Exclusive: Russell Swan talks about 'Survivor: Samoa' evacuation
By Christopher Rocchio, 10/23/2009
Russell Swan claims he didn't no how bad the situation was until he watched last night's Survivor episode.
That's when the 42-year-old attorney from Glenside, PA realized that medics had no choice but to medically evacuate him -- making him the seventh castaway eliminated from Survivor: Samoa during last night's broadcast of the CBS reality series.
On Friday, Russell talked to Reality TV World about why he was initially "pissed" about the decision to take him out of the competition; why he regrets being so "belligerent" with host Jeff Probst and the show's medical team; how being elected Galu's tribal leader on Day 1 threw off his entire strategy; and why he was so out of the loop that it hindered the social aspect of his game play.
Reality TV World: Last night's episode showed you being pretty adamant about not wanting to being pulled from the competition. How did what was shown on last night's broadcast match up with your own memory and awareness of what was happening -- were you fully aware of how serious the situation seemed to be?
Russell: Not at all. I was in a completely alternate reality. They don't match up at all -- they're miles apart.
In my mind's eye yes, I was tired from pushing that ball because it was heavy. Yes, I was winded. I took a knee, I hit myself with the maze. I went down on the ground. I needed a breather, a drink of water. I'm fine. To me, they waited 10 minutes and axed a brother out of the show. And I was pissed! You mean to tell me you won't let a brother... Give me another three minutes! What are you people doing?!
Then I'm sitting on the couch watching this black guy who looks just like me almost die. I thought, "Wait a minute. I know editing is powerful, but I don't think they can create things." I have no clue of what it is I'm sitting there watching because that is definitely not what I remember at all.
Reality TV World: So at the time, you really thought you were fine and could have continued?
Russell: Oh yeah. I thought they were just being hyper-sensitive -- this way overabundance of caution. I'm telling you, I gave these doctors a hard time. I was like, "Are you kidding me? Let's go! Let's finish this thing! I'm just winded. What are you people doing!"
Reality TV World: It looked like the second time they tried to sit you up to see if you'd pass out again that it was a test to see if you'd be able to continue in the competition. Was that the case? Did the medics give you the impression that there was a chance you might be able to continue?
Russell: Yes, absolutely -- and that was the whole thing. Let's sit him up, let's see what his blood pressure does. I heard [Survivor medic Ramona Salins] saying something about blood pressure. But I'm just like, "Look, take this cuff off and let's go. I want none of this. You Dr. Ramona, I love you -- you're cute -- but get back over to the side, let's put the blindfolds on and let's go!"
Dude, I was in total warrior mode. I wasn't hearing it. If I've got to die, I've got to die. That was my thing. I'd rather die than not finish.
Reality TV World: I think you already mentioned this, but last night's broadcast was the first time you actually saw what happened?
Russell: That is correct.
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Reality TV World: How did you and your family react to seeing last night's show?
Russell: (whistles) Now let me tell you, something in the back of my mind told me, "Don't let your daughter watch this." She's only 6-years-old. So we didn't let her watch. But my wife and I were sitting there, and my wife saw -- we call it "the eye moment" -- when they sit me up and I fall back down and the eyes just go into nothingness basically.
My wife started bawling. She was like, "You're dead! You're dead!" I was sitting there slack jawed like, "My goodness! That's me?" So I grabbed her and we hold onto each other. I get her through that and I'm just like, "Wow!" That was intense.
Reality TV World: During your confessional at the end of last night's episode, you seemed to have made peace with the decision to pull you from the game. Was that the case? Did you eventually come to the realization that there was no way you could continue?
Russell: I made peace with it, but I didn't think there was no way I could continue until last night.
Reality TV World: Okay...
Russell: I just made my peace with it like, "Well, things happen. Sometimes things are out of your control. That's the way life is. There's peaks and valleys, and this is a valley for me. So pull yourself up and dust yourself off and keep moving." That was my side until I saw last night. (laughing) They made the right decision.
Reality TV World: What happened after you were taken away from the challenge site? How long did it actually take you to recover?
