Sunday, March 13, 2011

The End Of Russellmania

The end of the Russell Hantz era of Survivor came this past Wednesday night. Okay, if you absolutely have to be picky, it ended on August 27, 2010 (as extrapolated here). The ending was anticlimactic, as a guy named Matt Elrod became an answer to a reality television trivia question by besting Russell on Redemption Island (more on that later) in a game of domino stacking and tumbling. As for as endgames go, it wasn't as lame as, say, covering the contestants in itching powder and sweatshirts, sticking them on treadmills, and going to jump ropes for a tiebreaker, but it was pretty unimaginative. Russell went out the way fans would expect . . . in a blaze of sour grapes. He called out his tribe (Zapatera; came out as "shoemaker" on Babelfish), accusing them of throwing the last challenge in order to vote him out two days prior, and did some crying. In other words, typical Russell-like behavior.

For those just coming in: Mark Burnett was running out of ideas for Survivor, which remains his favorite child. Three seasons prior, he had cast Russell for Survivor: Samoa, along with nineteen others who will remain in obscurity as the years pass. Russell was an asshole from Day One. He lied about being caught in Hurricane Katrina, lied about losing a dog in the storm, burned another player's socks without him knowing about it, and basically became the most hated man in reality television. He also managed to form an alliance and snag hidden immunity idols without getting clues, which probably resulted in lots of production people losing their jobs. He managed to last all 39 days on skill, luck, and with the help of some of the dumbest people to play the game. With Russell having no shot at the $1 million grand prize on account that he was a massive jagoff, the others treated the money like a hot potato, flinging it between each other until some girl named Natalie kept it in the end. But Russell made an impact, and even I was entertained near the end. I chalked it up to a combination of Stockholm Syndrome and the fact that everybody else was a blur. Quick, name any five contestants from that season without using Wikipedia. Yeah, I thought so.

Since Russell was the only memorable person in Samoa, he got a berth into the following season, a rehash of the all-star format titled Heroes Vs. Villains. This time, he was put in a game with nineteen other people with experience on the show. Naturally, he landed on the Villains tribe, where his main rival was Rob Mariano. Rob is somebody whom I consider to be one of the most overrated players in the show's history, and you can't tell me any differently. Quick summary: he played a fool in his original season (Marquesas) to the point where his second tribe tried to throw a challenge in order to vote him off (it didn't work). He made the merge, but didn't make the jury. However, he was memorable enough to warrant bringing him back two years later for All-Stars. He hooked up with Amber Brkich (known as "Lamber" back in the day because she followed Jerri Manthey everywhere), and they managed to run the game as a power couple because they were taking on the dumbest people to play the game. Between Lex, Kathy, Rupert, "Big Tom" and Jenna Lewis, you didn't have enough brainpower to operate a toaster. Long story short: Rob got three votes for him, three votes against him, and Shii Ann was nice enough to vote for Amber, giving her the win. Oh, and Rob proposed to Amber before the votes were announced, and they became America's Couple or somesuch bullshit. They also were inflicted on fans of The Amazing Race twice, but that's another rant altogether.

Anyway, the Villains managed to run the game, and Russell got himself in an alliance that managed to trump Rob's, and the Beantown Bozo got bounced after eighteen days. I'll spare you the rest of the details of the season, including JT handing an immunity idol to Russell (along with a nice note that Russell laminated as a keepsake). The runty bastard made it to Day 39 again, only to finish third after Sandra (whose win was delightfully unexpected) and Parvati (who rode the Russell train to second place). At the reunion, precious time was taken for Rob and Russell to snipe at each other, and I think host Jeff Probst may have wet himself in joy. You have to understand something about Probst: the man loves him some alpha males. Sure, Russell's size didn't make him a top dog, but his personality made him an attraction, and that was enough for Probst to start touching himself. Word of warning: if you're related to Jeff Probst in any way, you might want to stop reading now. I'm only going to get nastier from here on out.

Somewhere in the world, Mark Burnett was also idly playing with himself. Here he had a main event between two of the biggest "names" in reality television. He had to do something. So he made a decision: invite Rob and Russell back for their fourth and third tries, respectively. Burnett would put them on Redemption Island, where he would send those who had been voted off to a place where they would live on the bare minimum on their own. When two of them would be on the island (or whatever Burnett would call an island . . . his definition of that is pretty loose), they would compete in a duel. The winner stays, the loser throws their buff into the fire and leave the game for good. As I write this, I'm assuming that once a merge between the two tribes, whomever is on Redemption Island would come back to the main action. While this new format has shades of Pearl Islands (where the outcasts beat the two tribes, and two of their number were voted back into the game), it was clear that Burnett was scrapping near the bottom of the barrel. Specifically, Real World/Road Rules Challenge, which started on that format back in 2003 with The Gauntlet. Of course, there would need to be a season to film between HvV and Redemption Island. What could be done?

