The 28th season of crowd favorite Survivor premieres tonight, and—surprise, surprise—they’ve got a Philly contestant. We linked up with Brice Johnston of the Survivor: Cagayan Beauty tribe to get his thoughts on the show, his innate “Phillyness,” and how being a Philly boy helped him to compete.
You’re one of just a few Survivor contestants in the history of the series from Philadelphia. Where in Philly are you from?
I’m from Mt. Airy and went to Abington High School. For college, I went to Temple and majored in elementary education with a minor in public health. I currently live in Chestnut Hill and work as a social worker for Montgomery County, but I pay for school by working at a shoe store part time.
What was growing up in Philly like for you?
I came from a single mother upbringing with three older brothers—I’m the youngest. My mom worked two to three jobs to ensure my brothers and I had clothes and everything. I spent a lot of time with my brothers, and they’d do stuff like put me in a suitcase and throw me down the steps. But, really, I’m grateful I got teased a lot.
Competition doesn’t seem so bad after growing up like that. How has your family reacted to you making it onto the show?
Three weeks ago, my brother Bevan passed away. It’s been surprising how much Survivor has uplifted my family and me, and it’s definitely positive that my family can look forward to something and not be so down about my brother’s passing.
What made you want to be a contestant on Survivor? A desert island seems like one of the last places a dude from Mt. Airy would want to be.
Why not Survivor? I fell in love with the show when Cirie (Fields, Survivor: Panama) was on, because she embodied so much for me. Like her, I embody everything that no one would think about in a person who is on the show. I’ve been a fan for a long time and have always said it’s not if I’m going to be on Survivor, it’s when.
It seems like it would be complete culture shock being on an island like that. What did it feel like to live on a deserted island? Anything like Philly?
I needed a corner store or expressway or something! It was a definite culture shock out there. It’s a long way out from Philly. I’m used to walking everywhere and being able to do everything, so being there was a change. But growing up camping and fishing, I could jump back into childhood and have fun and work together with everyone.
Did growing up in the city help you with competing on the show at all?
Philly is not an easy place to grow up. For me to even be a black male that’s 27 and not shot is amazing. I have that innate Phillyness to me, and I know how to throw shade. I’m bringing it this season.
I understand you auditioned to be on the show twice. What was that process like the first time around?
The audition process was fun. In 2011 I did an open casting and begged my best friend to come down to Atlantic City with me. We drove down, waited four hours, and when I got in, I froze. But Jarvis from the first season was there and gave me some good advice: you know what they’re looking for and you can always try out again.
So what did you do?
I tried again the next year. I stayed up all night to record an audition video, but couldn’t figure out how to convert it. So at 3 a.m. that night, all stressed out, the only thing I could send was 45 seconds. I said ‘I’ll send it anyway,’ and a month-and-a-half later I got a call. So I guess they got a little piece of Brice and they wanted more.
It seems like you’re already getting compared to two-time Survivor contestant Colton Cumbie. What do you think of those comparisons?
Definitely, I get a lot of comparisons to Colton. But as I’ve said before, Colton and I are not in the same boat. I’m athletic, played soccer, ran track. I’m in fairly good shape and can get down with the get down. I’m not just about the glitz and glamor—I grew up with all male siblings, so I took my lumps. Plus, I’m from Philly. There just is no comparison—Colton cannot hold a candle to me.
What was the hardest part about the whole ordeal?
I’m a social worker, so I tend to take for granted that I can leave my social work at home and not deal with it. Being around other people for so long took its toll on me. Bricey needs his breaks!
Survivor: Cagayan premieres tonight at 8 pm on CBS. If you can’t wait until then, though, watch the first four minutes of the premiere here.