Brad Culpepper was heartbroken. You could see the shock, the disappointment, the sense of ultimate failure, in his face.
Culpepper, in case you don’t know, is a former professional football player, lawyer, and the latest runner-up, to lose a Million dollar payoff in the TV reality game show, Survivor.
I’m not generally a fan of reality television. Its bogus “authenticity”, and generally smarmy propositions hold no attraction. But Survivor is, generally, an exception. It’s not that I think that it’s any more “real” than any of the other shows, but the physical and psychological pressures put upon its contestants usually evokes an interesting revelation of human nature, in its most basic forms.
Seven deadly sins? Yup. All of them have been laid bare at one time or another, by this wildly successful franchise.
And such was the case, with Culpepper.
An Alpha Dog, Leads the Pack …
At six-foot-one and 200 plus pounds, the former left defensive tackle of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is an imposing physical specimen.
And, although his playing career ended 17 years ago, Culpepper still retains the aggressive, intensely competitive spirit, along with a significant degree of the athleticism, that served him well on the football field. Those qualities also served him well, during the latest contest. Initially, at least.
Through the 39 day war of attrition that defines the Survivor experience, Culpepper endured. At times he was at the bottom of the pecking order, and seemingly destined for elimination, but somehow managed to hang on. Perhaps the most impressive personal accomplishment that allowed him to continue, was the run of five individual immunity challenge wins, that kept him in the game. Out of 34 different iterations of Survivor, involving nearly 500 contestants, only five other players have managed to duplicate that feat.
Culpepper, it seemed, was a man of destiny. And then, it all went wrong.
… And Then Bites Himself In the Ass.
As the game came down to the last elimination of contestants to determine the “final three” eligible for the Million dollar prize, Culpepper fell victim to the oldest of those seven deadly sins: Pride.
He faced a situation in which he clearly had control of the game. Immune from the elimination vote, he was guaranteed to make it to the final three, and seemed nearly invincible. His challengers for the ultimate prize, were Troy Robertson, a professional photographer, Sarah Lacina, a cop from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Tai Trang, a gardener from San Francisco, California.
Lacina, who had played a steady and carefully strategic game, seemed to be his biggest rival. Robertson was seen as Culpepper’s loyal lieutenant who had done little to distinguish himself, and Trang was viewed by many as an untrustworthy liar, who had betrayed too many people, too many times. Neither Trang, nor Robertson were likely to beat Culpepper, if they went to the final three, the vote for sole Survivor, and the Million dollar prize.
Logic, and strategy clearly suggested that all Culpepper had to do, was convince Trang and Robertson to help him to eliminate Lucina, and move to the final three, with him. It looked like an easy slam dunk. But Pride, got in the way.
Culpepper was furious with Trang, a man who had refused to follow his directions throughout the game. Trang had chosen his own path on nearly every elimination vote, and was an unpredictable wild card. Despite that, the chance to make it to the final three would have been enough to pull him onside, in this particular vote.
Culpepper merely had to ask. But instead, he decided to intimidate.
It’s Not the Size Of The Dog In the Fight ….
Tai Trang is a small, gay, 51 year old vegetarian, whose inner mantra is all about peace, kindness, and love. In some ways, the polar opposite of the hulking machismo, of Brad Culpepper. Despite that, the two were genuinely fond of one another, which only adds to the inexplicable nature, of Culpepper’s fatal mistake.
In a private showdown, an extremely intense Culpepper lectured, demanded, and generally bullied Trang, offering him a “my way or else”, ultimatum. Trang, however, stood his ground and would give no absolute guarantee, to anything. As a result, Culpepper decided to eliminate his contrary opponent. He enlisted the help of Robertson, who suggested that they should at least give Tai a “heads up”, that he was going home, but Culpepper was vindictive, and vetoed that suggestion.
He wanted Trang to be shocked, and punished by the vote; a sharp rebuke for Trang’s defiance of his will. A petulant, “I’ll show you who’s boss.” kind of smack-down. And in that moment of cruel hubris, Brad Culpepper sealed his own fate.
Tai Trang was eliminated. Sarah Lacina advanced to the final three, and made an argument powerful enough to sway the jury of other contestants, in her direction. Sarah won. Brad lost. And I was struck, by the deeper meaning of an otherwise shallow television program.
Call it “karma”, or a divine demonstration of the biblical maxim that “Pride goeth before a fall”; the naked truth is this: Brad Culpepper allowed his competitive pride and need for dominance to sway his better judgment, and it cost him a Million dollars.
… And Good Dogs, Go To Heaven.
It may never cost you, or I, that kind of financial penalty but the lesson is one worth heeding. The instinct to vindictively punish those around us, who make decisions that we might not, carries a price. It may be the price of a friendship, or estrangement from a spouse, a child, or sibling. It could cost us a job, or many other positive goals that we might seek. It may just cost us the price of feeling guilty, or ashamed of our own behaviour, but it will cost us one way, or another.
How much better then, would it be, to seek reconciliation, consensus, and peace with those who oppose us?
A Million times better, it would seem.