Survivor Fan Friction – Phillip Sheppard

Time for another Fan Friction, our series of essays where one of our columnists writes an ode to one of their favorite Survivor players while defending them against any potential naysayers (both real and imagined). With this entry, commenter The Sky is Falling ends the competition of “who is the most ridiculous player I could defend?”


Why He’s Great

Phillip is everything and I mean everything you could ever ask for from a Survivor contestant. He is so damn sincere, so earnest. I truly can’t get enough. —Jeff Probst

There are multiple ways to watch Survivor. Some of you like a strategist. Some of you like a social game player. Some like a hero. Some like a villain. Some like a challenge beast. Some like a ringleader. Some like to get loud, but I can get loud too, what the fuck! Some like the season to end without a winner (Kaoh Rong was so weird, you guys!) And some of you like a Kim Spradlin, who just annihilate the competition with ease.

However, in the outer realms of Survivor fandoms, there are those who just want an extra scoop of the crispy. These are the folks who thrive on spy shacks, llama talk, coconut phones, sassing Probst, driftwood Blackberries, stories about pygmies, hidden immunity idol makers (it’s just a fucking stick), chaos wanters, tuk-tuk drivers, and former federal agents? Sometimes you need a Specialist.

My argument is not that Phillip could ever win Survivor, he probably couldn’t at this point, but nevertheless, he belongs in the pantheon of great, unforgettable characters and would make it deep into the game time and time again. In spite of his eccentricities, or because of them, he is Survivor gold.

The comedy stylings of a Federal Agent?

Entertainment value (Phillip’s Playground)

Phillip is generally dismissed as just a goofy, unaware dude. But no, Phillip was a producer’s perfect storm. Turn the camera on him and he is comedy gold. For my money, his entertainment value is through the spy-shack roof. He brought it week after week. It’s not easy to remain a focal point all season long as a non-winner. This is particularly true when you are on a season with heavyweights such as BR, Russell, Cochran, and Malcolm. Let’s take a look at a few of the tools in his arsenal.

Stealth R Us

There’s also for the first time in 22 seasons a highly effective, and beauteous and glorious operation in effect, right now. And I am known as the specialist. My principle responsibilities: infiltrate and supplant inceptions into the former Zapate.. Zapetera tribe. We have here, Boston Rob, the mentalist. Principle responsibilities: to develop strategies for challenges and develop strategic alliances that are impervious.  Where’s Grant?.. The destroyer of aspirations, better known as the assassin. Principle responsibilities: to go out and compete, destroying any competitor. And I forgot to mention the three degrees, who are highly effective, formidable, agile, and have supreme abilities to focus their mind like they did today.

Phillip was often ridiculed by the rest of his tribe, especially in Caramoan, for the Stealth R US organization. But any decent player couldn’t ask for a better gift. Cochran knew this and BR knew this. It’s a great diversionary tactic, while you are rolling your eyes at him, he’s busy building allegiances and soaking up great confessionals and inspiring others to great confessionals about Phillip. Stealth R Us was really a great way for Phillip to deflect attention off of him while simultaneously making him the center of attention. I suspect this is a tactic adapted from Coach. No one that crazy would be a threat to win, right? So, Phillip gets tons of camera time while the rest of the tribe focuses on taking out deep threats earlier than normal.

Side note: A rewatch of Caramoan makes it abundantly clear that Cochran may have understood Phillip, and the game, better than anyone

Now, while Stealth R Us alone would be enough to cement Phillip as a HOF as a player, Phillip had way more up his sleeve than his secret spy organization. In no particular order, here’s a list of some of his other great moments: Spear crab hunting, Gorilla/Lion Tattoo, on point feather game, His great grandfather, the full blooded Cherokee Jessum Herring, , Franchezqua, Franchesqua, Fransisqua, Franquesqa, The Bushido Code, Operation Thunder Dome, “I lost that challenge on purpose”, BR Rules 1-3.

