Phillip Sheppard's job title sounds anything but adventurous: He's a technology executive. But in reality—and on reality TV—the 52-year-old is made for adventure.
Sheppard is one of two Santa Monica residents who were chosen to be contestants on "Survivor: Redemption Island," the game show that debuts Wednesday night. His ticket to fame? Roller-skating backward on Montana Avenue.
Last spring, "I was stopped on the street by a casting director," Sheppard told Santa Monica Patch in a recent interview. "He said, 'I've never seen anyone skate backward.' "
Most haven't, at least not the distances that Sheppard skates. On a regular basis, he goes from Montana and Euclid, near where he lives, to Ocean Ave. Then he takes a left—or rather, a right, since he is skating backward—heads south to Bicknell, eventually reaches Main St. in Venice, and returns home. And all the while, he's facing the wrong direction.
Sheppard calls it a "low-impact sport," and he's been doing it for 40 years.
"I started when I was a boy, speed-skating in Dansville, New York," he said. "I would go to this rink ... we would skate in a giant ring, and I loved it. It was entertainment in a small town of 1,200.
"I never gave it up," he continued. "So now I've perfected high-speed skating backward. I'm also listening to a little hip-hop" while skating.
In a city filled with eccentric characters, it's hard not to miss Sheppard. Beyond his unusual approach to skating, he's 6'2" (and three inches taller on skates).
In case the most obvious question hasn't already come to mind, we'll spell it out: How has he survived, so to speak, roller-skating backward on such busy streets?
"I've never been seriously hurt," said Sheppard, who wears bright-colored clothes so drivers can easily spot him. "The only significant accident I had was about two years ago. I was going down Ocean, and a motorcycle was going in the opposite direction. He decided to make a U-turn, with [his] girlfriend on his bike. He stopped, not realizing that I was coming, and I ... hit her and knocked her off the bike and wound up sitting on the bike. Turned out we were both OK, and I went on about my skating.
"When you've been skating as long as I have ... even if [I] fall, I have guards on my hand, and my upper-body strength is such that I can pop right back up," he added.
With any luck, Sheppard's resilience will translate to "Survivor: Redemption Island," the 22nd season of the popular TV series. It takes place on San Juan del Sur, the same island where last year's "Survivor: Nicaragua" was filmed. After a series of various trials and tribe-ulations, the winner will be revealed in May.
Sheppard admits that he hardly ever watched the show before being picked to participate. That said, the 10-year resident of Santa Monica has brushed elbows with celebrities on plenty of occasions, particularly at one of his favorite haunts: on Montana and 14th.
"I'm sort of the ambassador there," he said. "I will frequently talk with a stranger: 'Welcome, I haven't seen you here before.' "
Sheppard is also on the executive committee for the PTA of , where his son goes to school.
Sheppard's family has become increasingly excited during the buildup to the show's premiere, but from all indications, that feeling hasn't worn off on him. The backward-roller-skater is taking his new burst of fame in stride and says life probably won't change much for him even if he wins.
"I'm just grateful to be able to participate," he said humbly. "I like to live in the moment. And I like what I'm doing."