Wednesday, May 19, 2010

In defence of Russell part 1: Russell Hantz destroys Survivor for everyone

Please note: this post will be of no interest unless you watch Survivor...

Whatever you feel about reality television, it sure is enduring. The current season of Survivor that concludes tomorrow in Australia is its twentieth season which is incredible. However, I am of the belief that this season will finally put an end to the series, not literally – I’m sure it will continue for a few more years with increasingly diminishing returns but Survivor has reached its logical conclusion by virtue of one player – Russell Hantz or Evil Russell as he has better known in Australia.

Survivor is an interesting game in that it plays on the dynamics on individual players and puts them under incredible moral strain – inevitably the good will do something that compromises their values in order to move closer to the million dollar prize. And let us not forget, this is what the game is about - a slow crawl towards money. This is a game that rewards immorality, manipulation and deceit. This is why Russell is, to me at least, the logical conclusion of Survivor – here is a player who deals solely in immorality, manipulation and deceit. He didn’t get there through circumstance or the game – he entered Survivor fully aware of that was the game was played. He controlled the game from the moment he stepped on the island in Samoa in season 19. He actively made life miserable for his team, played people against each and removed contestants at will. He showed a level of initiative that now (after his performance in two seasons) seems to reveal all other players as amateurs – why after the show was on TV for so long that no other player had shown the insight to actively look for immunity idols as well as form complicated alliances that were weaved so tightly that there was barely any chance that he would be voted out. Russell Hantz is the ultimate survivor player.

Now I’m sure there is some debate about this but I think Russell effortlessly made his way into the final three in Samoa through audacity, cunning and at times, luck, but I tend to think he was so skillful in playing people against each other that the other players didn’t really have a clue what was going on half the time. Seriously, people were genuinely shocked by how he played but to me everytime he was on television, the screen lit up and he gave us one of the most beguiling and complex performances of modern reality television. Further, the next season – the Survivor all star Heroes vs Villains provided definitive proof that Russell was no pretender to the crown. At this point Russell had just finished Samoa and was drafted onto the next show almost immediately. Even though you could see exhaustion and cracks beginning to show, he was playing against some of the most seasoned played in the game and still made it to the final three again. Boston Rob, arguably one of the best players in the series, was side swiped early by Russell much to his disgust – Boston Rob was certain Russell was going home that night.

Sure, Russell could at times be an ugly bully and spiteful at the expense of his game plan but he effortlessly won both series by my vote. The problem with the format is that the jury that decides the winner is made up of contestants that have already been ousted – mainly by Russell. In this forum, his style of play will never win. But if these players could see beyond their own emotional reaction to their relationship with him and look at the situation pragmatically it comes down to this – if the motto of the program is to outplay, outwit and outlast your competitors, I’m sure that all would agree that Russell ran rings around them. And if they don’t, then they obviously don’t understand the dynamics of Survivor and SHOULD have been voted out anyhow.

So why do I find all this interesting? To me, it seems that Survivor was building to this point - that somehow in the 18 seasons leading up to this, it would create the ultimate player and unless they significantly change the game, I can't see how Survivor will survive Russell. No future player could play the game this way as any contestant worth their salt would have studied Russell's every move and be revealed quickly. Further, even if they did transparently borrow from Russell's game plan, it is hard to imagine anyone being able to replicate the bravado, sheer cheek and cunning that he displayed. To me, any future Survivor players would be living in Russell's shadow and it's hard to imagine that anyone could play the game as well or be so entertaining doing it. By Survivor allowing the ultimate competitor to take part in the game, it's hard to imagine that it can continue much further because every strategy and possible future direction has been usurped by a single player. Survivor never jumped the shark, the shark came looking for it.

So hat's off to Russell, no doubt the ultimate survivor who I think will lead to the end of the show itself and if you think about it, is pretty amazing.



  1. Hey I watched Survivor occasionally during early series and even found myself knowing some of the names and enduring the finales. However Channel 9's promos of Series 19 with Evil Russell in the fore put me right off. I didn't even watch 5 minutes of Serie 19 nor of Heroes Vs Villans. My loss I guess. Oh well.

  2. Hey Steve, if you've ever enjoyed Survivor (and I must admit I have), then if you can ever catch that series on repeat, it's worth watching. The reason nine went so hard was because Russell was the only reason to watch - his performance was just phenomenal and he just embraced the whole concept of Survivor in a way that no other person has done.