30 from 30: #26 – Russell Hantz Finds an Idol without Clues

The Moment:

Russell Hantz finds a hidden immunity idol without a clue, to the delight of production.

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:

By the time Survivor: Samoa aired, there had been eight seasons of Survivor that featured a hidden immunity idol.  Six of those eight seasons featured Exile Island. One of the ways the show tried to keep the Exile Island twist interesting was by either having clues to immunity idols that were either hidden on Exile or back at camp. These idols were often buried or in otherwise difficult to stumble upon locations.

Yul Kwon with the idol he just unearthed. Oh, and look at that! He doesn't have a shirt on. How about that.
Yul Kwon with the idol he just unearthed. Oh, and look at that! He doesn’t have a shirt on. How about that.

The two previous idol seasons that did not use Exile Island were Survivor: Guatemala, which was the first season to feature a hidden immunity idol, and Survivor: China, which for the first time featured idols hidden in plain sight.

Given the way that idols had previously been hidden, it makes sense that discovering those idols has always required at least one clue. (At least in terms of what’s seen on the show. Parvati allegedly swam into an idol on accident in Survivor: Micronesia and didn’t bother bringing it with her because it would just cause unnecessary drama.)

That would change for Survivor: Samoa, and the effects were seen in just the second episode.

After just one episode airing, Russell Hantz is already seen as the villain and big character of the season, with Jeff Probst spelling Foa Foa’s problem R-U-S-S-E-L-L in the “Previously on Survivor” segment.

Despite already voting out a Day One ally and alienating another, Russell does have a trusted alliance partner in Jaison. Russell thinks Jaison is a good guy to have around because he’s calm and collected. Sidebar: Closed captioning disagrees with me, but I swear to god he says “collective” instead of collected, a la Rodney.

Frontman of the Cool Calm Collective
Frontman of the Cool Calm Collective

The day after their first Tribal Council, Russell approaches Jaison to discuss a theory. Russell thinks there’s an immunity idol hidden at their camp. He tells Jaison to keep this theory a secret. Russell admits he probably shouldn’t have said anything, but he trusts Jaison. Now, Russell didn’t just bring Jaison off into the jungle to say he thinks there’s an idol. No, he thinks they should look for it. Without a clue.

"You remember the part where there even being an idol at camp is just a theory, right Russ?"
“You remember the part where there even being an idol at camp is just a theory, right Russ?”

“If we could find that idol without any clues?” says Russell, “That would be wonderful.”

He says it with stars in his eyes.
He says it with stars in his eyes.

Jaison is a little doubtful, but Russell is all in, even giving a boastful confessional about just the idea of finding an idol without a clue.

If I could find that idol, that would be genius. In the history of Survivor, how many people have found an idol without a clue? Zero.

This is interesting for two reasons: One, it seems to be commonly accepted that Russell was not a prior fan of Survivor, yet he seems awfully confident about the fact that no one had found an idol without a clue. Two, as we remember from earlier in this post, finding an idol without a clue in many of the earlier seasons would have required actively ignoring clues and just digging randomly while hoping for the best.

But no matter, off Russell scurries to look for the idol.

Something something bandy legged troll
Is it here? Nope.
Is it here? Nope.

So Russell continues to search for the idol, and we continue to wonder if the Galu tribe is a figment of our imagination, when there’s a shot of a large tree with a cave at its base.

Significant tree
Tree of significance

So Russell starts looking there. But here’s the thing, this tree is right next to the main part of Foa Foa’s camp, and pretty much all of his tribe mates are around while Russell roots through the tree. Racist Ben asks Russell what he’s doing, and he straight up admits that he’s looking for the idol.

Although you try coming up with another reason to be doing this.
Although you try coming up with another reason to be doing this.

So now the Foa Foas gather around to watch Russell look for the idol.

And to think how smug Spencer was when he found an idol without Kass noticing.
And to think how smug Spencer was when he found an idol without Kass noticing.

Seeing nothing at the bass of the tree, Russell looks up into the hollow part of the trunk.

Well I'll be damned.
Well I’ll be damned.

And there’s an idol! Like it or not, Russell Hantz becomes the first castaway ever to find a hidden immunity idol without any sort of clue. But he’s still surrounded by his tribe mates, so he tucks it in his underpants (oh god, gross) and gets out of there.

He later shows Jaison the idol and the note that came with it.

Look! Russell with a friend! Of course, it's been a week.
Look! Russell with a friend! Of course, it’s been a week.

Jaison is happy the idol is on his side, but less thrilled that Russell is the one who has it. The producers, on the other hand, are thrilled. It’s a fresh moment for a show in it’s 19th season, and they really lean into it. Both Russell and hidden immunity idols dominate the rest of the season. Survivor: Samoa may as well be called Russellmania.

Actual Google Image result for "russellmania".
Actual Google Image result for “russellmania”.

The Impact:

Love him or hate it, Russell Hantz gave Survivor a shot in the arm. People were so entertained by the villain and his many idols that the show tried to recapture some of that magic. As we all know, they started that off by making Russell a focal point in Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains. Russell, of course, found another immunity idol sans clue, and there were many idol plays that season.

It’s no coincidence that Russell is not the only person to have found immunity idols without a clue. Gone are the days of the buried immunity idol, now it just seems to be the case of looking for a funky tree or rock formation.

By the third Russell Hantz season, everyone expected idols to be found without clues on Survivor: Redemption Island. Kristina Kell found one right away, becoming the first woman to find an immunity idol sans clue. Of course, Kristina wasn’t on Russell’s tribe, so she had more of a chance to find one than the Zapateras. Surely Russell would find an idol oh oops, Ralph Kiser was gathering rocks and look what happened?

You sure did, buddy.
You sure did, buddy.

Things reach an apex in Survivor: One World when all three immunity idols were found (by Sabrina, Kim, and Troyzan, respectively) without any clues. Perhaps seeing that it wasn’t exciting anymore, clues returned in Survivor: Philippines and managed to inject some drama into the game.

The short trend of no clues at all seems to have ended, but so far the show has not swung back to the point where it’s impossible to find without a clue. Most recently, Jenn Brown became the hero of the niche group of vegetarian Survivor fans (it can’t just be me, right?) when she both avoided watching a chicken get slaughtered and found an immunity idol.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner
Winner, winner, chicken dinner

Some hope that the show will start burying idols again so they’re not so easy to find. But the show wants idols in the game. The key will be finding the balance.


I know there were a lot of shirtless pictures of Russell in this. I’m sorry about that. It was pretty unavoidable. Allow me to present a peace offering.

You're welcome.
You’re welcome.

What Else Made the List?

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