QUICK NOTE: The good folks at XFINITY sent me deep into the Fijian wilderness to bring you an exclusive look at “Survivor: Ghost Island.” While I was there I conducted interviews with “Survivor” host Jeff Probst and the entire cast. I also captured exclusive photos and other behind-the-scenes tidbits. So, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@gordonholmes) for up-to-the-minute updates.
Name: Brendan Shapiro
Hometown: Herndon, Virginia
Current residence: Herndon, Virginia
Occupation: Physical Education Teacher
Gordon Holmes: It says here you left your unsatisfying, high-paying job to start your own business. Is that aside from the teaching?
Brendan Shapiro: Yeah, I’ve only been a teacher for…we’ll, I’m just about to turn 41.
Holmes: Yeah, dude. As a 40 year old, I don’t appreciate the amazing physique you’re parading around here with.
Shapiro: (Laughs) When I was 39 I started teaching. So, I’ve only been a teacher for the last year and a half. Before that I ran a small retail business with my wife and her sister and her sister’s husband. About two years ago we sold out half of the business to our business partners.
Holmes: Why do you think you were cast?
Shapiro: That’s a good question. I’ve been trying to crack this nut for sixteen years. I first applied in 2001. And, I think it was “Survivor 4.” I made it to the semi-final round. I thought I did fine, but I had the sense at the time that as a 25 year old with a kid, who was married, I maybe wasn’t what they were looking for. And I told my wife, “If they’re still making this show when I’m 40, I think I’ve got a shot.” And from then to now, I applied like 13 times. And at various stages got a little bit of the way down the road. And finally here at 40, I got the nod.
Holmes: People ask me why I don’t play “Survivor,” and I’ve always said, “I’m not good looking and muscular enough to be the young guy, and I’m not old enough to be the old cranky guy.” So, if we see “Survivor 70” it might be my time.
Shapiro: Right in your wheelhouse. (Laughs) But, I think the time was right. I’m so lucky to be here, I think I’ll do better now than I would have back then. It sounds cliché, but I feel like I’m wiser now.
Holmes: Is there anything you left out of your bio? Any bachelor parties that went horribly wrong? Are you actually Brendan’s evil twin?
Shapiro: (Laughs) No, I’ve never been arrested. In my youth I ran from the police many times, but was never caught. Nothing too bad.
Holmes: Is there anything about your backstory that you’re going to keep a secret from your tribe?
Shapiro: Yeah, I’m going to tell them that I’m a teacher. And that’s easy to talk about because I am. But, I’m going to omit the part where I ran a business for a dozen years. I’m also going to make sure that I keep people in the dark about me being a big fan of the show. I just feel like that marks you. It’s just another threat level. I don’t want people to look at me and think this guy does well in challenges and he knows the game. I want them to think I’m happy to be here. High fives and smiles all around.
Holmes: When they hand you that buff, you’ve got to play it cool.
Holmes: Have you set any personal boundaries as far as lying, cheating, stealing, etc.?
Shapiro: No, my personal opinion on “Survivor” is that it’s no different from any other game. When my son was nine years old, he was playing football. And you had nine year olds who were trying to trick the other players into thinking they were going to run one way. Every game we play is about deception, so why do people get bent out of shape here? The only difference is you’re deceiving more with your words than your actions. The only thing I’d say is, I wouldn’t be gratuitously nasty. I’m not going to say things just to make someone feel bad. I think people who do that, like Russell, are sociopaths. They’re probably mean to dogs and waiters.
Holmes: You’ve got that wedding ring. I usually ask a question about flirting, but I’d imagine that’ll be tough to do with that on your finger.
Shapiro: Yeah, and I’m an old fart. I’ll be 41 in a couple of weeks. We’ve got a bunch of good looking 20-somethings. They can flirt with each other. I have a lot of tools to use in this game, that’s probably not one of them.
Holmes: You’re in the dark as far as twists and themes. Any guesses as to what’s going on?
Shapiro: No, not a one. I’ve been trying. How can you divide this group up and make a theme? So, it’s either a theme that’s never been done before and it has to do with our characteristics. Or, it has nothing to do with us and it’s a new twist like Redemption Island back in the day.
Holmes: Alright, I’ll give you two “Survivor” situations. You tell me which one you would prefer.
Holmes: Align with a Hillary supporter or a Trump supporter?
Shapiro: I think…a Trump supporter, because Trump supporters believe they’re standing on principle and are maybe less easily moved off of that principle. And out here predictability is a good thing.
Holmes: Steal a vote or eliminate a juror?
Shapiro: Steal a vote. You’ve got to get to the end for it to matter. If I get to the final three, I think I can talk my way into a win regardless of who’s on the jury.
Holmes: Endurance challenge or word puzzle?
Shapiro: Endurance challenge.
Holmes: Align with a racist or a sexist?
Shapiro: (Laughs) They’re both bad. I guess a sexist? There’s an even split of men and women. That’s a tough one.
Holmes: Voted out first or before the final Tribal?
Shapiro: Before final Tribal, without question. That’s my biggest fear is being voted out first.
Holmes: Align with an adulterer or a tax cheat?
Shapiro: Tax cheat.
Holmes: Lose the family challenge or win and have to decide who to take along?
Shapiro: Win and decide.
Holmes: Caught stealing food or caught idol hunting?
Shapiro: Idol hunting.
Holmes: Align with a super fan or someone who doesn’t watch the show?
Shapiro: Doesn’t watch the show. A super fan is more likely to turn on you.
Holmes: Dance challenge or karaoke challenge?
Shapiro: I could nail either one of those. If I have to pick, I’ll say dance.
Holmes: What’s your go-to karaoke jam?
Shapiro: The last time I did karaoke I did “Hard to Handle” by the Black Crowes.
Holmes: What kind of first impression do you think you put out there?
Shapiro: I’ve been accused of seeming really intense, just in life, back home. I think my resting face is a very intense kind of face. And I don’t mean it to be. I’ll be perfectly content, I’ve got a monkey on a unicycle rolling around in my head. And they think I’m stewing about something. So, I’ve got to do a good job of having a happy face. And here, I’ve been trying to smile at people, seem approachable.
NOTE: The cast members do not know each other’s names at this point. I showed Brendan a picture of each of his competitors and asked him to share his first impressions.
Don’t miss the season premiere of “Survivor: Ghost Island” – Wednesday, February 28, 2018 at 8 pm ET.
Any Questions? Drop me a line on Twitter: @gordonholmes