Phillips’ sheer number of confessionals alone tells you that he is a legend. Over two seasons, he had a total of 74 confessionals. For comparison, Boston Rob has the most ever with 209. Russell Hantz holds the single season record with 108 and 181 all time. Coach comes in at an honorable 167 and Sandra a measly 102. (Confessional side-note…Natalie White had only 15 confessionals and won her season. While diving in the wiki-rabbit-hole I also learned that Andrea has appeared in the most TC’s: 27 and has been voted against a whopping 36 times).

And how about that epic pink underwear…

Footage not found
Ok, so the underwear was horrifying. Agreed.

By the numbers

How about these impressive stats?

  • Tribal council appearances: 20
  • Votes against: 22 (7th best all time!)
  • Total number of confessionals: 74
  • FTC Votes for: 1
  • Crabs killed with a spear: 0
  • Hantzes outlasted: 2
  • BR Rules written: 3
  • Visits from family members: 3 (Sister once, Cherokee uncle twice)

Haters Gonna Hate

He is just a goat

In my view, goat-awareness disqualifies you from true-goat status. In several exit interviews. Mr. Sheppard claimed that he saw the writing on the wall. There was no way to dismantle the impenetrable Ometepe alliance, so his only options were stealth and infiltration. Side with the winning team and sneak your way to the end, The ‘fake it till you make it’ gambit. Phillip created a new category of player, “The Intentional Goat” (See also Woo)/ Phillip’s strategy had a much better chance of success than the Hantz “burn it all down” strategy ever will. Had Phillip not played up his status as the perfect guy to sit next to at the end, he never would have even made the merge.

Sadly, it is true that FTC performance was weak. I think if he had spelled out this strategy at FTC, he could have won it all. The only way Phillip could survive was to turn himself into a goat.

He is loco and annoying

His strategy was to play for second place. Phillip knew exactly what he was doing. There’s no way a man could write a book or run a company if their real life personality was as off the wall as Phillip. It was all a ruse that he played up for entertainment. Related to above, he chose to act the fool and the villain. He was more concerned with entertaining the troops and being good TV than winning. Sure, he isn’t a typical guy by any means, but he certainly kept things interesting.

His low level annoyance and wackiness is certainly favorable to a brand of crazy and nasty and unpredictable we saw from Brandon Hantz and others like him. If you watch Phillips interactions with Brandon he is clearly aware of the situation and doing his best to get it under control. There were moments in both of his appearances where he was cogent, sane and aware (see the family visit, when he spent time with his sister, for one). Phillip was clearly aware of where different alliances in the game were going and working to stay alive in the game. In his own weird way he was just trying to bring some fun into the game.


Embrace Debate

So, I know most of you are still saying, “Nope, Phillip just sucks.” And that’s ok!

PRP Commenters after reading post.

As a player, Phillip might be a source of frustration to play with. However, as a viewer, where you come down on the Phillip question depends on the type of game you like to see. If you are primarily a complex strategy, vote splitting and sub-alliances, voting blocs, all day strategy talk type of fan, you’re gonna have problems with the Specialist. But there is room for both. In fact, to have a great Survivor season, both types of players are needed. I’m here to be entertained. Players like Coach, Russell, Phillip, Shane, Abi, Rupert, Randy, and Keith are the spice that flavors the game. It’s the crazy ones that make life interesting.

the sky is falling

the sky is falling

The sky is falling has seen every episode live and holds it as a badge of honor. After lurking on the AV Club for years, finally became an active commenter on the Purple Rock site.

Favorite Seasons: Samoa, Borneo, Caramoan, Cagayan, Heroes vs. Villains, Micronesia
Favorite Players: Tony Vlachos, Russell Hantz, Shane Powers, John Cochran, Colleen Haskell, Courtney, Malcolm, Parvati
the sky is falling

Latest posts by the sky is falling (see all)

120 thoughts on “Survivor Fan Friction – Phillip Sheppard

  1. Super well written and funny throughout, but I have to point out that you opened with “[Phillip] is so damn sincere” and closed with “His personality was totally put on.” So this entire piece must be full of lies, DAMN LIES

    1. Honestly that fits Phillip though, I’m sure he’d happily tell you how sincere he was and five minutes later tell you it was all an act.

