've created. I'm generally a real nice person. Maybe in our position, the million dollar prize was not something worth me jeopardizing my integrity or my center or who I am. And maybe that came across to the jury as disingenuine. I got so attacked. For every one question that Tyson or Gervase got, I got ten. And they were all the same question over and over and over. If I talk, then they say I talk too much. Every single one of the people that had attacked me have apologized. They've all apologized and have said, wow, I looked bad and I'm sorry. And of course I've accepted their apologies. I think in this brutal game under the harshest of conditions, you just maybe get to see your inner core, perhaps? And you act out to maybe get what you want? But they hurt me and I'd be a liar to say otherwise. I mean I got home and looked at Brad and said, wow. Is there something the matter with me that I don't know? Tyson even called me last week and said Monica, I'm sitting here watching this and it pains me that you got attacked personally because they were so mad at me. That's really kind of a strange dynamic. He said I can't wait to hug and meet your kids and even Brad, whom he hadn't played with.
You and Brad are both physical specimans, good looking, you have a great family and with Brad's past, this great career that his built this great life for you. Do you feel that jealousy was a factor in all of this?
Monica: That's the only explanation I can think of. I can't think of anything else. I will say this. Jeff Probst reached out and called the house and said thank you so much for being on the show and I get you. And I love your story. He said one of the most touching moments was at the final jury when I was just getting peppered and peppered and you just threw up your hands and said, do you all just not know anyone nice? He said that was sweet and I get it. But all is well that ends well.
When I had spoke to you after One World, you talked about the idea that you would have wanted to go to the end up against what you called "worthy people." Are Tyson and Gervase worthy people to have gone to the end with?
Monica: Absolutely. I was with Tyson and Gervase from after the merge. We made a pact and said let's never be seen by the light of day. I also felt like this. When I want to get something in life, you get a lot further with sweetness and with honey than you do with vinegar. Towards the end there, I wanted to sit between people that, if I didn't win, I wanted to be genuinely happy that they had won. And Tyson and Gervase didn't personally attack me. So is Tyson worthy? Hell yes he's worthy. Let's not discount this. He played a great game. He really did. One of the greatest, sweetest moments in the whole show to me...I don't know if I ever saw a winner get called up for the million dollars and not run directly to their family. But he grabbed Gervase and he grabbed me and we all hugged for thirty seconds and he told me, "I could have never done this without you guys. Thank you, thank you, thank you, you've made my dreams come true and Rachel too." Now if that doesn't show you that Tyson's transformed, I don't know what more anybody wants.
The whole time you were out there this season, you talked about how this was about you, that it was your time. You obviously feel that you achieved this. What specific moment do you point to as the moment you had arrived?
Monica: I would say winning that food challenge, the only woman in the history of the show to win that challenge. I was half those men's size. I was eating the same portions they were. When I did that, I thought to myself, this is one for the record books in the Culpepper house. There is so much pride in my family about this. Jeff asked me what did you kids think of that challenge? And I said they said, mom woah! We are proud but we're not surprised.
Would you play Survivor again?
Monica: I'm retired from Survivor, but I so want to see more of Brad out there. I thought that his game was great out there. It was unfortunate that he and Rupert were on a loved ones season when they were the only two that their loved one meant more than their game. It was a joint effort in me getting second prize. His moves early in the game on his tribe and at Redemption, getting rid of Candice, were huge. It was a collaborative effort from the Culpepper front. I want to see him play though, without having to put his wife first.
Also, make sure you check out one of my favorite Survivor sites, Survivor Fever.