Russell: Here's where I don't trust my memory because to me, they take me off, I go to some clinic-like place and they're trying to help me -- I'm being completely belligerent. To me, it just seemed like it was 10 minutes and I was totally fine. In my mind I'm walking around... Really, it could have been two days and I'm flat on my back in a coma. (laughing) All I remember then is going to Ponderosa.
Reality TV World: When Jeff told you Galu needed to sit out four members for the challenge, John Fincher recognized you might have been too weak to participate. I understand you probably always feel a little weak out there due to the conditions, but how did you feel prior to the challenge? Weaker than usual?
Russell: I didn't feel anything. I didn't feel hungry. I didn't feel thirsty. I didn't feel tired. I felt hot -- because for the first time in like five or six days the sun decided it wants to come out and it's 100-plus degrees. But that's what the sun does, it makes you feel hot. So what's the big deal about that? I don't know what that was all about.
But I'm going to tell you, even if John had insisted I sit out, I wouldn't have. I'm the chief.
Reality TV World: Understood.
Russell: The chief can't sit out.
Reality TV World: Were you surprised that Jeff decided to call the challenge after the incident? I understand in the moment you weren't very aware of what was going on -- but did you think they should have restarted it from the beginning or just substituted someone else into your maze position or something like that?
Russell: My take was that they would restart it. Put the blindfolds back on. The balls were still... Well, I guess the balls were in the same position. I don't know. (laughing) I don't know what the hell was going on at all. But yeah, I was surprised until I saw the episode.
Reality TV World: Jeff very bluntly stated that last night's episode was the most scared he's ever been in the 10 years he's done the show. Considering some of the other medical emergencies on past seasons, does that surprise you?
Russell: It did. It totally surprised me, because again, I don't know what the heck he's talking about. I totally thought Jeff was blowing smoke. I really did. I thought it was just a way to try and appease me for taking me out, this abundance of caution stuff. I'm like, "Dude whatever. If it weren't for you, I'd do it." But now Jeff, I get it dude. I totally, totally get it.
Reality TV World: Were you surprised to be voted as Galu's tribal leader? Why do you think the other castaways chose to give you that position based on looks alone?
Russell: First of all, that was the first time I was pissed -- Day 1 I get voted chief. Damn! That's the last thing you want to have happen to you. I watch this show, I know how this thing is going to go. Not only will I have to battle against Foa Foa, but I'll have to battle against my own tribe because they're going to scrutinize every decision I make. And I'm going to have to battle against Jeff, who's going to try and find fodder for why I'm making stupid decisions. So I knew I was screwed. Why they chose me? I have no clue.
Reality TV World: So being elected chief messed up your initial strategy?
Russell: Yeah. I'm done. I have no idea what the hell to do. I just basically put my head between my own legs and kissed my ass goodbye. I figured being chief, it's only a matter of time before I make some big screw up and that'll be the reason why -- even if I'm a strong person on this team -- they're going to vote me out.
Reality TV World: How big of a role do you think your leadership played in Galu dominating Foa Foa? Why do you think there's seems to be such a wide gap between the two tribes?
Russell: It's really interesting. I have to give a lot of credit to my tribe members. They were just strong players. But I think mostly it was just the right combination of people and personalities. It just gelled well. I would love to take full credit and say, "Yeah! Brother did his chief thing! He laid it down! Those people knew what time it was, he laid it down!"
It was some of that, but it was a minor part [compared] to the players themselves. I think we just gelled. All of our strengths worked well together and all of our weaknesses didn't come together to make us lose.
Reality TV World: You seemed to take a lot of pride in being Galu's chief, and we saw during a few of the most recent episodes that some of your other tribemates thought you needed to calm down a bit. Do you think your approach to the leadership position -- all the extra work you were doing because of it -- contributed at all to your medical evacuation?
Russell: Absolutely. There's no question in my mind. I never stopped. When we got back from challenges, people would be flat on their butts. I can tell you everybody else was laying down, taking naps -- and I'm walking additional mileage collecting firewood, getting the water, getting somebody to help me fill the canteens, going fishing, coming back from fishing, getting more firewood. So it was just constant. I thought I was some kind of machine, but obviously human beings -- they will breakdown. They do.