    2. Thanks!
      Probst was the one who called him sincere though. Was just trying to point out that Jeff Probst barely understands the game he hosts.

      1. If that was true then it would mean Jeff was wrong when he said that Worlds Apart was one of the best seasons ever.

  2. No. No no no. I just can’t. I love a solely entertaining, strategy-less character as much as anyone. But not Phillip. I ALMOST stopped watching Redemption Island and sacrificed my chance to finally see Boston Rob win the game because I could not stand Philip. During my long on/off period with Survivor I came back for every season that had a full or half cast of returnees EXCEPT for Caramoan, solely because I just could not bring myself to watch Phillip again.

    A valiant effort though. I salute you for taking this on.

  3. This elides the undercurrent of toxic misogyny that’s present in Phillip’s behavior. With the exception of the stuff with Steve Wright, which is ugly in its own way, the vast majority of Phillip’s worst altercations are with women, frequently younger women, and a lot of them involve him telling them how to think and feel (see, e.g. yelling at Natalie and Ashley about how they should let him have more rice.)

    And then look at those Spies ‘Я’ Us codenames. The male names all invoke agency. They suggest a role to play. The female codenames are mostly just adjectives, qualities that he’s boiled these women down to. Of the two that don’t fit that mold there’s Andrea, and okay, he recognized that Andrea is great: that’s a low bar. And then there’s Corinne, who he called The Dominatrix. That’s not much better.

    In conclusion, Phillip is gross.

    1. ‘The Quiet One’. Bless you Erik. Somebody should write a piece about him.

      We need to make Survivors more like the Reichenbachs and less like the Shepards.

      1. In my “most useless Survivor” series I picked him for both Micronesia and Caramoan, but I spent the back half of the Caramoan entry talking about how I admired the fact that two underwhelming appearances don’t seem to have soured his fandom for the show.

        1. I recall that, and I agree with your conclusion. In addition, I think part of the appeal for me is seeing an archetype (wide-eyed innocent?) that is typically cast female get gender-flipped with Erik.

    2. Never noticed misogyny, but you may be right. It’s certainly not the blatant awful toxic misogyny of Kyle Jason, Scot, or Dan Foley. I always took it as Phillip being the old guy who was frustrated with the young folks on his tribe. He seemed to be respectful to Andrea. To me, Natalie and Ashley were brats anyway.

        1. You are forgetting, you are talking to someone who just wrote a lengthy defense of Phillip, so my opinions may be suspect. However, I don’t remember Ashley doing anything of note on her season except stumbling into a winning alliance on day 1. Stephanie from Zaptera was a better player.

  4. Great article!

    I’ll say this right now – I’m not a Phillip fan at all, and I probably never will be. The thing about me is that I don’t get easily annoyed by someone on my TV. I may not LIKE someone, or just don’t have an opinion about someone, but I rarely find someone really “annoying”, and if I do, I don’t ACTIVELY want someone off my screen. But somehow Phillip just kept pushing all the wrong buttons for me.

    I do give him that, that he was really entertaining in the first 3 episodes in RI. But after that, it was just like a mosquito who JUST. WON’T. GO. AWAY. It felt clear that it was just a persona he created for himself, so it didn’t even feel like I was watching real him out there. Of course it was like this also with Coach and Debbie, but I just never really felt any frustration with their act. Yeah, in their consecutive appearances their act has gotten a little stale, but it was great watching them in their first seasons for me, because a), Coach was the first one to do so, and he had the best moments from all three of them, and b), Debbie was more unpredictable gameplay-wise than the previous two. But in case of Phillip, it just felt for me like a fan-made version of Coach, and I would argue was also the one who was actively stifling gameplay, maybe besides his first episode.

