'Survivor' host Jeff Probst: "Nobody wanted Russell Swan to go home"
By Christopher Rocchio, 10/23/2009
Jeff Probst claims that while Russell Swan had already passed out twice and seemed incredibly disoriented by his surroundings, he still would have had an opportunity to avoid being medically evacuated from Survivor: Samoa if he could have recovered on the spot.
"Our doctors assured him that if his vitals came back strong they would allow him to stay in the game. Nobody wanted Russell to go home," wrote Probst in his Entertainment Weekly blog on Friday.
"When Russell passed out for the third time, I got very worried. Then his heart rate dropped 30 beats in less than a second. I was watching the heart rate monitor and when I saw it move from 97 to 68, I was honestly concerned that we were losing him. Forever. Even writing this brings back the same emotion."
Probst added that the Survivor medics "were not exaggerating or play acting when they started pounding on Russell's chest and repeating his name, asking him 'Russell, are you with us?'"
"It seemed to go on forever, his eyes not moving, not responding to anything," wrote Probst.
After that, Probst said it was determined that the 42-year-old attorney from Glenside, PA had to be medically evacuated from the competition -- making him the seventh castaway eliminated from Survivor: Samoa.
"Telling Russell he was being pulled from the game was difficult. I understood that he didn't want to quit. He was in a great position in the game and there was such a fire in his belly. Many people have been pulled from the game that didn't want to go, for some reason this one really got to me," explained Probst.
"What you didn't see was that after Russell pulled off his oxygen mask in frustration, he experienced a lot of different emotions, all of them completely understandable. He was extremely frustrated at me, at medical, and at production in general for pulling him from the game. He yelled. Then, he got quiet. Then, he cried. Finally, he prayed. It was extremely emotional and simultaneously beautiful. He was in a very vulnerable state and to be a witness as he processed the situation and made peace with it was an honor."
The incident began when the Galu and Foa Foa tribes arrived for a Reward Challenge and Probst explained regardless of who won, both tribes would be voting somebody out that night at Tribal Council.
"During the early stage of the challenge when they were pushing the sphere, I was completely unaware that Russell was struggling. I noticed he was tired but that is not unusual during a challenge and so I thought nothing much of it," wrote Probst.
"Even when they reached the maze, I noticed it taking him a long time to get himself over to the maze, but he was blindfolded and I am watching 13 other people, so once again I wasn't overly concerned because exhaustion is normal and in fact, the effort someone puts into a challenge is often a determining factor in whether they stay or are voted out."
Since Probst claims Swan "had always given 100%," he wasn't surprised "to see him exhausted."
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"It was when his head went down and stayed that it started to become clear that something wasn't right. But because he was blindfolded and I couldn't see his eyes, it was again very hard to determine if he was just tired or in some kind of real trouble," explained Probst.
In addition, Probst said it became clearer to him watching edited clips of the episode that "Russell was not doing well."
"I wish I had gotten there sooner. I can only tell you that from my vantage point, in the midst of everything going on -- 10 people running a challenge, four others on the sit out bench and a challenge to oversee -- he was only one of the things I was keeping an eye on," he said.
"As a result, I had no idea that he actually had already passed out for the first time while he was standing at the maze, but that is exactly what our doctors think happened. They think he had already passed out once before I even got to him."
Probst said the first rule when a castaway "appears to be in trouble" is to "give them the chance to save themselves or see if one of their tribemates can help them before we make any decision about sending in medical, safety, or our water rescue team."
"We do this because it is their game, their adventure and whenever possible we want them to make the decisions about their fate," he said.
"Let me be clear, we are watching them the entire time, they are never out of our sight, and our medical, safety and rescue teams are always on alert - but we would rather give the contestants every chance to handle it themselves before we move in to take over."
However in this instance, Probst said it happened so fast that he "didn't even consider waiting."
"I just instinctively called for medical to come in and get to work. Because our medical team is so well run they were prepared for someone to pass out or get injured even before the challenge began. That's what they do, they prep before the challenge about what could possibly go wrong so they are ready for it," wrote Probst.
"They knew dehydration could be a factor and so when Russell went down they had a plan in place and were helping Russell within seconds of me calling them in. As you saw, Russell said he was okay. and then immediately passed out again."
Probst said after he was informed by the medics that "Russell was going to require some major time-consuming attention," he made the decision to call off the challenge.
"It seemed the only decision that made sense," he explained.
"There was no way we were going to continue - it was clear Russell was going to require too much time and because both tribes were going to Tribal Council either way, it didn't seem to matter enough to consider an alternative. So we sent the tribes back to their camp and told them to await word."
Probst said he understands some viewers might not agree with his decision to call the challenge without letting it be completed -- however he saw no other way.
"For me it was the only call to make as Russell was the priority and that's that," he wrote bluntly.
Over the next 45 minutes, Probst said Swan's vital signs were monitored, and he also received water and oxygen.
"We propped him up and gave him time to try to relax and get calm," said Probst.
"During that time Russell and I talked about a lot of things. He was very worried that he would be pulled from the game. He was worried how he would be portrayed and what his family would think. He did not want to be seen as a quitter."
Probst said at this point he assured Swan that he would not be viewed as a quitter but was unsure if the castaway knew the severity of the situation.
"I explained to him that he had already passed out two times, but his recollection at that point was so foggy he didn't understand. He thought he was fine and was demanding to be put back into the challenge," wrote Probst.
"In fact, I don't think he even realized that everybody else had already been sent back to camp and the challenge called off."
This is when Swan passed out for a third time and was informed his Survivor: Samoa journey had ended.
"I'm guessing that Russell had no idea how bad it was until he saw the episode last night. I think he will be surprised at how serious it was and will realize that he is not a quitter and there was no other decision to be made other than to pull him from the game," wrote Probst.
Since Swan had been medically evacuated, Probst said it was time to make a decision on whether or not to follow through with the double elimination at Tribal Council.
"We gathered the creative team and the decision was made that due to the unprecedented canceling of the challenge, the medical drama, and incredibly difficult conditions the contestants had endured the past several days, the best move was to make a gesture of good will and spare them from voting anybody out," he wrote.
"Was it was the right move? Depends on your point of view. It was certainly not a 'clear-cut this is the only decision to be made' situation. We considered everything and we made what we believed to be the right call."
Similar to the way he's sure most fans disagreed with his decision to stop the challenge, Probst said he understands viewers were also probably upset that the double elimination was canceled.
"I'm pretty sure many of you reading this right now are saying, 'Hell yes I disagree. You should have voted people out. That's what Survivor does!' Well, not this time. Sorry," wrote Probst.
"One thing was very clear, the canceling of the vote did seem to lift their spirits. You could see them begin to re-energize once they heard the news. You saw the rivalry between the two tribes reignite."
Probst said this was "important" because if the castaways "lose their motivation to continue" the "show is in serious trouble."
"It's probably hard to appreciate how difficult this season has been, so all I can do is repeat what I've said many times - this is a very tough season added to an already very tough game," concluded Probst in his blog.
"Remember, we are not giving them food, we are not giving them water. We don't offer them dry clothes or help them start their fire. We were worried about their welfare and did not want anybody else to be evacuated and certainly didn't want anyone to decide to quit."