Brendan Shapiro on the 'Smart Lie' That Created Survivor Chaos
When it seemed like a brilliant fib at Tribal Council could save his game, Brendan Shapiro became the latest castaway voted off Survivor: Ghost Island. Although some viewers may have been blindsided by his ouster, Brendan said it was no surprise because one contestant showed her cards with a single heartfelt teardrop. He also explained how Michael, his closest ally, kept him in the dark about one big secret that had everybody fooled. Plus, he answered the question: Is Bradley really that whiny?
SheKnows: Were you surprised the votes fell against you during that chaotic Tribal Council, or did you know it was coming?
BS: No. I knew it was me. On the show, you could see me say at one point to Michael, "Hey, I think it's coming at me." That was my first instinct because the old Naviti folks were really kind of being too obvious in hinting they might go with Stephanie Johnson in the whole day leading up. I thought it might be one of the guys. Then I had a conversation with Kellyn where we were just kind of talking about life stuff, having a nice moment. I told her the next day was my birthday, which it was. I told her I knew I was on the wrong side of the numbers, but it's my dream to be playing Survivor on my birthday. I saw a tear come to her eye. She turned away quickly and started talking about something chipper, but I saw it. She didn't think I saw it. I went and told Michael, "Man, they're coming for me, and here's how I know it." I told him the story, and I tried to convince him. He just had a hard time believing they were gonna come at one of the guys that early. In reality I think they [original Naviti members] were content to lose challenges because they figured they'd just pick us off one by one.
During the Tribal Council, Jeff asked me whether I thought it was gonna be me. I said, "Yeah! I think there's misdirection for it to look like Stephanie Johnson, and it's gonna be me." Right before Michael got up to play the Immunity Idol, he said to me, "I think it's Stephanie." That's the tricky part of Survivor. There's so much that happens so fast that I don't know what I didn't know. It could've been in that hour between when I had a conversation with Michael to say here's how I know it's me, and when we actually went to Tribal Council, maybe Kellyn got nervous and changed the plan. Maybe he heard something about it. At some point you have to trust your allies that they know what's going on. I didn't know what he knew or didn't know, but we didn't have a chance to talk about it at that point. He made the pick he did, and it didn't work out. But kudos to him. He didn't make a selfish pick. He could've just put it on himself. He did what he thought was gonna be best for the original Malolo four, and it just didn't work out.
SK: But with your gut feeling the votes were coming against you, did you suggest he give the Idol to you?
BS: In the Tribal Council I said what I thought was going to happen. Even after all of that, he said to me, "Hey, I think it's Stephanie." That made me think he knew something I didn't know. I just trusted and hoped. The rest is history.
SK: During Tribal Council, you made a pitch to get Sebastian and Chelsea to swap on Naviti and vote with you. Did you think there was any chance somebody was going to flip?
BS: We hoped, man, but we were pretty realistic about it. To their credit, they really locked it down. We made the conscious decision, rather than approaching Sebastian, Chelsea or anybody before Tribal Council and propose that they flip, that we would try to create chaos in Tribal Council and create a panicked decision where they wouldn't have time to think about it. The truth is, if they're being smart and being safe, if they had time to really think it all through, there's no way they would switch. We knew it was a low likelihood that we'd get Sebastian or Chelsea, but we figured we'd give it a shot anyway. What's the harm in trying? We tried, and it didn't work.
SK: There was definitely chaos at Tribal Council when Michael lied about the Immunity Idol's power by saying it would protect two people. Did anybody question his claim, or was everybody believing him?
BS: Nobody questioned it. It was such a smart lie on his part, and I want to give him credit. Saying, "This is a James Idol, and he got voted out with two, so therefore this covers two people," it makes sense. It's believable. Given the premise, and what we had seen in the show, it just made sense. I think that's why nobody questioned and said, "Hey, let me read that parchment." I think they all believed it. I can't say I wouldn't have believed it myself. It was a savvy play. It was a smart lie.
SK: You had a very humble exit message after getting voted off. Were you angry at all?
BS: No anger at all, but I'll tell you, man, I had profound disappointment. I cannot describe to you the disappointment that I felt because it was such a long time trying to get there. I said it in pre-game interviews, my biggest fear was getting voted out early and not getting to experience all the things of Survivor like fighting for individual Immunity, arguing for the jury or at least being on the jury. I was bitterly disappointed, especially because I felt like we had the chance to totally turn the game and make it an even Malolo vs. Naviti split on our beach. It was crushing, but I wasn't angry. I wasn't angry at Michael because he did the best he could. It didn't work, and that happens. I wasn't mad at the old Naviti people who were voting me out because that's what they're supposed to do. That's the game, right? Just like I was trying to vote them out. I was never angry, just bitterly disappointed. Look, man, I'm on TV in front of 8-10 million people. That's not the time to be a crybaby and feel sorry for yourself. You've got to man up and be a good sport about it. That's what I tried to do.
