Survivor Runner-Up Phillip: I Didn't Get the Respect I Earned
The pink briefs. The feather accessories. The rice argument that turned into the racism rant 'heard round the country. It was hard for any of the newbies from Survivor: Redemption Island to get a word in edgewise next to favorites "Boston Rob" Mariano and Russell Hantz, but Phillip Sheppard not only got in a few words in — he stole the season thanks to his crazy wardrobe choices, violent temper and some messages from beyond the grave from his grandfather. Despite his bizarre antics — or maybe because of them — the 52-year-old former federal agent made it to the final three and even, surprisingly, scored one vote. Phillip talked with TVGuide.com about his "brilliant move" coming up with his outlandish persona, his true friendship with Rob and giving Steve Wright the benefit of the doubt about the racially charged argument. Plus: Would he return to Survivor?
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What did you think your chances were?
Phillip Sheppard: Honestly, I played with hope. ... I knew I wasn't going to have a chance, really. I didn't really have a shot of winning it, but I knew I was probably going to get second. I was hoping to get at least one vote and I did.
Did you expect to get the vote from Ralph?
Phillip: I did suspect that. If you really look at the dynamics of what occurred throughout the entire season and the Ometepe six, all of those people walked around in love with Rob from Day Two. I decided to create this bigger-than-life character so that Rob would have someone to point the finger at. As long as he had someone to point at and as long as I took ownership of that role, he wasn't going to eliminate me out of the game. The more time went on, the more critical it was that there was someone who was going to do something that was over-the-top, bigger-than-life. I think I made a brilliant move in coming up with that idea for myself and playing this guy.
Where did that character come from?
Phillip: I thought, I'm going to do what I did when I was trained as a special agent. I'm going to go in, analyze people's behaviors and pay attention to everything. Do they cross their legs? Do they not? If so, then why? ... Because most of these people were under 30 years old, I could see that it was all about them and what they wanted. I thought, Well, they're not going to be willing to sacrifice anything so I'll make the sacrifice to play that role. I saw how Rob's eyes would respond and he would encourage me to go to Tribal Council and do those antics, it made him feel safe. He knew I wasn't going to be a threat. ... I thought, can you be happy with second? Can you be happy with third if you get there? And I said, yeah, I could. Can I win it? Maybe, maybe not.
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Was there ever a time you wanted to stop playing the part and just try to be your normal self?
Phillip: Look at the guy I was the first three or four days out there. I worked hard. Rob and I cut all the palm trees to built the structure. I would wash all the pots. Pretty helpful guy, right? What did it get me? Nowhere. They poked fun at me. ... It wasn't getting me anywhere being the man that I normally am in my everyday life.
What was your relationship really like with Boston Rob? Did he realize you were playing a part?
Phillip: It was an honest relationship. He knew absolutely that he could trust me. ... Rob was undefeatable unless someone in his immediate group made a big move. The one person who did try to make a big move in the game, who I did befriend, was Andrea for a second. But Rob assessed her, figured out she was a threat and [voted her out twice.] ... Basically, it was impossible for me to do anything else if I wanted to remain in that game. I figured that on my own and I embraced it. I didn't fight it. I didn't come out there to play that game, but I did what I had to do. So Boston Rob and I formed a true relationship that I think will go beyond in the game. A friend in the sense that, if I needed to pick up the phone and call him about something and vice versa.
Survivor's Steve on Phillip's racism rant: I've never heard anybody get that ugly
Most of the jury didn't seem to take you seriously and many didn't ask you questions. Were you surprised or is there anything you could have done differently at that stage of the game?
Phillip: They wanted to come up and blast me. You would have thought that I was the one who made love them to them — that I was the one who promised to take them to the end of the game. Rob did all that. And yet they saved all that animosity. Even when Jeff Probst was asking the final questions of Rob, myself, Russell, Ashley and Natalie [at the reunion], notice none of them interrupted Rob when he talked. None of them challenged him until prompted to. ... What happened when Probst finally asked me a question? I get stepped all over by Ashley. Its like, 'Come on.' I did come in second. Doesn't second deserve a chance to speak? I didn't get the respect that I felt like I earned, and nor was I going to get it at the final Tribal Council. I figured that out before the final Tribal Council and I wasn't going to pour my water over rocks and gravel when I could keep my integrity and my dignity in tow. When Sash did that last season, he didn't even get one single vote. I got one. I played a great game and I'm very happy I had the opportunity to play with Boston Rob, who understood me and stayed true to me.
What was like it watching your argument with Steve on TV and reading viewers' reactions? Did you reach out to Steve before the reunion?
Phillip: Basically what happened was, I came home. I got to see Steve's bio on CBS.com. In his bio, he talks about, as a former NFL player, occasionally you get ready for the game and somewhere in the game, you have the A-type behavior and a very aggressive guy comes out and he doesn't even know when he's going to happen. ... When I saw that, it doesn't mean that I was wrong about my reaction and the way it made me feel, but you got to give the guy the benefit of the doubt that he was only displaying his A-game. That's a whole lot different than someone saying you're potentially the n-word or something like that. I thought if I'm having reasonable doubt in my own mind, I can appreciate why fans are having reasonable doubt in their own. ... I thought I'm going to go back and revisit this and I'm going to do what needs to be done and that's what you saw. To Steve's credit, he accepted my apology. We're grown men. That's what grown men do. Those are the lessons I want my 17-year-old son to get from that: When my dad found out that maybe something he did on national television wasn't correct, he didn't let his pride get in the way of doing the right way.
Would you ever consider playing again?
Phillip: I think I'd get back out there. Because I've got a feeling that I'm going to get an invite somewhere down the road to play Survivor again.