There's a lot of name-calling in the game of Survivor. Back-stabber. Liar. Cheater. Thief. But racist? That's a whole other issue. So when Phillip Sheppard accused his opponent Steve Wright of racism after Steve called him crazy, it was the rant heard around the camp — and on TVs across the country. Luckily, the 51-year-old former NFL offensive tackle took the ugly name-calling in stride. "I knew that there was nothing that could be made from what I was saying," he tells TVGuide.com. Steve also talked about what shocked him most about Phillip, why he tried to align with Ashley Underwood and Natalie Tenerelli, and his thoughts on Wednesday's torturous immunity challenge.
Why do you think you weren't able to win the duel and stay in the game?
Steve Wright: Matt, you can't help but love that guy. It was just fair play and there were no hard feelings. There's not a lot going through your head except for you're just exhausted. You're just whipped mentally, physically and emotionally.
Was it exhaustion or was it luck?
Steve: I think it was a little of both. I think Mike getting the early lead, and watching those guys. Just being tired, I was just whipped in every aspect. You're just cooked. I had no idea, watching the show last night, how difficult that last challenge was. Watching it on TV with Boston Rob running those stairs, I was thinking I would have passed out. That would have been really rough to try to do. As easy as it looked, I had no idea how they managed to pull that kind of strength when you're running on complete empty.
Out of everyone on Ometepe, why did you specifically choose Ashley and Natalie to try to align with?
Steve: Ralph, Mike and I were actually working the girls pretty hard because we knew when Rob and Grant would walk off. The girls would just be sitting there, so why not just give it a chance? You get one chance, you got to make the big play. We knew the writing was on the wall for us. I think the Tribal Council before I told everybody right in front of Rob, "We are voting for him. If anyone wants to make the move now, jump on board. I have nothing to hide." In hindsight, I wish I had just gone over while they were lying in bed and said, "Hey, we're going to vote for this guy." Why not? It would have made for good television, too. There was no hiding in it. Why not just expose it?
Why did you also try to make amends with Phillip, despite his erratic behavior throughout the game?
Steve: I don't know, it's just my character. I knew I was going to be living with the guy for awhile and you're in such close quarters, its like come on, let's talk about the elephant in the room. At least I'm going to put the olive branch out there and reach out to you. That's the way I kind of lead my life and if it comes back to bite me, it does. I feel better about myself. I wouldn't want to have to sit next to him at the fire for the next three days not saying a word. ... It was pretty shocking for him not to have the manhood to stand up and say, "Hey, Steve. I apologize. I was acting a little wacky." I was really shocked. It just shows how shallow he is and what a chip he's got on his shoulder. I was shocked to hear that he thought my handshake was insincere. He's unstable.
Why do you think Phillip made that argument over the rice can and your calling him "crazy" into an argument about race?
Steve: It's the same thing when, a few shows earlier, he said he was the red-headed stepchild. He's got a big chip on his shoulder, and I would call you crazy the same way. You can say it different ways. You can add anything to it that you want to, but I just said crazy. I think the less I said, the more it pissed him off.
It's such a serious accusation to throw out in front of the cameras. Were their real-world ramifications from that?
Steve: I played in the NFL for 13 years, and I was on the [Los Angeles} Raiders when we only had 10 white guys, and my brother-in-law is black. I just don't have any prejudice in me. It's just not part of my nature at all. I got a lot of support from a lot of guys around the country. People texting to me and saying, "Prejudice, my a--." I knew that there was nothing that could be made from what I was saying. When the cameras are on your 24/7, the real you comes out. It exposed him and exposed me. Everyone can take their interpretation from it, but they don't really matter to me. It's my black brothers and friends and family that knows the real me. I knew that I was going to come out fine. I was just so shocked. I had actually never heard anybody get that ugly before. And it went on and on and on for a lot longer than you saw.
Looking back at the game overall, what was your biggest surprise?
Steve: Probably starving. Before the show, I thought I was doing all the right preparation: I was getting in shape, running, swimming and I learned how to start a fire with sticks. I was ready to come in and kick some a--. I told my friend when I was on my way there, "I'm going to have to be careful. I don't want to have a big target on my back from winning every competition, because I know I'll win most of the competitions." Watching the show, you don't realize how depleted everyone is. ... Just the depletion of emotions, strength and nutrition — it was a real shock. I told everyone, nothing can prepare you for starving. My body needs 1500 calories just to stay even and I think I was losing a pound a day for more than 30 days.