Exclusive: Russell Hantz talks about his 'Survivor: Samoa' "upset"
By Christopher Rocchio, 12/21/2009
Russell Hantz feels he is the victim of the "worst upset in reality TV history."
The 36-year-old oil company owner from Dayton, TX finished as Survivor: Samoa's runner-up during last night's finale broadcast of the long-running reality series -- losing by a 7 to 2 jury vote to his closest ally in the game, Natalie White.
On Monday, Russell talked to Reality TV World about if he was confident after the final Tribal Council; why he attempted to buy the title of "Sole Survivor" from Natalie; if he wishes he had taken a more contrite and apologetic approach with the jury; and what prevented him from playing more of a social game.
Reality TV World: You expressed a lot of confidence heading into the final Tribal Council, however you looked incredibly nervous right before [host Jeff Probst] read the votes during the reunion show. At that point, were you still confident you would win?
Russell: I knew I didn't win.
Reality TV World: Okay, so how did you know?
Russell: Because after the votes at Tribal -- I'm just able to read people well -- once I started down the steps I started putting everything they said, everything that I believed, and I was able to know exactly who they were going to vote for.
If you watched the tape, when [Jeff tells me], "That's two votes," I turn to her and said, "That's all." I knew I was going to only have two votes. I knew the only people that would vote for me was [John Fincher], because he's a strong man, and [Shannon "Shambo" Waters], because she's a strong woman.
Reality TV World: So you knew you didn't win, but is it safe to say you still believed you should have won?
Russell: I should have won. That was the worst Tribal, the worst group of people in history. That is the worst upset in reality TV history. It's just terrible.
I took Foa Foa all the way on my back -- the entire group. I go to the merge and while I'm doing everything, they're so weak and everything that they don't anything while I'm running trying to do this, trying to do this by myself.
They're out there sun tanning on the beach and talking about how to make moon pies and fried chicken. I'm doing all the work. That's their social game. Their social game is let me do it and they can go ahead. But if I don't do it, I'm going home.
Reality TV World: Do you think Natalie's victory was based more on the jury being upset with you and not wanting to vote for you or them actually wanting to vote for her?
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Russell: Everybody -- almost everybody -- told me they made a mistake on their vote.
Reality TV World: And that was after the live reunion show?
Russell: [Erik Cardona] told me he made a mistake on the vote. [Brett Clouser] told me he made a mistake on the vote. [Kelly Sharbaugh] said she made a mistake. And I got two votes -- that's five right there.
Reality TV World: Do you know what the point of [Jaison Robinson's] jury question was? At first it looked like he was going to expose the fact you were a millionaire and claim you didn't need the money but then he ended it by saying none of your guys really needed the money and told everyone that they should based their votes on something else.
Russell: I didn't understand it. Did you?
Reality TV World: Not really, that's why I was asking you.
Russell: I didn't get it either. He was trying to bring up the fact that I made money. He was trying to bring it out without saying, "Don't just vote on money." Because he knows he would sound [bad] because his daddy's very rich. He just knew how stupid he would sound. That's my opinion.
Reality TV World: What was the point of your attempt to buy the "Sole Survivor" title from Natalie, did you really would have been the same as actually winning the competition?
Russell: I wanted her just to say that I was the "Sole Survivor." I wanted to hear her say that I played a better game than her. I think a lot of people are pissed off that I didn't win this game, and I think she would have gotten more respect from everybody if she would have said, "You played a better game than me. They voted for me, but you played a better game. I have to give you credit."
But she can't give me credit. She thinks -- she actually thinks -- that she played just as strong a game as me. That is just crazy to think that.
Reality TV World: Your strategy during the final Tribal Council didn't work, but do you think there was anything you could have said to the jurors -- like maybe being more contrite and apologetic for your actions -- that would have convinced them to vote for you?
Russell: No way. (laughing) I could have sat there and sucked on [Laura Morett's] toes and she wouldn't have voted for me. It just wasn't happening.
I wanted to do it just like I did it. The speech was wonderful. As I'm watching, I'm like, "Man, I'm just so focused." In my speech I was breaking it down for them. "This is what happened, this is what I did -- let me tell you because I know it hit you so fast you might not remember, so I'm going to let you know how this went down." So I broke it down for them. It didn't matter.
Reality TV World: Why were you originally so confident heading into the final Tribal Council? Weren't you concerned that the jurors would have an ax to grind against you since you played a significant role in each of them being eliminated?
Russell: Yeah. Somebody asked me if I think I played too hard. I might have played too hard. I might have done too much because it mad them look stupid. They ain't looking stupid, they ain't voting for me. Every single one of them -- at one point on the show -- they show them saying that they would vote for me if they were on the jury.
