After nine years and 19 seasons of Survivor, it takes a lot to rattle host Jeff Probst. But once Galu team leader Russell Swan collapsed during Thursday's reward challenge and lost consciousness again minutes later, Probst was forced to send Russell home and called the experience his "scariest moment" on the show. Russell, 42, may not have won the million-dollar prize, but tells TVGuide.com about coming away with a new lease on life and also tells us why he thinks his role as Galu team leader helped put his life at risk.
TVGuide.com: How have you been doing since you left the island?
Russell Swan: I am feeling good. I am still dealing with the shock of having seen the visuals, but I'm doing fine.
TVGuide.com: How have you been recuperating?
Russell: This is going to sound strange, but drinking a lot of water. There was no additional medical intervention. I didn't have to go get open-heart surgery or a transplant or anything like that. Same ticker, same deal. You will see me now and you will always see some kind of fluid in my hand.
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TVGuide.com: Did you have any earlier indications that something like this was going to happen?
Russell: Absolutely. I had the spins, I can remember at one point my peripheral vision was kind of going in and out. It's weird because I didn't really know what that meant. I knew that meant that there was some symptoms of having been in the game for the two weeks but I didn't know that it was a danger sign necessarily because I had never felt those symptoms ... We had many people talk about, "Whoa, stood up too fast that time" and things like that and we would joke around about it. You kind of knew that was par for the course. I never knew that that was a huge warning sign that, dude, you could die.
TVGuide.com: How was it to watch the episode and see how everything played out?
Russell: It was mind-blowing. What I remembered happening was completely different than what I saw last night. That person was like somebody else in some movie playing out because my memory of it was: push the ball, I'm tired, take a knee, I hit myself in the head with the thing, maybe I knocked myself out, I laid there for five minutes, they kicked me out and I'm pissed off. When I saw that, especially when they sat me up and then the eyes ... I will never forget that. Then [when] my wife was losing it next to me, that's when I realized that this was something that was really, really serious.
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TVGuide.com: What did you think when you heard Jeff call this his "scariest moment" on the show?
Russell: When I heard it in the promos, I thought, "Yeah, right. That's just Jeff being Jeff and he's good at what he does." But when I saw him saying it ... at tribal council, I get it. Because, as both my wife and I were watching it, I looked like I was pretty much checked out. I guess God said, "Nope. You've got more work to do. You've got a 6-year-old. You've got to get back. Just know that you've got to take care of yourself so you get some more time."
TVGuide.com: You obviously wanted to stay and fight it out, but have you made peace with the way you left?
Russell: Having watched it, I was humbled that I checked out for a second or almost really died. The element of being taken out of the game versus being blessed with more time with my wife and my daughter; it's a no-brainer. I came to terms with it really quickly. It paid off in so many dividends. Last night, my wife and I talked like we haven't talked since we were dating. It was like that reconnection. The good news is it has re-cemented our relationship and made me appreciate her that much more. It's made me appreciate that I'm a dad and there's this child who really needs me around and that fatherhood really does matter. I do matter beyond just this game and winning $1 million. This is real life; this is so much more than that.
Yes, the disappointment was crushing, and the male ego is a really nasty thing when your physicality is challenged like that. I felt like an absolute loser. To be honest with you, as I'm laying there, there was a time where I wish I had died. Now, it's just like, are you kidding me? You've got a great life, you've got this woman who loves you ... and you've got this child whose healthy and who needs you ... I never imagined that a reality show would be this life-affirming.
TVGuide.com: It sounds like you've really gotten a lot of positives out of this bad experience.
Russell: Oh, definitely. Even externally — people responding on my Facebook page and on Twitter. Complete strangers [saying], "Wow, I was really inspired. You were so upset, but you said it was better for you to try and fail than to not try at all." It's amazing that people pay that much attention. For me, that's important too. If by saying a couple words I can inspire somebody's life, how cool is that?
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TVGuide.com: How did it feel to see your Galu teammates say they were going to fight for you for the rest of the competition? How do you think they'll fare?
Russell: When I saw that, I almost started crying. I'm a man, so I can't do so much crying, but my heart was just full with absolute appreciation. We're out there to play a game and to backstab each other and that's the name of the game. It's an individual thing; basically, it's Machiavellian at its worst. But to have these folks who ultimately could have stabbed me in my back say those things, and say what I did out there mattered to them, it just made me feel so good. My heart was just full and I can't wait to see these guys again.
TVGuide.com: Knowing what you know about your tribe and the dynamics, do you have any guesses as to who will step up to become team leader?
Russell: It's hard to say any one person because ... each and every individual on that tribe is a leader. I hope they understand that being the leader is a huge drag because I'm convinced that that leadership role was one of the reasons I almost died out there. No doubt about it. I agonized over every decision. I didn't sleep at all [thinking]: What if we win this challenge? Who did I sit out last time? Did they get enough water? Why are they over there talking? ... My brain was constantly spinning. Leadership in Survivor is the death knell.
TVGuide.com: So if you could go back and change something, you would try not to be the team leader?
Russell: Absolutely. I would have been ecstatic. I was lobbying as much as I could to try to get Shambo [Waters] to be the team leader ... I could have been like the rest of Galu [where] you sit around and every time something happens: "What should we do, chief? Should we get water, chief?" You know you should! Why are you asking me, you lazy bastards. Get off your lazy butt and get some water. But it's a great strategy to just pretend like "I don't know what's going on. I don't know what to do."