    So yeah, I’m not a fan of Phillip. The only thing I can give him is that he belongs in the elite group where he was better during his second or third time, along with: Amber, Parvati, Jerri, Candice, Laura, Monica, Cochran, Corinne, Andrea, Jeremy, Wentworth, Kimmi, and Penner (although just BARELY), and his strategy of getting to that second season has worked, so good for you Phillip, and I hope we will never see you again.

    1. I thought you meant Monica Padilla at first and was trying to figure out how Cambodia was an improvement for her.

  5. I wouldn’t hate Phillip so much if he wasn’t such a screen time suck in both his seasons. He’s the kind of person who I could, maybe, deal with a throwaway crackpot funny moment once an episode. But the show insisted on shoving him down our throats and I just couldn’t stand it or him. I can’t think of many other people who I wanted voted out quite as badly as I wanted him gone both times (Russell also comes to mind). I held onto a little bit of hope that he would show up at FTC and say it was all an act to get dragged to the end as a goat, but he didn’t and I just don’t have time for him

    1. Yeah I agree. It was just too much of a bad thing. I might have enjoyed him more if they had shown less of him.

      That being said the RI cast did not give the editors much else to work with…

      1. Yeah, that’s part of the problem. To use less Phillip their options were basically a bit more Andrea and/or a lot more Boston Rob

      1. I always wonder if Zaptera weren’t so dumb how RI would have turned out. I still think Rob would have beaten Russell, but it would have been much harder for him.

  6. I never minded Phillip. If given the choice between Phillip or huge chunks of the cast of Nicaragua, or Thailand, or Debbie, or complete voids of personality like FFGCSDT, I’d go Phillip every time.
    Mostly, every time. At least like, 8 out of 10. I may throw in someone else there occasionally, just to mix it up. For example, I would normally take Phillip over Shii Ann, but if you could guarantee me that Shii Ann would be all smug and condescending and then get a comeuppance edit, I’d be willing to go Shii

      1. The only kudos I’m willing to give are for actually writing an article. Otherwise, no…just, no.

      1. For awhile on RHAP, Rob said he had 2 books within reach during podcasts – this and the Boston Rob Rules book

          1. You know what? We should start our own Survivor podcast. One American, one Canadian–something that’s never been done before!

          2. I’m in! But we would be crushed in the ratings by not just PRP but also by the new smash hit Blackjack and Hookers podcast.

          3. You know who wouldn’t let poor ratings stand in the way? Coach.

            Well, also Andy and John, but more importantly–Coach.

          4. That Serial podcast? It was based the story of Coach single-handedly finding the evidence to get that guy a new trial.

          5. Coach is currently building a time machine so he can go back in time to his birth and convince his mother to name her child “Coach” instead of “Benjamin”.

          6. I hear he’s also going to go back in time to the birth of “Assistant Coach” and make it official.

          7. When I read “Assistant Coach” I keep forgetting about Coach’s loved one visit and think about Tyson.

          8. “Hello, and welcome to premiere episode of the ‘We’ll Have To Work On That’ Podcast …”

          9. There’s always a few kinks that need to get ironed out before an undertaking like this. I hear it took John and Andy four times to get it “right”.

          10. Play this to sike yourselves up. I’ve somewhat forgotten how great Coach 1.0 was. Hope someone is doing a write up of him.

          11. (before watching) I don’t know if I’m good enough to do hard things.

            (after watching) I CAN DO ANYTHING!

          12. Don’t tell your stories. People don’t believe your stories; they mock you. There’s no reason to tell them. Do your podcasting in private, where nobody can see you.

          13. Would you believe I thought I was writing ADS and didn’t even notice I wrote “ASD”? Sorry about that.

          14. My favorite anecdote about Coach off the show was that for his first (?) RHAP episode (not his SP exit interview) the whole time he was on the treadmill at the gym.

          15. That interview was my first exposure to Coach (I started watching with Caramoan and was just starting to listen to RHAP and PRP at the time). Between Coach’s off-the-charts smugness and Rob’s complete glee, you can imagine how confusing it all was.