Reality TV World: One of your only mistakes as chief might have been the most costly -- choosing to take the comfort items over the tarp. I know you only had five seconds to make the choice, but didn't it occur to you that a tarp had way more value to the tribe than luxury items?
Russell: In real life yes, in the game no. Because in real life the tarp plays a critical role. I go to a camping store, I'm not going to be like, "Get me some fluffy pillows, I'm about to take this 20 mile hike." But we're talking about a game here, not life.
So I was looking at these players, I see a lot of stuff going on. So I was making some strategic decision. Yes, maybe this is a sacrifice, maybe I'll lose a few pawns. But hopefully I can advance some other pieces and it will pay off for me later.
Reality TV World: Even though you guys had already been playing the game for 11 days by that point, you seemed surprised that people might have already formed some alliances when Erik Cardona approached you about how people were planning to vote Yasmin Giles off at your first Tribal Council. Were you really surprised that people had already formed alliances after almost two weeks in the game?
Russell: That's a good question. I really wasn't surprised because that's the game. I think I was more mad that because I was chief, I was so far out of the loop. I think that was more of the thing. I was so much further out of the loop than even I realized I was, and it just freaked me out that much more.
Reality TV World: Just to follow up on that, did you end up forming any alliances before you left the game, and what other Galu alliances had you become aware of by that point?
Russell: You know what, I didn't get a chance to form any alliances. By Day 13, I finally started to say, "Okay Russ, I think we're getting close to the merge." I knew [David Ball] was very smart and had his fingers in some things -- I wasn't sure how much because again, I was so far out of the loop.
But that's why I stuck with him, started having conversations with him to try and maybe start this social thing because I'm hoping the merge comes and I can just strip myself of this stupid chief thing and now game on. I can finally start playing the game that I came here to play.
Reality TV World: So were you aware of any other alliances?
Russell: Not a clue. That's what scared me -- I was so far out of the loop. Everybody was just smiling. "Oh chief, you're so great! Oh chief, let us wipe your butt! Oh chief, let us give you a back rub! Oh chief, oh chief, oh chief!" Then the whole time, they're walking off talking while I'm chopping wood. I had no clue.
Reality TV World: When we talked with Yasmin she said that although you were the tribe's official leader, Laura Morett was "definitely" the one who was actually running things at Galu. Do you agree with that?
Russell: I'm not surprised by that assessment and I don't think that's inaccurate. If I know for myself I can't say, because I really don't. But that sounds pretty accurate. [Laura] was the older woman that wasn't [Shannon "Shambo" Waters].
It could have been Shambo, but Shambo's just too Shambo to do it. So the other go-to person for the young people -- especially the young women -- was Laura. So that probably is accurate. But again, Chief was just so far out of the loop because he's got his head up his butt.
Reality TV World: Unless there's some sort of twist or Galu really tanks it in the next few Immunity challenges, it seems your tribe will have an advantage going into the merge. Do you see any scenario where they don't just pick off whichever Foa Foa members are still left at that time?
Russell: I can't imagine why not. I mean unless these people are just idiots, and we've seen it in past seasons -- people go up in numbers and they just self-destruct. There's no reason for them to do that. We've already seen an example for what happens when you do that. I don't know what the heck they're going to do.
Russell: That's a good question. It depends. Shambo can be driven is what I'll say. You can see that she plays the game real differently and on her terms. So the way she plays the game makes it easier for you to know where she's going to go. So even if they shouldn't trust her, they'll get a clue because she'll give it away, I think.
Reality TV World: Based on your previous "out of the loop" comments, I'm assuming you weren't aware that Erik had the Hidden Immunity Idol?
Russell: I had no clue, and I was pissed. Because again, Chief's gotta go do the challenge while he gets to go look for the damn Immunity Idol.
Reality TV World: How were you cast for Survivor: Samoa? Was it your first time applying for the show?
Russell: It was not, it was my eighth time applying. I was a big fan of the show since Day 1 and loved the fact that the eighth application was the charm.