Interview: Phillip Sheppard talks ‘Survivor: Caramoan’

Phillip Sheppard makes a lot of sense.
The former federal agent, who dominated much of the screentime in this “Survivor: Caramoan” season with his Stealth R Us alliance-building, his increasingly heightened conflicts with Brandon Hantz and his ongoing devotion to Boston Rob, was voted out on Wednesday (April 17) night’s episode in a Tribal Council shocker.
Phillip’s certitude has never wavered in his two “Survivor” seasons and it isn’t a surprise that he sees Malcolm and the Alphas’ big Tribal Council move as a validation of his strategic strength, rather than a condemnation of his “militaristic” dictatorship.
It also isn’t surprising that my question about whether or not he regretted any of his interactions with Brandon led Phillip to basically answer a different question.
But a lot of what Phillip had to say in his exit interview makes a fair amount of sense.
Click through for the full conversation…
HitFix: You made it further in your first season, but I assume you’re more satisfied or proud of the “Survivor” game you played this time around?
Phillip Sheppard: Absolutely. Let’s face it, I was proud even of the last time. I mean, the edit? OK. The way I came off? OK. But the fact of the matter is that I did pick up a $100,000 check for second place, thank you very much. This time, though, I was able to demonstrate that not only did I play with a fantastic player the first time I played, but I was trying to show that I actually learned something, because I never had a conversation with Boston Rob about the rules, but I just tried to show the audience that I did observe certain things about him when he played. I wasn’t trying to be him, but I wanted to show that I actually learned something from playing with him, like you do when you play with a Michael Jordan. If you can be so fortunately, you like to think that you came way away with something from that experience. And then to be able to be such a threat in the game, even though Malcolm said — What did he say last night that was so silly? — “I’m voting for him because I want to have fun when I play ‘Survivor.'” *I* came out to play “Survivor” to win a million dollars. You don’t give up two Idols on the 10th person to be voted out of the game unless you’re viewing him as a threat. And he clearly saw me as a threat and I’m so happy that I was able to demonstrate this time around that Phillip is a force to be reckoned with. He can put an alliance together that votes people out of the game and he can work very closely within that alliance with certain people — The core alliance: Cochran, Andrea and myself and to some extent Dawn — to send people home. We were doing that. So yes, I’m very happy with the way I played this season.
HitFix: Was it harder, though? Was it harder to play the game taking a leadership role and with a target on you the whole time?
Phillip: Well, it was much easier this time because, frankly, you’re playing with 10 people who all think they can win the game. When I played the first time, I played with one person who knew he could win the game and the other people were so enraptured by him and so fascinated by him that they weren’t playing to win the game. So it was  a little easier this time for me. I couldn’t overcome BR’s — Boston Rob’s — persona in the game. It was just too big and he knew what he was doing having played it four times. When I think about what I faced this time, it was more difficult, in a way, because of the environment. It was so much more wetter out there and humid. But in terms of actual gameplay, I felt like I was able to get certain people out there to respect me. I keep finding it interesting that people keep saying, like Eliza Orlins from RealityNation, that Phillip’s crazy or he’s this or he’s that, but up until last night, the only person who cast a vote against me in that game was Brandon. So I think you and I would agree that if I was so annoying — when I played the first time, I was so annoying I got 17 votes, a record in “Survivor” history — this time I only had one vote until I got voted out last night. I must have been playing differently and what people were describing as “annoying” was, in fact, that they were annoyed with the fact that I was able to eject people out of the game that they wanted to see in the game. 
HitFix: OK. At that situation at a Tribal Council where everything goes upside-down and strategy has to go out the window, what would Boston Rob have done?
Phillip: Well, that’s not a fair question, because I think that in this situation… I don’t think he’s been in a situation where there are [three] people who are in an alliance together and one of them just won the Immunity Idol and then another one has two Idols. In this situation, even if you utter or say anything to try to get people to vote for someone else, they would hear it and it wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the vote, *and* they would still have had two Idols in the game to play to get you out anyway. We tried to talk amongst ourselves, but it was just chaos in action, as you saw, in the Tribal, so there wasn’t much to do. I can’t really speak to Boston Rob. I haven’t had an opportunity to speak with him either about last night, so I’ll be curious to hear what he would say in that situation. Hey, I think I played the best game I could in that situation.
HitFix: You’ve had months to think about it. Is there anything in that moment that you wish that you had done differently?