          16. After that interview he promised to send Rob something related to the workout, was it a printout from the treadmill? Can’t remember, but Rob never got it. Just like the Sassy-graph Sandra said she would send him.

          17. That might have been it, that sounds kind of familiar but I can’t remember. All I remember is that Rob never received it, like the Sassy-graph, or J’Tia’s care package.

          18. He burned so bright in Tocantis. Such a shame. Some players just need to quit after one. (See also: Tony, Hatch, Colby, Rupert, Fairplay)

            Better to burn out, than to fade away.

          19. My favorite is that, after Blood vs. Water, he floated the idea to Rob of a special episode where he sat down with his two “proteges” to discuss their back to back victories, and, when Rob told Tyson and Cochran about it, they were both horribly offended.

  7. In that first picture where the tribe flag falls and hits Corrine – maybe that’s why she hates Phillip so much?

    That second picture … wait, Brenda was on that season? I thought they just brought her on at episode 13 so Dawn could immediately vote her out.

    “The Intelligesia Attache” is really a ridiculous SRU nickname. It’s obvious Phillip wanted to come up with something that indicated Cochran’s intelligence but he couldn’t think of anything. Also, the only members without a “The” in their name are women – SEXIST!

    Thanks to Philip we now that know that “crazy” is a racial insult.

    I have to hand it to him – the fact that he found his missing swimming trunks (?) thanks to a visit from his great-grandfather’s ghost is pretty impressive.

    However, on the Survivor wiki, when Brenda got voted out (after only 1 episode on that season!), at Pondersa Phillip says that he doesn’t respect Dawn’s game and says she has no heart. No heart?!? She adopted 37 kids! (Dante: “Thirty-seven?!?”) How could you say she has no heart? Shame.

    Phillip has said that he was recruited for the show – they saw him rollerskating on the boardwalk in California. That is exactly how I would imagine someone like Phillip getting on the show.

    Finally, I’ve said this many times on here (and on the AVClub, RIP), but I really wished that at the start of the R.I. FTC, Philip had suddenly talked in a British accent and told the jury that he was really an Oxford professor with a 120 IQ, and that the “Phillip” they had played with was a persona he had invented for the show. This would have been my reaction:

    1. The Keyser Soze strategy. Yep, amazed that no one has attempted the full-on fake persona yet. The closest we get is people lying about their career, but they are usually sussed out in a couple episodes. It’s usually cops who lie about their jobs, Bret and Tony most recently

      1. The first time I saw Tocantins I was convinced that was what Coach was doing that. I was disappointed when I realized that wasn’t the case.

        1. The pygmy story had me convinced this was the case. Somewhere around doing his Dragonslayer moves on exile, I bailed on hoping that anymore.

  8. My husband loooooooves Phillip. When I explained Fan Friction to him a few weeks ago, he said “I would write about the Specialist.” (true story)
    I’m not a total Phillip lover, but I do find him amusing, and I also think his intentional goat strategy is clever. Now, I don’t want this strategy to catch on because a season with 16 intentional goats would be Redemption Island terrible. But Phillip’s schtick had one season worth of entertainment value and nearly 2 seasons worth of effectiveness. I fully believe he would been in Cochran’s final 3 if the Three Amigos hadn’t basically suicide bombed his game. In fact, in writing this I almost wonder if he’d maybe explained his strategy to Ralph at some point and that’s why Ralph voted for him (to make sure he got 2nd place)? But then that would mean that Ralph is actually smarter than he seems too, and that hurts my brain.

    1. Cochran definitely intended to take Phillip to the F3 with him, which is why, despite what a terrible move it was by Malcolm, I am eternally grateful that they idoled him out at that Tribal. (I maintain the strategy was not to say anything, throw one vote on each of like Phillip, Cochran, and Brenda, cause a 3 way tie, and watch them scramble and expose the pecking order)

      1. What you describe is much better. Basically, voting out Phillip was the worst of all options. It caused no friction or conflict on the other side. They all wanted Phillip as their goat, but no one liked him or really wanted him around. So instead of being a goat, he was a sacrificial lamb, and no one cared. It was such a pointless waste of two idols, but it did get Phillip off my screen.

