Requisite apologies to non-watchers of the great show SURVIVOR. The finale aired Sunday night and this online document of mine would be incomplete without a statement.
The burning finale question:How did Russell Hantz know that he'd lost the previous season of SURVIVOR?
So the story goes, Russell had something like 9 days from the wrap of shooting SURVIVOR: SAMOA before he was recruited and choppered into SURVIVOR: HEROES VS VILLAINS. It would be many months later when he'd actually tape the live finale of SURVIVOR: SAMOA and be privy to the final tally of votes.
And yet—from the last episode of SURVIVOR: HvV—this quote from Russell before the final tribal council:
"You say you can do it but it's a lot harder than you really think. And I've done it. Twice. Day 39. Tonight I believe I have a good shot at winning this. Last season, I brought two people coz I thought I could beat em. Coz they were the weak players. And I didn't."
That one statement ("And I didn't!") provoked a pausing of the DVR and a lively argument over whether or not the producers would have told RH the results of the previous season before he would get to tape the live finale of that season
The opposing side insisted that what we had just watched HAD to be a statement taken out of context. There's no way in hell that the producers would've tipped off a contestant before a live finale.
Frankly, I don't think enough has been made of the fact that Russell went directly from one season of the show to the next with almost NO recovery time. While you can debate the advantages and disadvantages of none of the other All-Star players having seen his gameplay, a clear disadvantage for him was that he:a) didn't get time to physically/mentally recover
b) didn't get the opportunity to objectively watch his own gameplay and reassess for his next round
c) didn't definitively know whether he won or lost.
So, what's it going to be, then?
Was the statement he made taken out of context through editing? Did the producers tip him off at some point during the filming of HvV ("Hey, by the way, I peeked into the urn and you didn't get one damn vote for the way you played last season, asshole!")?
None of the above.
Excerpt from a post-finale interview with Hantz
Did you know you lost Samoa when you played Heroes vs Villains?
“Yeah. I knew I lost because you can read what they tell you and how things are going. It’s common sense to know that you did not win.”
I've got to say, from watching the tribal councils of both Samoa and HvV, it was
pretty clear that Russell didn't have a chance in hell of winning either season. There is no end to the shenanigans involved in assembling even the most respectable of these reality shows, but I'm willing to believe that Russell intuited that he'd lost the previous season by the way he was received during that tribal council.
Supporting that, during the final HvV tribal council, Russell makes a few comments about how all the jury members are looking at him as if he were the Antichrist. (My term, not his.)Another post-finale interview with Hantz.
So, SANDRA (of all people) is the one that ended up winning the season. Not even Parvati. It's funny how Russell got beat by women during both of his seasons—arguably two of the weakest women, both times. Natalie White was the portrait of a coattail-rider. And while Sandra was pretty good at skulking about and keeping her own throat from being cut, she didn't play as hard and fast and expertly as Parvati.
Yes, you could argue that Sandra won the million—the first time anyone has won "Sole Survivor" twice—and that's all that counts. She played twice, she won a million dollars both times, that's a good average.I think the debate gets fuzzy because people talk about SURVIVOR as if it were a sport. It resembles a sport. It has sports elements in it. But it's ultimately a reality show and reality shows thrive on surprises. The rules change for each new season of SURVIVOR, to keep contestants on their toes, to try to make things more dramatic. Each season is designed to defy the expectations of the players: this is not a sport that you can practice because a large factor is sheer luck.
All that said, there are clearly some brilliant moves and some bone-headed moves played in the game. And if you were to empirically score up the SOCIAL GAME, the PHYSICAL GAME and the STRATEGIC GAME played by the finalists—based on the hard video evidence—Parvati had to have decimated Sandra this season. Russell would have beaten her, too. If this were a sport where you could score technical points along the way. (Number of blind-sides executed, number of hidden immunity idols found, number of challenges won.) I think that THIS is what Russell was TRYING to articulate during the Live Reunion Show—he was claiming that the game was "flawed" because the American public doesn't get to vote, but I don't think that's the heart of it. (Though, to be fair, Russell did win the $100K audience favorite award BOTH TIMES HE PLAYED.) What I think Russell really would've liked would've been if SURVIVOR were judged like a boxing match. Counting the number of jabs.
