'Survivor: Ghost Island' Player Profile: Meet Brendan Shapiro

A 41-year-old husband and father of two, the Malolo tribe's Brendan was almost cast on 'Survivor' during its fourth season — and 15 years later, he's finally getting his shot at the title.
Courtesy of CBS

Welcome to the Survivor: Ghost Island preseason! THR's Josh Wigler reports from his visit to the show's shooting location in Fiji, where he interviewed host Jeff Probst, as well as the 20 new castaways battling it out for the million-dollar prize.

Click here to make sure you're all caught up on our stories from the island, including our weekly podcast series "First One Out: Ghost Zero," an in-depth look at all of the new players, culminating in an interview with the first person voted out of the season, and Wigler's exclusive overnight stay on Ghost Island.

In an alternate universe, Brendan Shapiro played the role of Hunter Ellis on Survivor: Marquesas. The 41-year-old physical education teacher was in the mix for the fourth season of the show, and came close to making the final cut a few more times along the way. Now, it's his time to follow through on a dream 15 years in the making, entering the game as the oldest man on the field.

"He's been applying for a long time," executive producer and host Jeff Probst tells THR about Brendan. "We talked to Brendan for Millennials vs. Gen X, and we thought about him for Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers — and while we loved the guy, he just doesn't really fit. We really almost put him on season 35, and at the last minute we decided he wasn't the right fit. But now he belongs here. I think as often happens, Brendan will be glad he waited. This makeup of people seems really suited to him doing well. Brendan could absolutely win the game. He has all the skills. He's really gifted in terms of talking and telling stories, and moving people without them feeling like they're being moved. He's physically super fit. He's been around. He's started a business. He's not going to get excitable by a lot."

Hear more from Brendan in the third episode of our preseason podcast series First One Out: Ghost Zero, and then read on for highlights from our interview with Brendan.

Brendan's history with applying for Survivor:

"For me, this has been a long time coming. I first applied for Survivor season four back in 2001, I guess. In those days they had semifinal interviews, and I made it to a semifinal interview. But I'm somewhat unconventional for people my age in that I was married and had a kid by the time I was 25. I got the sense it wasn't really what they were looking for out of their 25-year-olds. I think they wanted the swinging bachelor. I remember coming home and I told my wife way back then: 'If they're still making the show when I'm 40, I think I have a shot.' From then until now, I applied maybe 13 times — a bunch of times. Once or twice, I got calls and got down the path a little bit, but it never quite worked out. I connected with [casting] a few years ago and was called out of the blue in November, and I made it to L.A., and now I've made it out to here."

Why Brendan is drawn to playing Survivor:

"The first time I watched it, I felt like it was something that's built for what I can do. I'm a competitor in a lot of different ways, and I've played a bunch of different sports, and was fine — but I was never the best at anything. I always felt like I was playing somebody else's game, and trying hard. With Survivor, I felt like it was tailor made to what I'm good at. Specifically, I have this strange combination of being able to be empathetic, but at the same time I can divorce myself from emotion to do what needs doing out here. I think that combination suits me well for the game. I'm athletic enough, and all the other little pieces, I think I can do. But the big thing is I think I understand people."

Brendan's thoughts on how best to play the immunity idol:

"They add an element of uncertainty. For me, uncertainty is going to be my currency out here. There are going to be times I suspect where my back is up against the wall. I'm going to need to create the illusion that either I have an idol, or somebody else does in order to throw attention off of me. I think it's a tool that a savvy player can use — whether or not you have them, just the threat of them. I'm going to have to use that threat carefully, but throughout the game."

Brendan's least favorite twists: 

"Some of the innovations have maybe fallen a little flat. I'm not so crazy about people getting voted out and getting to come back in. I don't think it's so great for the show. Having said that? If I get voted out, I hope it's one of those season where you can get voted back in! But most of the twists and turns have been really good for the show. It's helped it stayed fresh and evolve. I'm all for it."

The Survivor player Brendan hopes to emulate:

 "The game in recent memory that I want to emulate is Jeremy Collins. He's universally liked. He had a good way of getting to know people. He made real relationships. He was smart enough, especially his second time around, to understand that he was a threat. He did a really good job of always finding a bigger threat to throw in front of his competitors. I want to emulate that style of play." 