[Monica Padilla] did it on the beach with Brett when they were talking to Jaison, Jaison said, "I'm really starting to like this guy." He told me I was one of the best players in history. [David Ball] said it when he got voted off, "I underestimated him. He's a strong player."
They all said it at one point in time that they would vote for me, but when it comes down to it, they didn't. I think if you can get a knife stabbed in your back and you can vote for the person that did it because he played a better game, that's a strong person. It's hard to do, it's not easy. But if you could do that, then my hat's off to you.
Reality TV World: How do you respond to the argument that not voting you the winner basically seems to boil down to the fact that putting the jury members out of the game in a way in which they're still willing to vote for you or patching things up with them during the final Tribal Council is a big part of "outplaying" everyone?
Russell: That won't ever happen. Not with me.
Reality TV World: Okay, so it sounds like you never really considered that.
Russell: I don't need the money. I ain't going to go out like that unless I really mean it, unless I want to do it because I mean it.
Reality TV World: Is there some reason why you didn't work more on the social side of the game?
Russell: People keep asking me that. My social game... Just think about my social game. I've got Natalie under control, I've got Mick under control, and Jaison. Every single one of the Foa Foas. They all trusted me because of my social game. You just see [the confessionals], they're not hearing none of that stuff. My social game was just as good as my strategic game.
Reality TV World: What about a social game with the former Galu members? Considering they were going to be part of the jury, why didn't you work on that more?
Russell: The only problem with that is my teammates weren't doing anything, they were trying to get the social game and I had to try to work -- I had to go to work. We were going home if I didn't do something.
Reality TV World: During last night's reunion show you said that you didn't have any regrets about your "dumb-ass girls" alliance. Do you really feel that way, especially since, as Jeff pointed out, one of those girls ended up beating you?
Russell: My "dumb-ass girls" alliance, that's like hooking up with a girl -- she won't ever vote for you. Do I regret the statement?... I don't want to disrespect. I'm real close with Natalie and all of them. I'm close to every single one of them in my "dumb-ass girls" alliance. They're cool girls. [Ashley Trainer] and Natalie, those are two of my girls now.
I've talked to them, we've talked about it. I can't say that I regret it. I wouldn't say that in the real world, but I'll say it in a game where we're in a fantasy world.
Reality TV World: Several previous Survivor winners have been coattail riders, so why were you so certain that would be a strong enough argument to beat Natalie?
Russell: Because my game was -- I knew it as it was happening -- that it was history-making. It was one of the biggest strategic games in history. I thought I played so well, you couldn't deny it. You couldn't deny me.
Reality TV World: Natalie also seemed to have the advantage of having a pretty close relationship with some of the Galu women who were on the jury. Were you ever worried about that?
Russell: I wasn't worried about Natalie at all. The good thing about her, she was very trustworthy. I seen it. Natalie didn't find me, I got her. When I seen what kind of girl she was, I wanted to align with her. But that same day I aligned with almost every single one of the other girls.
Reality TV World: Unlike Natalie, you had said that you were worried that Mick might actually be able to beat you in the jury vote. Why was that?
Russell: How come he didn't get any votes? He had a social game and he did way more work at camp and he was better at physical play. But he didn't get any votes. That's because the girls got together at Ponderosa and they wanted to vote Natalie. They didn't want a guy. Natalie was the one they wanted out of that group.
Reality TV World: When Jeff polled the jury during the reunion show, it looked like you would have won had you decided to take Jaison and Shambo to the Final 3 -- but do you really believe that, or do you think the jurors still would have gone a different route?
Russell: No way. They would have went a different route. They raised their hands because they don't want the world to see... They want the world to see, "Oh, I would have voted for him. He would have been the best player then." They wouldn't have. It wouldn't have happened.
Reality TV World: Before Brett won his third Immunity Challenge, you told Natalie that Jaison and Mick wanted her to go home next if Brett won the Final 5 Immunity Challenge, but then you turned around and fought to keep her once Brett won. Were you surprised that Jaison and Mick were suddenly seemed to be so willing to vote for each other instead of her?
Russell: That's how good my social game is.
Reality TV World: It seemed hard to believe that either Brett or yourself really thought you were being sincere you made your Final 3 deal with Brett before the final Immunity Challenge. Did you ever really consider taking Brett to the Final 3?
Russell: No way.
Reality TV World: Do you think he would have honored it?
Russell: Nope, because I would be his only competition. He would have thought -- just maybe -- Russell played so well. That would have been in his head. He wouldn't have took me.
Reality TV World: How were you cast for Survivor: Samoa and was it your first time applying for the show?
Russell: It was my first time applying for the show and I applied for Pirate Master and they called me for Survivor: Samoa.