Survivor's Russell: "You Have to Love the Way I Played the Game"
Survivor: Samoa's Russell Hantz has been called everything from a liar and cheater to the biggest villain and possibly the best Survivor player ever. One title he couldn't nab during his 39 days on the island? The ultimate prize of sole survivor. In his aggressive game playing, Russell found hidden immunity idols without clues, sabotaged his own teammates and made alliances with many of his fellow players, only to break them at the first sign of weakness. While no one can criticize the 36-year-old Texan businessman for not trying hard enough, Russell lost the title to his underestimated ally, Natalie White, because many of his former competitors on the jury couldn't forgive his manipulation. In the end, Russell at least walked away with $100,000 for winning the fan vote as Survivor's Sprint Player of the Season, not that he needed the money. Already a millionaire, Russell may have wanted the pride of winning more than the $1 million payout that comes with it. Will he get another shot on Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains? Russell talked with TVGuide.com about his future plans, his surprise offer to Natalie during the reunion and which teammate he may try to pacify with his $100,000 prize.
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TVGuide.com: What are your emotions after losing to Natalie but also winning fan favorite?
Russell Hantz: I'm glad I won fan favorite. At least I know that the fans wanted me to win this game.
TVGuide.com: All season, people have been speculating that you may be one of the best players ever on Survivor. But was it surprising to win fan favorite?
Russell: No, it wasn't surprising. I knew that the fans loved me. If I wouldn't have won that, I would have been really upset. I wanted people to love my game. They don't have to love me as a person in the game but they have to love the way I played the game. If you respect the game, you have to love the way I played.
TVGuide.com: Did you have any inclination after the jury vote that you weren't going to win?
Russell: That's what I'm good at; I'm good at reading people. I knew I didn't win the game. I had a strong feeling I didn't win but it still took me when I heard it. Because I tried so hard; I already have a website called russellgotscrewed.com.
TVGuide.com: Was there anyone in particular the surprised you when it came time for the jury to speak and ask questions?
Russell: Yeah, Erik. Is that his name? Was there an Erik out there? [Laughs] Really, was there a Brett out there? We didn't hear about him until day 39. Erik surprised me because he said he was nothing like me ... One thing they didn't give Erik credit for was he found an idol without a clue. Erik's exactly like me. He's a snake just like me. He would have been a strong player in the game.
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TVGuide.com: You're a married father of four. How did you distinguish between who you are on the show and who you are in real life to your kids?
Russell: Well, that's why you didn't see my kids in the audience. When you watch the TV, I can explain it to them. When they see me live in person, they're won't understand that. I can't explain to them why I was so mean right there because they see me. The TV is easy. "Daddy is acting. Daddy is just playing the game. It's not real." I try to go that route with them.
TVGuide.com: Why or how did you decide to offer Natalie the $10,000 just to buy the title of sole survivor from her?
Russell: I just — right out of the blue — thought, I am going to offer her big money. But that just shows you how dumb she really is. Why don't you take $10,000 for a title on top of the million? It could have paid a little bit of her taxes. That's Natalie.
TVGuide.com: Looking back over the entire season, which alliance do you think helped you the most?
Russell: One thing about Natalie is I trusted her with my life. Natalie was a trustworthy girl. I knew she would do what I told her to do. I knew she would vote the way I told her to vote. She was by far my strongest ally. It's fitting that she won the game. If anybody was going to win it besides me, it has to be her because of the trust factor.
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TVGuide.com: Do you have any regrets or anyone you're still upset with?
Russell: I don't have any regrets with anybody, not even Jaison. I know it's just a game. I just let it go. [Jaison]'s problem in life is going to be that he can't let things go. Somebody burns your socks and you can't get over that and you're a Stanford grad? You're that weak in your mind? I can't help him, he needs help. Maybe I should help him. Maybe that's what I should do with $100,000; establish some kind of charity to help Jaison. Help the babies ... That's why I have this [points to a necklace he's wearing with a large gray, pacifier-shaped charm], to remind me of all the babies I played with. I wear a pacifier around my neck.
TVGuide.com: Are you frustrated with Jaison because he brought up the question of who needed the money the most during the final tribal council?
Russell: Yes. Jaison's daddy is like a hundred millionaire. They're very, very wealthy. It frustrates me that Jaison brought up the money issue. Ok, let's just go ahead and give the money to the poorest person and not even play the game ... He's a weak person.
TVGuide.com: So will we see you on Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains?
Russell: I don't even know if I am going to do it again.