People argue that Russell plays an awful social game. I'll argue (for Russell's sake) that the game is weighted far too much on the social aspect. That's how you get people like Sandra winning. Russell and Parvati executed some downright incredible maneuvers this season, and yet bitchy little Sandra ends up winning because... she and Courtney were BFFs? Because Sandra FAILED to get the Heroes on her side and someone like Rupert decided that THIS was a person who deserved to win the title?
You get my point. Look, I get it: jury systems suck. You let 12 Angry Losers pass judgement and innocent people end up on death row.Dalton Ross
has a good assessment:
The best final Tribal performer ever was probably Todd from China. He owned up to everything he did, but then told the jury members that he simply had to do it because they were all such great players that that was the only way he could beat them. He managed to stroke all their egos while still taking responsibility for everything he did. That is Russell's fatal flaw: He simply can't credit anyone else for anything.
This has been way too many words about the finale but I haven't even gotten to the part that fascinates me even more...SCENES FROM A PONDEROSA
Why, why, why am I so fascinated by these videos from the Ponderosa
I find them so fascinating because they're a natural extension of the show but they are so tonally different from the show. You get a far better sense of each person/character.
Courtney on the show... she just seemed like a useless, catty stick-bug grotesque. But in the Ponderosa videos... she came across as far more human. Even someone I'd enjoy partying with.
One of the things that makes a difference: the Ponderosa videos aren't as aggressively edited as the broadcast episodes. For obvious reasons, there's a lot less footage they're editing together for the Ponderosa pieces. There aren't a dozen interweaving narratives of people scheming. It's just people enjoying good meals, trying to suss out what happened and, honestly, simply enjoying each other's company.
One of the things I read about a lot in SURVIVOR interviews is how often people keep in touch with each other after the show. I'm personally fascinated by extended/surrogate families. Mainly because my own immediate family is so scattered to the wind, and I get a vicarious thrill out of watching other people enjoy each other's company. It's like emotional pornography. (If you count food pornography
, violence pornography and good old-fashioned regular pornography, I am quite the connoisseur.)
That's why I was so riveted by the Ponderosa Tapes. They offered a much deeper portrait of this drama.
And while Russell, Parvati and Sandra never got voted out, all three went to the Ponderosa after that last tribal council.
At the dinner table, someone
looked a bit left out...
And yet, for all the talk of freezing him out socially as soon as he got to the Ponderosa camp, people still welcomed him. They may not have given him the most enthusiastic hugs, but they didn't exactly leave him out in the cold.
For all the snappy editing and tv-ready monologues, the Ponderosa videos show these characters as human beings. Some more awkward than others. Some more bitter than others. Some more delusional than others. Some more sympathetic than others. This is why I watch.
FINAL RANDOM (RUSSELL) OBSERVATIONS
Sandra burning Russell's hat at the end provided an almost perfect narrative symmetry to Russell's arc. When we first saw him in SAMOA, he was burning people's socks. Sandra didn't even know about that.
Russell made some extremely misogynistic assessments about some of his competitors in SAMOA. Yet, through that season and this season, it's women who end up besting him.
In many interviews (including this last live finale), Russell talks about how he feels like he played one long season instead of two separate seasons, and that shows in his gameplay through the two seasons. Note that in HvV: he doesn't make up lies about being hit by Katrina, he doesn't go to great lengths to conceal the fact that he's an "oil tycoon" millionaire who doesn't really need the money. This could easily be due to editing but the fact that he doesn't need the money doesn't seem to be as much of a factor in an All-Star game when several of the players have previously won the million dollar prize.
Best Survivor Season Ever. I was slightly underwhelmed by the teaser for SURVIVOR: NICARAGUA—kind of hard to go back to a regular season of unknowns after the one-two punch of the past two Russell seasons. Hopefully, the casting people will come up with something to pique my interest... but you know what I really want to see...
SURVIVOR: BOSTON ROB VS. RUSSELL HANTZ!
39 DAYS.78 HIDDEN IMMUNITY IDOLS.
THIS SEPTEMBER, YOU'D BETTER PRAY THERE ISN'T A MERGE...
(I hate writing these long entries!)Russell and Parvati play cute with Dalton in the aftermath.
Labels: SURVIVOR: HEROES VS. VILLAINS