SK: When Stephanie voted against Bradley, she said he was whiny. Is that a true perception of him, or was that her in the heat of the moment?
BS: The challenge with anybody on Survivor is you're getting the one-dimensional version of that person. Yes, he whined a lot out there. I think he just wasn't happy with the situation, and I think he thought of himself as the snarky guy. That was his role. Whatever. So we attacked it. But it won't surprise you when I say there's a whole lot more to Bradley. As much as we were at odds in the game and I wanted to crush him out there, we're friends outside of the game. He's a good guy. If you hung out with him, I'm sure you'd say the same.
SK: You were voted off the day before your birthday, so what was your birthday actually like?
BS: Dude, it was wild. You have some limited opportunity to get off the little, tiny island. Me, Jacob, Morgan and Gonzo went to see a movie in a theater in Fiji. It was the most bizarre thing in the world because I'm sitting there drinking Pepsi and eating popcorn watching a movie about Tupac less than 24 hours after I was out on the island starving. It was crazy, man. It was surreal. I couldn't even make sense of it.
SK: Clearly, you and Michael were very close during the game. What was it about him that connected the two of you?
BS: Some of it's dumb luck. When we hit the beach and everybody was working on different things, we just kind of happened to be working on the same stuff. We spent time together, and part of it's that. Maybe if I had spent time with James, maybe I would've been tighter with James, not that we weren't tight. Part of it is circumstance and luck. But more than that, he and I just see eye to eye. We have a similar outlook on life and a similar work ethic. Strategically, I think we were always kind of on the same page. We just kind of sensed that in each other right away. If he would've told me at the time that he was 18, I don't think it would've changed in anything in the way I regarded him. I looked at him as a peer out there, and somebody who knew what was going on. He was a smart player and somebody I wanted to be aligned with.
SK: Give us some behind-the-scenes intel on Michael. During his pre-game interviews, he said he planned to lie about his age. Did he ever tell you the truth that he was really 18?
BS: No. He told us he was 23 going on 24, and I never thought twice about it. He could've told me he was 28, and I would've believed that, too. He looks old, but he does not carry himself like the average 18-year-old. I was shocked when I found out.
SK: Would you argue he's the best player so far this season?
BS: It's hard, man. On TV, you're seeing such a tiny sliver of what's happening out there. I can't speak to what's happening on the other beach, but on our beach, I think there's a lot of people playing really well. As much as it pains me to say it, I'm really impressed with the way that Bradley and Kellyn are running things on the Naviti side. Stephanie is also super-impressive. That's the thing about this season, I think, is you have a lot of very high-level players. You have a lot of people that are good at all three phases. Strategically, they get how things work. They're strong physically, and the social game is really sharp. It's like splitting hairs to say who is better.
SK: When Kellyn came back from Ghost Island, what did she tell you about her time there? Was it all true?
BS: I was interested to watch her at Ghost Island because I wanted to see whether what she told us matched what happened. Having now seen the footage, she told us the truth. We all kind of had a sense she was probably telling the truth. In retrospect, I can't remember why we felt that way. Maybe she's just a convincing storyteller, but we believed she was telling the truth. In fact, she was.
SK: How did you get on the show?
BS: I'll make a long story short. I started applying in 2001. I applied 15 times, and on the 15th time, I finally got through. My first application was for Marquesas, which was Season 4. I got a semi-final with that one. Back then they had these regional interviews that they did, and I made it to one of those. I was 25 at the time, and I told my wife when I got home, "They're not looking for a 25-year-old guy with kids. I think if they're still making the show when I'm 40, I've got a shot." I kept applying, and a couple times I got calls. Actually, my wife and I got really close, but we were the first couple not to make it out to L.A. for finals week for the second Blood vs. Water season. My casting person was like, "Hey, I think you're right for the show. I'm gonna keep pushing for you." Two years later, I got the call that I was gonna make it out to L.A. for the final. The rest is history. It was a long road, man. That's kind of part of what was hard for me. I was just plugging away. I was told no 15 times before I was told yeah. I was hoping I could've made it a little deeper, but so it goes.