Brendan's first day in the game, if everything goes perfectly:

"If it goes perfectly, at the end of day one, we have a roof over our heads and I have a core group of people that I think are ready for that first vote. If I'm unlucky enough to have to go to the first vote, I want a leg to stand on."

Brendan's ethical philosophy on Survivor:

"I think Survivor is a game, just like any other game that you or I might play, or my kids might play. I make an analogy that when my son was nine years old and started playing football, on any given play, his team's trying to trick the other team. They want to make you think they're going to pass when they're going to run, or vice versa. It's all deception. The people who get high and mighty out here and all 'How could you lie to me?' We all know what we're in for. I have no problem at all deceiving anybody out here. I'm going to have to do that. There's no need to do it gratuitously, but I'll do it whenever it needs doing. That's what we're all here for. We're all adults. We all know what the game is. And if there's someone who doesn't know that out here? That's their problem. Where I think the code of ethics comes in for me is I've seen players who will go out of their way to be hurtful just because they're mad, just for the sake of doing it, or just because they're mean people. You're not going to see me do that. You're not going to see me say mean things about people, to the camera or to their face, just because. There's no need for it. I think people who are mean in their normal lives are going to be mean out here, and people who are nice in their normal lives are going to be nice out here. As a nice guy — a self-proclaimed nice guy — in this context, I have no problem deceiving other players at every turn."

How Brendan will react if he gets blindsided:

"I can respect it. I will be bitterly disappointed if it happens, especially if it happens early on, but I've always been irritated at the players — and I was even surprised watching Game Changers, because some of these players were coming back a second or third time, and they still seemed a little bent out of shape and had their feelings hurt, that they didn't make it to the end. I would have thought that of everyone, they would respect a really good play. I may be disappointed on my own behalf if I get voted out, but will I be angry? No. We're all here to vote each other out. I'm here to make sure those other 19 don't win, and they're here to do the same thing. I have no problem with that. You won't see a bitter juror in me if I end up on the jury."

That's Brendan in his own words. But what do the other castaways think about him? Over the course of our interviews out in Fiji, the Ghost Island castmembers were presented with pictures of their competitors and asked to establish their preseason thoughts. With that said, here's what they think about Brendan, member of the Malolo tribe.

Desiree Afuye (Student, Naviti Tribe): "I call him 'Mr. Prez.' He's so perfect. He's like the president. He may play an honorable game. He strikes me as one who might be truthful when he doesn't need to be."

Chris Noble (Male Model, Naviti Tribe): "I think he's an Iron Man, corporate America type of guy. I think he's going to be great on challenges. Maybe it's because he's from the other generation, but there's a loyalty I think he may be able to have later on in the game or in the beginning. I don't know how the tribes will be set, but he's someone I wouldn't mind forming an alliance with on the males' side."

Bradley Kleihege (Law Student, Naviti Tribe): "He seems good. He strikes me as a Ken from season 33. My initial take is he's ex-military of some kind. That might be because he looks way too old to be in as good of shape as he's in. I also think he's going to be struggling, because he doesn't have a percent of body fat. I don't think that's good. It's good to have a little inner tube to keep you afloat, when it comes to the food. But he's probably trustworthy. The problem is going to be if I need him to make a move with me, he hits me as very hard to convince."

Angela Perkins (Army Veteran, Naviti Tribe): "That guy seems strategically set. He seems strong. He seems like he comes from a servicing background, i.e. a firefighter, military or a police officer. He definitely has endurance and he's definitely going to be a competitor, physically."

James Lim (Business Analyst, Malolo Tribe): "I call him 'Brody from Homeland.' If I had to guess, he's an ex-Marine or something like that. The words loyalty, courage and integrity come to mind. Then again, he might be the polar opposite. I can't pin him like that yet. He's obviously very fit. He kind of looks stern, but in a nicer way. If he's a dad, he's probably a good and stern dad to his kids. I think he'll be a great asset for any tribe, given his stature in challenges and stuff."

Stephanie Johnson (Yoga Instructor, Malolo Tribe): "I like him. He's married. He's probably one of the only truthful people out here. My gut tells me that he's going to probably play a more honest game than the rest of them. He probably has kids. He actually looks — and I mean this in a very good way — like a Mormon from Utah. He's obviously married and he seems like a good, genuine guy. I think he's probably a killer athlete, too."

