‘Survivor: Samoa’ Runner-Up Interview: Russell Hantz

It used to be when someone would perform an Olympic-style high jump, they would go over one leg at a time. That is until Dick Fosbury revolutionized the sport with his back-first Fosbury Flop. Today everybody utilizes Fosbury’s method.

Nowadays it seems foolish not to have an alliance in “Survivor.” But it didn’t before Richard Hatch owned the original competition. It seems crazy not to whittle down your alliance as you move later into the game. But it didn’t before Rob Cesternino carved up “Survivor: Amazon.” And, before “Survivor: Samoa” it seemed downright ludicrous to look for an immunity idol without a clue. But it doesn’t now that “Evil” Russell Hantz has been able to do it…twice.

Love him or hate him, the game of “Survivor” will never be the same thanks to this bold, brash player. I spoke with Russell the morning after his disappointing finale to find out why he thinks he’s the Michael Jordan of “Survivor,” how (and when) he knew he wasn’t going to win the million dollars, and which player still holds a major grudge…

Gordon Holmes: How’s it going?
Russell Hantz:
Am I being taped?
Gordon: You certainly are.
Russell: (Laughs) Well, then I won’t say! That’s how I’m doing.
Gordon: Now, I’m a big believer in “All’s fair in love and ‘Survivor.’” And however the jury votes is how they vote. But, you were robbed.
Russell: Thank you for that. And I’m not a big fan of that, because almost every jury member has told me they made a mistake.
Gordon: Really?
Russell: Yes. So, if they’re saying they made a mistake, does that mean that that weak person made their decision when their heart was broke? And it’s a double-edged sword. The people I was dealing with were so weak out there that they were easy to control. But when you’re dealing with someone that weak and you put them on the jury, they’re too weak to give you the vote. So, what can you do? I got cast with a bunch of losers. I might have won that game with any other season.

Gordon: Now as one “Survivor” fan to another, don’t you have to take the jury’s feelings into account when you’re playing the game? That sometimes you’ve got to massage egos or play nice to win votes?
That’s the social game. Does Russell have a social game? Hell yes, I do. Look at what I did. Everybody watches and they say to themselves, “How the hell are Jaison, Mick, Natalie, and Shambo doing everything Russell says?” Every single person I got rid of on Foa Foa was because of my extremely good social game. So, I did have a social game out there, I had a strategic game out there, I had a physical game out there. I still lost the game. I was robbed more than any other player in history.

Gordon: During the final tribal council, Erik went off on an odd bender. He kinda said, “Mick, you didn’t do anything so I’m not voting for you. And Russell, you played a deceitful game so I’m not voting for you.” Then, he goes and votes for Natalie because she played under the radar. How is what Natalie did any different from what Mick did?
I didn’t get him at all. Cause he was pumping his fist every time I got somebody out of there. He’s acting like I’m the man, he’s winking at me, shaking his head “Yes.” I don’t get that. I was shocked when I didn’t get his vote. And he gave his vote to the weakest girl that ever made it to the finals besides Amber (Brkich – from “Survivor: All-Stars”) and you know what? The same thing happened to her.
Gordon: Yeah, Boston Rob played a dominating game, and they gave her the million because they disagreed with his methods.
Russell: Well, he played an OK game.
Gordon: He didn’t play a Russell-level game. We’ll put it that way.
Russell: And I knew that I was losing. I can read people so well I knew what was going to happen. So, I set up a Web site, russellgotscrewed.com.
Gordon: Yeah, I’ve already been there.
Russell: What?!
Gordon: Yeah, someone sent me the link this morning.
Russell: Wow, thanks.
Gordon: And which charity does a portion of that money go to?
Russell: St. Jude’s.

Gordon: At what point did you know that you weren’t going to win?
I knew I wasn’t going to win before they even started reading the votes. I knew how many votes I was going to get because I knew who was going to vote for me. I knew that John and Shambo would vote for me. After the second vote I said, “That’s all.” And that was it. And if you watch the tape, I am really upset because I play so hard. I put my heart and soul into that game. And when Kelly came up to me, she almost started crying when she sees me. Because she knows I should have been the one who won that game.

Gordon: Any hard feelings toward Natalie at all?
None at all. I love Natalie.

Gordon: Did the cast express any hard feelings?
Yeah! Jaison is still pissed off about his socks. His fifty-cent socks!

Gordon: Jeff Probst and I did a piece on a hypothetical “Survivor” Hall of Fame. And I chose to pick players that changed the way the game is played. I went with Richard Hatch, Rob Cesternino, and Jonny “Fairplay” Dalton. I’d add a fourth to that list now, as I feel the game won’t be the same now that you’ve played it.
It’s totally different forever.
Gordon: There will never be a situation again where someone just sits around camp when there could be a hidden immunity idol out there.
Russell: What Michael Jordan is to basketball is what Russell Hantz is to “Survivor.”

Gordon: Was your fan vote victory any kind of consolation to you?
That was amazing, man. That helped me a whole lot because Natalie didn’t even get nominated for that fan vote. So, obviously they didn’t think she played at all. It made me feel really good that the fans respect the game, and that’s what makes me happy. I was really upset that I didn’t win the title. But that helped a lot.

Gordon: How do you want to be remembered as a player?
I asked (“Survivor” Producer Mark) Burnett to say one day, on live TV, that Russell Hantz is the best player to ever play the game. There’s only one in a million…maybe bigger odds than that. I want to be remembered as the best, not even an argument, the best of all time.

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