Phillip: Nope. Nothing. I’m quite satisfied. If you’re going to go out on “Survivor,” I’d rather go out the way I went out where somebody’s saying one thing that’s completely inconsistent with why they’re doing it. Malcolm says, “I did it because I wasn’t having fun.” The fact of that matter is that you’re playing for a million dollars. You don’t give up two Idols if you’re not finding someone extremely strategic. So for me, I felt like earlier in the day, I tried to convince Cochran and Brenda and Andrea and, to a certain extent, Dawn, if she wasn’t crying, that I thought they had two Idols and that we should have a different strategy and that we should cast all of our votes for somebody else. But they didn’t want to hear it and they were convinced that they didn’t have two Idols. Therefore, I did my best. prior to going in that Tribal to be thinking like quote “Boston Rob,” but it didn’t work with those people and unfortunately for me, that meant I went home. I wish the rest of the Stealth R Us people the best going forward.
HitFix: You knew in that circumstance that by telling your alliance to stick with the vote, that you stood a reasonable chance of going home. Do you sort of interpret what you did as falling on your sword in that moment?
Phillip: I don’t consider it “falling on my sword.” I consider it being consistent in what I call the mental manipulation that I did with Malcolm the prior week. You may recall in the prior week, I had Malcolm stand up and open his mouth and insert foot and say, “Hey, they’re voting for me, man. Give me the Idol.” That would have been a brilliant move, right? If, in fact, we had voted for Malcolm and then he’d played it. Or if we had voted for Reynold and then Reynold went home, the other guy who could be competitive with Malcolm, and he went home and then it would look like, “Wow. That was a really cool move, man. That was a super move.” But, in fact, it was a pretty poor move, because not only did he betray Reynold, right then and there, but he also revealed that they had an Idol and we got to see it, and then he comes right back a week later and does it again. He basically gives up two Idols in a situation in which there are still, now, nine other people in the game, so for me, by me speaking the way I did, it consistently forced him, if you will… He didn’t have to do what he did. He could have still said, “We’re not giving up the Idols. We decided to keep them.” But instead, he gives up the Idol. He could have done a number of different things. But instead, he chose to do what he did and, consequently, in my view, it’ll be interesting to see how the season unfolds going forward.
HitFix: It sounds like you view what Malcolm did the past two Tribal Councils as being theater, but not actually sound strategy?

Phillip: It wasn’t very good… I mean, you guys are the commentators on what you saw. I think from what I just said, if you can dispute that, please do, because I feel that last week, he no reason to stand up and do that. He had an Idol in his pocket. Potentially. Right? We know now that he had an Idol in his pocket. We thought he did, but we didn’t know that for sure. So he has an Idol, he doesn’t play it, he gets another guy who’s part of his strategic alliance he’s basically… Hey, I’ll use your analogy. I’m falling on a sword, what’s he doing? He’s basically putting his alliance in danger by his own behavior. And for what purpose? To make a big move in the game. Silly. Silly and it’s the best way not to win a million dollars, potentially, if you just look at the behavior alone.
HitFix: As you think about the alliance that you put together this season, do you think that Stealth R Us was overextended to some degree? It felt as if there so many moving pieces that it would be impossible for anybody to actually keep track of.
Phillip: Well, anyone unless you’re The Specialist, the author of “The Costa Rica Job.” Basically, some people got names so that we could contain them, to make them feel like they were part of something, hence Brandon Hantz, “The Conqueror.” I gave him that name hoping that he could conquer his own emotional state out there and pull it together. Remember when I did the BR Rules that I created from what I learned from him? I said “Get an alliance within the alliance.” That means you have people that are on the fringes. All you’re trying to do is contain them, make them feel wholesome, that they’re part of the group. So that’s what I did in terms of Stealth R Us with certain people. Erik, “The Silent One,” it was because anything you said to Erik, he’d go back to repeat it to somebody. When I would say certain things to him, he would alway have to go tell somebody. We were worried about that at the swap, was he gonna go over there and spill the beans, which he did do. He joins the Bromance and he tells them what we’re thinking and what we’re doing. So I agreed to give him the name to try to contain him, to see if he keeps his mouth shut for 24 hours. So no, I think that so far, what you saw from Stealth R Us up until this point is that anyone we specifically targeted went home until last night. It was a very strong alliance and it was working very effectively. 
How many times in a season do you see two people find four Idols. That’s pretty remarkable. Reynold has found two Idols and Malcolm has found two Idols. I mean… Wow. That’s amazing. And then he wins Individual Immunity. So those two guys have won five things that make you immune to defeat in the game. That’s pretty remarkable. So for what I was able to do, having not won Immunity except for winning Rewards with my tribe, I’m quite proud of the way I played, so thank you for asking me that question.
