His social skills may have been severely lacking, but strategically speaking, Russell Hantz owned the game of Survivor like never before his first time out. The question now is: Can he do it again in Heroes Vs. Villains? And against much better competition? Well, he does have one enormous advantage that no returning player has ever had before: None of his fellow all-stars had seen him play or had any idea who he was when he showed up for a second go ’round. Russell is not the first player to partake in back to back seasons. Rupert appeared in both Pearl Islands and All-Stars, and Amanda and James did China and Micronesia, but in both those cases about half of their first season had already aired when the second one started filming. (Stephenie and Bobby Jon, meanwhile, appeared back to back in Palau and Guatemala, but their full season had aired before they returned for a non all-stars round 2.) The other players may not have known how Rupert, Amanda, and James finished their first time out, but they at least had some sort of idea who they were up against. Not so with Russell. In an effort to cut costs, Survivor seasons are now being shot back to back at the same location with about three weeks of downtime in between as opposed to three months. That means Heroes Vs. Villains started filming at the start of August (before Samoa began airing) instead of the start of November. [The evidence that proves Russell will not win, plus a video chat between Russell and Jenna Morasca after the jump.]
That unfamiliarity gives Russell a huge edge in that no one saw him searching out hidden immunity idols from day one; no one saw him making and breaking alliances with every single female on his tribe; no one saw him coming up with phoney baloney backstories and burning socks. As Russell told Jenna Morasca in Los Angels before the game: “I have a huge advantage, because they don’t know who I am. If they knew who I was, I guarantee you, I’d be first gone.” He’s right, too. You’d have to be a grade A moron to see how Russell played in Samoa and not want him off the island immediately. Instead, in my pre-game interviews the only person who seemed even remotely worried about Russell and knowing so little about him was Colby, who referred to him as a “stranger danger.”(Incidentally, Russell is the only player I was unable to interview on location before the game began because CBS put him on a press lockdown since his first season had not already aired. It’s probably for the best since Jenna is a lot nicer to look at than I am. Check the video below to see for yourself.)
And judging by what I saw at the Villains camp on day two, Russell was already up to his old tricks. I saw him and Danielle spend a lot of time together talking on a bridge, and then later again down on the beach. He appeared to be working her the exact same way he worked Natalie, Ashley, Marissa, and Betsy early on in Samoa. Taking all of this into consideration, there is no reason to think Russell can’t have another nice long run on Heroes Vs. Villains. But he won’t win. That became painfully obvious by his demeanor at the Samoa finale. The guy looked like someone had shot his dog (the same dog he left to die in the post-Hurricane Katrina flooding, perhaps). The fact that he was so despondent over his loss to Natalie tells me that he considered that to be his one true shot to win the coveted (at least by him) title of Sole Survivor, and that things didn’t work out as well in Heroes Vs. Villains. Either Russell is an actor of Robert De Niro proportions or he’s telling us not-so-subtly that he already missed his big chance.
Of course, he knows that now that the game is over, but before Heroes Vs. Villains kicked off he was as cocky as ever, going on about how he was gonna play Boston Rob like a fiddle. “Boston Rob is gonna think that I’m riding his coattails,” he told Jenna, “and then I’ll get rid of him whenever I want to get rid of him. I’m gonna let him think the way I want him to think. I’m the one controlling his mind. He ain’t even controlling it!” Maybe Russell will control a good part of the game, maybe he won’t. But the guess here judging by his post-game body language is that he will not win it.
To see whom Russell was planning to align with once the game started, check out the video below. (And to enjoy interviews with all the Heroes and Villains, head over to our action packed Survivor video hub.) This is the 10th in a series of daily profiles. If you missed our first nine, there are links to all those players below the video. Up next on Monday: Stephenie LaGrossa. Oh, and for Survivor scoop delivered directly to your virtual door, follow me on Twitter @EWDaltonRoss. Okay, take it away, Russell…
Image Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS