Survivor Analyst Russian Roulette: Brad Culpepper

Time for the next edition of Survivor Analyst Russian Roulette, where the authors of this site are randomly assigned contestants from the upcoming season of Survivor: Game Changers and must give an honest assessment of what to expect from them. Next up: Brad Culpepper.

Editor’s note: Since six entries didn’t feel like enough for this series, we invited some more regular contributors to the site and put them through the randomizer. Assistant Dragon Slayer THOUGHT he wanted to play… then reality struck.

This may or may not be how I reacted when I found out which Game Changer I was assigned. It could be how you reacted just now when you found out who today’s analysis is about. But it is most definitely the way two of the 18 Blood vs. Water cast members not named Culpepper reacted to him—to his face, in front of the entire cast, while the cameras were rolling. Given that Survivor is first and foremost a social game, and that to win you have to be sufficiently well regarded by the other contestants that they want to hand you a million dollars, Culpepper seems to have a flaw in his game.

Mr. Peanutbutter Former NFL defensive lineman Brad Culpepper

How Culpepper Changed the Game

Just kidding. He didn’t change the game, but in fact followed one of Survivor’s most well-trodden paths: the alpha male who immediately takes charge, pushes everybody around, won’t shut up, and gets on everybody’s last nerve.

Sweep the leg, Vytas!

Culpepper managed to foster a great deal of ill will very quickly: he put a target on his back on the starting mat, before the couples were even divided into tribes. He led Tadhana to four straight immunity challenge losses. He blew up his alliance because, uh, reasons. He may have shushed women. He had resting douche face.

Drowning Girl, Roy Lichtenstein, 1963

He yelled at Tyson so harshly that Colton quit the game. Yes, this was the best thing to happen in the Blood vs. Water pre-merge and possibly in all of 2013, but it was unintentional, so Culpepper doesn’t deserve any credit. Plus it precipitated the very short chain of events that resulted in Culpepper being blindsided by Caleb (RIP).

Redemption Island being used in Blood vs. Water also contributed to Culpepper looking more villainous than he really was. In a normal season of Survivor, you can blindside and betray all you want during the pre-merge with no direct blowback, and in every other Redemption Island season you didn’t have to face the person you ousted at the arena.

In short, Culpepper’s first Survivor appearance was no masterpiece.

Masterpiece, Roy Lichtenstein, 1962

When I first contemplated Culpepper’s chances in Game Changers, I thought that — as a former professional athlete, a present-day lawyer, and a man in his mid-40s — Culpepper is just set in his ways and incapable of change. I figured that as a Survivor player, he has one gear and one gear only: the bull in the china shop that 99 times out of 100 becomes the pre-merge villain, blindsided by his own arrogance and by tribemates who just can’t take it anymore (the 100th time, the bull in the china shop is Tony Vlachos).

But here’s the thing — as Monica Culpepper’s husband and at best a Survivor casual (at the time), Culpepper probably watched One World (and no other season) over and over and over and over again. So maybe he came into BvW just assuming that gender alliances are the default, and was determined to succeed where the Muscle alliance from One World failed. His obsession with forming a five-guy alliance (or rather, a “four guys and a gay guy” alliance) and complete exclusion of the Tadhana women made him look like a sexist idiot, but I suspect it was less sexism per se than a by-product of playing a men vs. women game on a blood vs. water season (still idiocy, just not necessarily sexist idiocy).

It also seems likely that Culpepper has reviewed the BvW game tape and is going to try to adjust accordingly. For what it’s worth (not much), he certainly says all the right things in his Game Changers cast video. And that could serve him very well in the early going. A Culpepper who’s taken a chill pill would have a certain good-ol-boy ex-jock charm, and would be a real asset to the tribe, both in challenges and around camp.

Also, Culpepper has said in interviews that between the blood vs. water twist, the Redemption Island twist, and being a newbie on a half-returnee season, BvW was an incredibly difficult game to play. He also implied that he played to protect Monica rather than completely in his own interest. That’s a little self-serving, but he’s not wrong. Game Changers is ironically going to be a much less complex game for him.

“I Know…Bro” “I Know…Brad”, Roy Lichtenstein, 1964

Scenario Analysis

Let’s get real, production brought Culpepper back to provide a couple episodes of abrasive alpha-male antics and get booted right away, so that none of the “important” returnees goes home too early. He’s supposed to cause drama right from the jump, give you a hit of that sweet, sweet schadenfreude when he gets blindsided, and get the hell off the stage. But don’t let that fool you.

Although the very biggest threats are on the Mana tribe, Nuku would have to be crazy not to be at DEFCON 2 about Cirie and Ozzy, and the tribe also has a former winner in JT and a complete-package third-time player in Andrea. I don’t think they’re going to get distracted and clip anybody merely for being insufferable. And Culpepper might not be insufferable in the first place.

Just like the 1-15 Cleveland Browns are almost certainly going to do better next season simply because they can’t do much worse, I think Culpepper is almost certainly going to do better on Game Changers than on BvW. Being the lineman he is and not insisting on being the quarterback would be a big step in the right direction.

Just how well Culpepper does on Game Changers will depend a lot on which version of him shows up: The old Culpepper (or as Josh Wigler put it in The Evolution of Strategy, the bad version of Tony), or the new Culpepper, who has corrected (and possibly overcorrected) his rookie mistakes.

Old Culpepper: Best Case Scenario

Pre-endgame boot: Despite comprising only three guys (plus two gay guys), the men’s alliance sticks together this time and pulls in FFSDT, who knows a thing or two about allying with unlikeable men. After the merge, they hook up with Beast Mode Cowboy, Malcolm, and Troyzan (Tony went down quickly at Mana) (Also, phrasing). The post-merge turns into the Star Trek mirror-universe version of One World. Yippee. Culpepper makes a move against mirror-universe Kim (i.e., Malcolm) and fails.

Old Culpepper: Worst Case Scenario

Pre-swap boot: Ozzy, JT, and Tai are willing to bro down with Culpepper, but they fail to pull in Zeke or any of the women. We all know what that means.

The math checks out!

New Culpepper: Best Case Scenario

Mid-merge boot: A favorable swap gets Culpepper to the merge. He then gets carried a few tribal councils longer as somebody’s meat shield. But that’s as far as it goes. He’s not docile enough to be an attractive FTC goat, nor is he crafty enough to turn the tables on whomever he’s shielding.

New Culpepper: Worst Case Scenario

Swap boot: Culpepper finds himself in the minority on the swap tribe and gets thrown to the wolves by the other Nuku(s).

Most Likely Scenario

Late pre-merge or early jury boot: I think Culpepper will do his best to keep his mouth shut and head down, but in deliberately taking a less aggressive approach he’ll become too passive and out of the loop, and not notice when the numbers take an unfavorable turn or his allies have decided he’s expendable.

Read the rest!

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