HitFix: Going back to Brandon… Do you have regrets about the way that you handled the situation with him, with the perspective of a few months to think about the kind of person that he is and the circumstances that you guys were in out there?
Phillip: First of all, I’d never played with Brandon Hantz before. I only saw a little bit of when I saw him on TV in his prior season. I hadn’t socialized with him. He lives in Texas. I live out here in California. All due respect, it’s sort of like asking a psychiatrist or a psychologist to make some sort of diagnosis on someone that they haven’t seen before, nor have they reviewed their records. I had no idea what he was going to be like when he got there. I can tell you what I witnessed. In the first three days, he reminded me of someone who potentially was going through withdrawal from something. So all of us noticed that within three days there was a dramatic shift in his personality. It was almost as if he was going through some sort of withdrawal. He certainly quit the game. He’s a quitter. I feared for my life at one point with him and I think the others were fearful of him as well. When the season’s over you can ask people if they feared for… At the point when he dumped the rice out, there was a knife laying there or one of the blades that we used to chop wood. That was there. We thought he was going to pick it up and come after me. That’s why I walked away from him going down the beach. So, for me, there times which, of course on the show you can’t see, that I would try to have… I have a 19-year-old son and Brandon was a couple years older than him, so I would try to talk to him like that and what he would do with those conversations is he would run off… Think about it. When I said to him, “You know Brandon, you’re a little bit like middle management. You’ll get an opportunity to work your way up within the organization,” because he’d already demonstrated to me that he was untrustworthy, because the very first vote, he did what Francesca told him to do, my nemesis. He goes and votes against Andrea, my No.1 person in the game working with me. 
So I owe him nothing. I would have liked to have tried to bring him in, which I did, but every time I would say something even kind of nice to him, it was almost like his older uncle had told him, “Listen, whatever that dude says, go try to twist it and get his ass thrown out of the game.” I didn’t understand his behavior. Now, looking back on it, I think that he was psychosomatic. I will tell you that my twin is a psychologist and she teaches psychology at Boston University. My eldest sister is a licensed therapist. My brother Arthur is a therapist. I’m not. Now maybe they might have been able to deal with him differently, but I certainly wasn’t capable of doing it. I frankly don’t feel that he should have been in the game. I wonder if he was on some sort of medication that he did not tell the executives here about. I just find it bizarre. I don’t know that or not. Like I said, to us it seemed like he was going through some sort of withdrawal within three days. Again, this is from my perspective. You’re asking me a question and I’m speculating, not professionally, but just, “Wow. What happened here? You came in and you were smiling…” He would go and make some rice, for example, and be one way and then it would almost like Sybil, turning his head and a different person would emerge. It wasn’t just with me, but with other people as well.
HitFix: As a last question: It took Boston Rob four chances at the game to win. I assume that any time CBS and “Survivor” come calling you’re ready for a third shot?
Phillip: You know, I haven’t had sufficient time to thing about that one way or the other. I certainly enjoyed my experience this time in terms of the way I came off. I love the way I come off, because I believe journalists and others say one thing, but when I talk to the fans and I see what the fans have posted on my Facebook and Twitter pages, unless they’re part of what I call the Hantz Clan, they say wonderful things about the way I played this time. I can’t believe how much wonderful comments I got from last night from people. 
For me, I don’t know what the future holds, clearly. I’m gonna potentially be working on a project with Diana Burnett, Mark Burnett’s ex-wife, who I met recent. I have a television show, a digital show called “Development Hell” in which I’ll play a lead on that show in a month or so. I’m going to be doing a little bit of promoting for my novel and I’m talking to other people about reappearing on another show as the love interest for someone. I don’t know if that’s going to fully come to fruition, but we’ll see what the future holds. I know one thing: I’m grateful to CBS and “Survivor” for me, an old… I shouldn’t say “old,” but a guy in his 50s the chance to come out and participate in the longest running reality show and, in my view, the best reality show in the world. They tell the best stories. Mark Burnett said in March of this year in Esquire Magazine that he didn’t really view his shows as reality shows, he views them as wonderful storytelling. And I happen to agree with him. The editors do a magnificent job of telling a story and if people want to look at it and believe that’s the total essence of somebody, then so be it. You can never control what people think. There are people who think that President Obama’s not born in America, even though he’s demonstrated that he has a birth certificate. They choose to believe that he wasn’t born here. You can’t control what people think.