Morgan Ricke (Marine Animal Trainer, Naviti Tribe): "I feel like he does triathlons. Something about the way he looks. I feel like he's an athlete. He's older, he's married. He has a ring on at least. I feel like he's a good athlete. He's one to keep an eye out for."

Michael Yerger (Real Estate Agent, Malolo Tribe): "He's very fit. He looks like a personal trainer or something within that realm. I've noticed he's married. Probably has a couple of kids. People generally think well of the family guy, stereotypically. He seems like a polite guy."

Wendell Holland (Furniture Company Owner, Naviti Tribe): "He's a gladiator. Super strong. The most muscles I have seen, anywhere. Random back muscles! I don't know what he's like in his head, but he could be intimidating to play against."

Chelsea Townsend (Cheerleader and EMT, Naviti Tribe): "He's ripped. He must be a bodybuilder or something. I think he'll be really good in the physical challenges, so he's somebody who will be very good to have on your team, to help you win. He seems like a nice, genuine guy."

Libby Vincek (Social Media Strategist, Malolo Tribe): "Super athletic. I want him on my side. I think I can work well with him. He seems like a southern guy — very athletic and genuine. I want to work with him."

Laurel Johnson (Financial Consultant, Malolo Tribe): "I like him. I see he wears his wedding ring out here. He must have a wife at home, probably some kids. I'd like to pull on his heartstrings a little bit. I've been vibing with him at Ponderosa. I like him!"

Domenick Abbate (Construction Supervisor, Naviti Tribe): "A dad, possibly. I know he's definitely a husband. I've seen his wedding ring. He's another honorable looking guy. He looks like he plays a straight game."

Josh Wigler (Reporter, THR): "Can you bond over being married?"

Domenick Abbate (Construction Supervisor, Naviti Tribe): "Certainly. I'm going to bond over anything I can bond over."

Stephanie Gonzalez (Graphic Sales, Malolo Tribe): "He's super friendly. He looks incredibly organized — way too OCD organized. He watches what he eats like nobody I have ever seen before. When I'm eating pasta and you're eating almonds? Something's wrong. He's going to be one of those people who plays by the rules. A little more honest. He wants to be there for his wife. He's married; I saw the ring. Charming him is probably not an option, though he likes the attention."

Jenna Bowman (Advertising Account Executive, Malolo Tribe): "He's pretty strict. He doesn't wink. He keeps things pretty quiet. He's older, but he has a really good body."

Donathan Hurley (Caretaker, Malolo Tribe): "He's pretty. He seems like he could be a runner. But he also seems centered and grounded. He's not darting and looking at people. He's really into his space."

Jacob Derwin (Music Teacher, Malolo Tribe): "I don't have a huge read. He was wearing a shirt yesterday with 'Sub Pop,' the record label, and also 'Third Man Records.' If you bring music into this, we can talk forever. Hopefully we'll connect on that level. He seems like a strong dude. Most of the guys out here seem cut. But no huge read on how I expect him to play. He seems like a very patient and easygoing guy. Hopefully things will work out well between us."

Sebastian Noel (Fishing Guide, Naviti Tribe): "He looks like a general muscular dad. He might be controlling in the beginning. He's always first in line for food, from what I've seen. He'll probably get along more with me than the other way. I'll fakely get along with him. Not really for me."

Kellyn Bechtold (Career Counselor, Naviti Tribe): "If I could vote to give someone the million dollars, that's who I would give it to, other than myself. He has to be one of the oldest people here. He's married. He has the softness of someone who has had children. My gut tells me that he's a really good guy. I hope I'm on his tribe. I would love to work with him."

 

Keep up with all of our preseason interviews:

• Angela Perkins
• Bradley Kleihege
• Brendan Shapiro
• Chelsea Townsend
• Chris Noble
• Desiree Afuye
• Domenick Abbate
• Donathan Hurley
• Jacob Derwin
• James Lim
• Jenna Bowman
• Kellyn Bechtold
• Laurel Johnson
• Libby Vincek
• Michael Yerger
• Morgan Ricke
• Sebastian Noel
• Stephanie Gonzalez
• Stephanie Johnson
• Wendell Holland

What's your read on Brendan? Sound off with your predictions in the comments section below, and keep checking THR.com/Survivor for more interviews with the Survivor: Ghost Island cast.