Phillip explains the “bigger-than-life character” he created on Survivor

For its final weeks, Survivor Redemption Island teased us that Phillip Sheppard would reveal that he was not the crazy (“not n-word crazy, just crazy,” to quote Rob Mariano) person he seemed like he was. The revelation of the real Phillip never occurred. At the reunion, he seemed subdued, and we learned that he was actually a federal agent (despite the editors’ disparaging question mark all season), but otherwise got no real indication that Phillip’s behavior was in any way fake.

But in an exit interview, Phillip played the Coach card, saying that he created a character. The difference is that Coach went into Survivor Tocantins casting acting in an over-the-top way, whereas Phillip says his character was developed days into the game.

“I decided to create this bigger-than-life character so that Rob would have someone to point the finger at. As long as he had someone to point at and as long as I took ownership of that role, he wasn’t going to eliminate me out of the game,” Phillip told TV Guide. “The more time went on, the more critical it was that there was someone who was going to do something that was over-the-top, bigger-than-life. I think I made a brilliant move in coming up with that idea for myself and playing this guy.”

Phillip said he did that because working around camp and being helpful “wasn’t getting me anywhere being the man that I normally am in my everyday life.” While Phillip said that Rob “understood me and stayed true to me,” he avoids answering a direct question about whether Rob knew that Phillip was faking.

Ultimately, this sounds like revisionist history. I think Phillip is probably a normal guy with some issues–and who doesn’t have issues–who was affected by the physical and emotional toll of the game. Because he’s not dumb, he eventually realized that this was working in his favor, and then maybe played it up a little bit, which is probably about the time we heard him saying that he’d surprise people. The consequence of that is obvious: He can conceal his less-than-desirable behavior in the cloak of a character. But I suspect most of his actions were genuine but atypical responses to an atypical situation.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.