Russell Hantz loses Heroes vs Villains after losing Samoa, forcing viewers to rethink what success in Survivor really looks like.
|We’re counting down the 30 Moments That Shaped Survivor, events that happened on the show that helped create and evolve the game and the series that we know and love. Go here to view the criteria we are using to determine what qualifies for the list. And since these posts are covering the first thirty seasons of Survivor, there will be spoilers for various Survivor seasons.|
Why it Matters:
For the second time in a row, Russell Hantz bulldozed his way through a season of Survivor, aggressively battling his way to the end, leaving a trail of broken jury members in his wake. For the second time in a row, Russell Hantz hand-picked a person to go up against in the final three that he had no respect for, thinking that no jury would give her their vote. For the second time in a row, Russell Hantz was wrong. Very, very wrong.
The first time Russell was at a live reunion, he lost seven votes to his two (with zero votes for third place Mick), reacting to the news by pleading with winner Natalie White to sell him the title of Sole Survivor while fighting back tears.
(As an aside, did Russell play all of Heroes vs Villains thinking that he had WON Samoa? He gives an oddly edited confessional in the HvV finale where he says his first time around, he brought two people to the finals that he thought he could beat and it didn’t work, but if he did know, how? The Samoa reunion and vote reveal hadn’t happened yet. Was it obvious from the jury? Did they tell him how they voted in the two weeks between Samoa ending and HvV starting? Did production let him know as a favour for going back-to-back (perhaps the same production person who supposedly tipped Parvati off that she should team with Russell)? Or was this a clever editing trick? If he did know, why does he seem to be processing this information for the first time during the Samoa reunion?)
With Heroes vs Villains, Russell knew long before the votes were read that he hadn’t won. The man may frequently be delusional about his own import in the game, but even he could clue in to the mood of the jury when their only questions for him were “You are a disgusting human being”, “Why are you a disgusting human being?”, and “Do you have any regrets about being a disgusting human being?”
So instead of red eyes and plans to buy what he couldn’t win, Russell Hantz came into the Heroes vs Villains reunion with a different plan of attack: to question the game of Survivor itself. It wasn’t Russell who was at fault for his back-to-back losses. Oh no no no… you see, “the game is flawed”.
If juries couldn’t see how amazing Russell Hantz is, then they shouldn’t get to pick the winner of Survivor. AMERICA should have a say. After all, America isn’t made up of bitter losers who can’t stand to lose to true masterminds like Russell Hantz. No, they are impartial observers who get all the information they need to make a decision of worthiness based on 42 minutes a week given to them of a three day period. Sure, the nine people who were there each decided that Russell was worthy of a grand total of none of their votes, but America knows.
As ridiculous as Russell’s comments were, he was merely giving voice to what had previously been a widely held opinion among Survivor fans: bitter juries frequently crowned undeserving winners. I’m not proud to admit that there may have been a time or two when I felt that way myself (The Australian Outback, All-Stars). This was absolutely the dominant belief coming off of Samoa when Russell lost the first time: that Russell deserved to win, Natalie did nothing, but that jury was too bitter to admit it. (Although there were those who rejected that line of thinking, including NPR’s Linda Holmes, former recapper of Survivor for Television Without Pity, who published an article following the Samoa finale that helped solidify what I had already come to believe: the person who deserves to win Survivor is the person who wins Survivor).
Which is why it’s Russell losing Heroes vs Villains that makes our list, not Russell losing Samoa. Fans of the show, even future players of the show, could dismiss the Samoa result as unjust. They could even be forgiven for doing so given the way Russell dominated the edit, with the show going out of its way to frame every decision as Russell’s when they clearly weren’t. But for him to go out a second time, play the exact same way- against the greatest collection of characters and players the show has ever assembled- and get the same result (worse, really)? No serious observer of the show could view that rejection and come to any other conclusion- the problem lies with Russell. Not the jury. Not the game.
What we learned watching Russell get soundly rejected for a second time is that the jury isn’t a capricious, inconvenient part of the game: they are the freaking scoreboard of the game! There’s no such thing as being great at Survivor while being bad at juries. If you can’t create conditions where a jury will vote for you, then you are playing Survivor wrong. Full stop.
Credit where credit is due: Russell Hantz may very well be the most effective tactician in Survivor history (or at least was at the time of Heroes vs Villains. He may have been surpassed by someone I’ll be writing about very soon). In Heroes vs Villains especially, if Russell Hantz wanted someone gone, they typically were in short order. But tactics aren’t strategy. And any strategy that disregards the feelings and opinions on the people who will be deciding the victor of the game is a bad strategy.
The important thing to remember about Russell is that he didn’t just beat people in Survivor: he rubbed their faces in it. He was awful to them until he could get rid of them, and then even worse once he did. He wasn’t just a cutthroat player, he was an awful person to be around. He made at least one member of the jury cry on her way out due to his treatment (Danielle). They didn’t know it, but he even spent the Rites of Passage trashing them for the benefit of Sandra and Parvati and their families watching at home.
Now think to yourself: how quick would you be to reward someone like that? Pretend you were in charge of who got promotions and raises at your job. You have a co-worker who sure does bring in a lot of business, maybe even the most, but makes every day at your job a living hell and undermines you and all your friends at every turn. You’re even pretty sure he steals your lunch from the fridge and hides your things. Do you vote him employee of the year? Give him a million dollar bonus? If the answer is yes, you’re fucking lying.
Among serious fans, this is no longer a discussion. Russell Hantz lost Survivor because he fundamentally misunderstands what Survivor is. You can’t be a good strategist but a poor social player, because being a poor social player is a bad fucking strategy. The social game isn’t a part of Survivor, it is Survivor.
We get that now. Russell sitting at a reunion blathering on about a “flaw in the game” taught us that. It forced us to immediately dismiss players who were clearly alienating future jurors as serious threats to win (Note from personal experience: You should probably wait until more than one episode has aired to make this assessment. Just a tip). It also forced us to go back and re-assess winners from the past and what they did well (like Tina, Amber, or even Natalie White).
Moreover, instead of giving future players a roadmap of how to dominate Survivor by causing chaos Russell-style, his back-to-back jury rejections ensured that the name “Russell Hantz” would become synonymous with players as “someone who could never win in front of jury”. As in, “I don’t want to be viewed as another Russell Hantz”. Amanda Kimmel may have lost in two straight final tribal councils, but she lost at final tribal council. Russell lost long before he got there.
Jury management has always been an essential part of Survivor. By being thoroughly rejected by a jury, Russell Hantz ensured that everyone knew it.
What Else Made the List?
You can view all our 30 from 30 content by clicking here.
Favourite seasons: Heroes vs Villains, Cook Islands, Palau, The Amazon, Cagayan
Favourite players: Boston Rob, Kim Spradlin, Tony Vlachos, Cirie Fields, Yul Kwon, Rob Cesternino
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