In 1999, Brad Culpepper was the starting nose tackle on a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that advanced all the way to the NFC Championship Game. The '99 Buccaneers nearly derailed the high-powered St. Louis Rams to advance to their first Super Bowl, but St. Louis pulled out the 11-6 win with a late rally.
That feeling might be a bit familiar right now for Culpepper who, as a contestant on Survivor: Game Changers turned in a fantastic season but came up just short at the end. During the live finale of the long-running reality television series on Wednesday night, Culpepper lost the final vote, 7-3, to Sarah Lacina, a police officer from Iowa. Lacina's victory came with the traditional $1 million prize.
Culpepper was making his second appearance on Survivor, which just wrapped up its 34th season. He also participated in Survivor: Blood vs. Water in 2013 along with his wife, Monica. Coincidentally, Monica, who had first appeared on the series in the 2012 season Survivor: One World, was the runner-up in Blood vs. Water, while Brad was the fifth player voted out.
Survivor, *which debuted in 2000, strands a group of contestants in a remote, isolated area – most commonly on a tropical island – for 39 days. The contestants must fend for themselves, finding food and building shelter, while also periodically competing in physical challenges and voting each other "off the island." Players typically vote each other *out at "tribal councils," but at the end a jury of eliminated players votes for the remaining contestant they believe deserves the prize money.
Culpepper drew three votes from the 10-person jury based largely on his physical game. He tied a Survivor record by winning five individual immunity challenges, which was likely necessary in order for him to avoid elimination in the final week. While he performed well in the physical parts of the challenges he also repeatedly excelled at solving puzzles, a Survivor staple.
Culpepper bucked a trend of former professional athletes faring poorly on Survivor. He is the sixth contestant with NFL ties to appear on the show, a list that includes former Dallas Head Coach Jimmy Johnson, former Cowboys and Colts quarterback Gary Hogeboom and former Raiders tackle Steve Wright. Other professional athletes to appear on Survivor include MLB's Jeff Kent and the NBA's Cliff Robinson and Scot Pollard. The only professional athlete to fare better than Culpepper did in Game Changers is former United Soccer League goalie Ethan Zohn, who won the third season, Survivor: Africa.
Culpepper played six seasons in Tampa (1994-99), starting 80 of the 93 games in which he played. He and eventual Hall of Fame inductee Warren Sapp formed one of the most productive defensive tackle duos in the league from 1997-99, combining for 53.5 sacks in those three seasons. Culpepper, who also played for Minnesota in 1992-93 and Chicago in 2000, finished his career with 34.0 sacks, including a career-high 9.0 in 1998. In 1997, he became the first player in franchise history to record two three-sack games in the same season.