        1. Exactly. Bad strategy, because you need to use that to try and crack the other alliance, but it got rid of Phillip. So, you win some, you lose some there

          1. The thinking was that Phillip was the one maintaining rigid groups and stopping the flow of information between groups (a la the BR rules). So by removing him, maybe people like Andrea and Erik would be free to chat with the Amigos and a counter alliance could be formed.

          2. I guess that makes sense. And they were working on imperfect information. If you think taking out Phillip is what cracks they alliance, that’s what you do, I get that. I guess we just know now that it was the wrong move. I guess its similar to the Savage idol out, which had some success

  9. “Boston Rob has the most (confessionals) ever with 209.”

    Took him four times.

  10. Sadly, if Phillip were to come back a third time he would be an early boot. I dont think any players would allow him to pull the same schtick a third time.

    1. If Cambodia taught us one thing, it’s that players who should know better will try to drag an obvious goat along to their own detriment.

    2. I’m fine not seeing anymore players back for a third visit. With a few exceptions. Rob, Cirie, Sandra, Malcolm, it’s hard to find much success, once people start to know your personality. It’s more likely any third time player will falter early.

      1. On the one hand you have Russell, Malcolm, and JT. On the other, Coach and (more successfully) Tyson.

        1. In the most pedantic and technical sense, Parvati did not do better on her third time out.

  11. The weird thing about Phillip is that he is more competent than he comes across. He seemed to actively know Rob’s endgame plans, his strategies in Caramoan were solid, it is just that he is a weirdo.

    Coach is likely his best comparison, entertaining the first time, not nearly as good the second time due to more self awareness.

    1. There’s no doubt in my mind that Philip was inspired by Coach. Stealth R Us was just the Dragonslayer alliance switched over to a secret agent theme.

      This quote from an interview could easily be Phillite talking about Coach
      “How do you feel about the comparisons between you and Phillip?
      the beginning of the season, I was kind of insulted. You know, we’re
      really not alike. Phillip’s done nothing in his life, and I’ve done
      everything. But as Boston Rob said to me, “emulation is the highest form
      of flattery.””

  12. Before I read any comments, I just have to throw up a little in my mouth because that’s how much I can’t stand Phillip.

  13. Phillip is like Coach, but more obnoxious and delusional, and less entertaining. I think his run as a player has concluded, and I say good riddance. I also don’t buy any arguments that he’s competent at Survivor. He was an obvious goat his first time out, and he was so disliked his second time that they played three idols get rid of his annoying ass. He’s a terrible, obnoxious, and boring player. Every minute of screen time he gets could be better spent with someone more interesting, like Natalie Tenerelli, Ashley Underwood, or Ralph.

    1. man, ashley underwood is a low blow, she was terrible. i don’t get the appeal other than being a hot blonde. of course, coach was supremely better than phillp. Phillips run is definitely over. A spy is no match for a dragon slayer.

      1. but also, i still don’t quite get what’s so horrible about Phillip, There are tons of worse players in the history of survivor.

      2. Don’t get me wrong, Ashley Underwood has no appeal (apart from being pretty). Nor do Nat Ten or Rolffe. I’d still rather see them on the screen than Phillip.

  14. I just want to thank you guys for engaging with my guest post!

    I realize, it was a reach. I now challenge anyone to defend a more unlikely and unliked player. If anyone can write a defense of Purple Kelly or Naonka or Brandon Hantz or Dan, I will surrender the crown.

    I’m not the best writer, but just wanted to add my contribution to this great community. The new season is fast approaching. Let’s go!

      1. I have faith in the guys that run this site. That would never see the light of day. All I know is, it was an honor to have my post put up. Thanks, Andy. Made my day.

  15. My personal favorite Phillip moment, from Redemption Island.
    Phillip (about Zapatera): I will outlast ANY MAN over there!
    Jeff: What about the women?
    Phillip: That’s another day, we’ll see.

Comments are closed.