Answer: invite champion collegiate and professional football coach Jimmy Johnson to Nicaragua, along with nineteen of the dumbest people that could be cast. All right, I'm probably being too hard on the Nicaragua cast, but anybody with half a brain was voted off quickly, while another game of hot potato was played between people who probably couldn't spell "Survivor." Jimmy himself was gone after eight days, a victim of age and nature. He did wind up getting a lap dance from Probst at the reunion special, while other players (including jury members) got shafted on air time. The host then grinded all over the leg of Terry Bradshaw, one of Johnson's co-hosts on Fox's NFL pre-game show. To say it was embarrassing would be an understatement. Between two people quitting (including the unbelievably odious Naonka, who will no doubt be the "guest of honor" at an NAACP fundraiser where people would pay to punch her in the mouth), "masterminds" getting outwitted, Probst openly using his reality host mind powers to influence a vote, the players not getting influenced by Probst's mind mojo because they didn't have minds to begin with, and a dumbass nicknamed "Fabio" (because he was blond and dim, and apparently that was enough to warrant the moniker), Survivor hit an all-time low in quality.

Once all footage of Nicaragua was buried in a hole thirty-feet deep that was then filled with concrete (something the producers of The Amazing Race did with their all-star season years ago), Burnett moved on with promoting Redemption Island and Rob and Russell's involvement with it, which was the worst-kept secret ever. Once the cat was finally let out of the bag (half-torn to shreds already), Probst laid this gem on the Entertainment Weekly website: "I’m not concerned at all about any Russell fatigue — that people have had too much. If you’ve had too much of Russell, I dare say you’re not really a Survivor fan. He embodies Survivor. He’s polarizing. You hate him or you love him." You just had to love the cavalier "fuck you" attitude Probst had for the fans. Russell was an anchor that was dragging the show towards the abyss that most shows are falling into, and those sane enough to hate the punk had problems? Also, at the Nicaragua reunion special, Rob revealed that he and Amber had their second kid. You would think that Rob would at least look to have a normal life, as opposed to being a grown-up version of the eternally bratty morons that pollute Real World/Road Rules Challenge every single season these days. Honestly, Mark Burnett could look at the "hinjinks" of mouth-breathers like Evan Starkman, Kenny Santucci and Johnny Devenanzio (the show's permanent Axis of Ass) and start getting horny at "bad boys" stirring up trouble on his show.

And that brings us to today. I'm not going to get into most of the action, given that I still don't know most of these people after four episodes. One day, I might write an essay on Phillip, a man who seems to be more of a Section 64 than a "mere" Section 8, but that's not happening today. I'll skip to the irony of a fella named Ralph finding the hidden immunity idol without getting a clue about its whereabouts. In Nicaragua, the producers at least tried to "Russell-proof" the idols by hiding them in less conspicuous places. So it was hilarious that Ralph ("Redneck Yeti" comes to mind describing him) just stumbled across it, beating Russell at his own game. The pipsqueak managed to get by, allying himself with Krista and Stephanie. Since Russell is known as "Russhole" on the forums, I think of those two as "Russhoes." I know, it's not nice, and I'd be happy to hear alternatives. Anyway, after the
Zapatera tribe won their first two reward/immunity challenges, the bulk of the team elected to throw the next one in order to vote Russell off. Sure enough, they managed to lose the challenge, the majority sextet successfully split their votes, a three-way tie was forced between Russell, Stephanie and Ralph (who probably didn't think of using his idol), and Russell wound up losing on the tiebreaker. After snuffing out Russell's torch and sending him to Redemption Island, Probst chastised Zapatera for voting out "one of the most successful players in the history of Survivor." There are so many reasons why I could never play this game. One of the top ten would be the fact that I could never, ever respect Jeff Probst. EVER.

Probst: Well, you have voted off a two-time finalist and a certified genius. Whether it will bite you in the ass remains to be seen. Grab your torc-

Me: Um, Jeff? Could you repeat that?

Probst: You didn't hear what I said?

Me: Not really. Sounded like your cheeks were full of Russell's spunk. Could you spit it out before talking?

Now you know the rest of the story. Russell lost the Redemption Island challenge, got teary-eyed (like he had in past reunions after his losses), and baited Ralph (one of four players who elected to watch the contest) into revealing his hidden idol. On EW and his own site, Probst praised Russell with so much vigor, any printout made of those pages would come out very sticky. Russell himself has contemplated suing his tribemates for throwing the challenge. My response would be, "If you're not fucking over somebody, you're not playing the game right." Oh, and Russell may have leaked spoiler info on Samoa and HvV. I'd go over that, but it's the night where we have to set the clocks forward by an hour, and I should go to bed. Personally, I don't think this is the last we've seen of Russell Hantz. I honestly believe he'll come back next year to "star" on Celebrity Apprentice, which would mark the first time I would root for Donald Trump to lunge across his desk to strangle somebody, as opposed to the other way around. Probst predictably left the light on for Russell as far as returning to Survivor. If that happens, that might be the broken straw that finally -- FINALLY -- gets me to stop watching this rapidly declining show. But I doubt it.

PS: While thinking about what to write for this post, I decided that I wanted to be famous. If that happened, I might wind up being considered being a guest if and when Probst gets roasted. Rather than asking you to search my posts on the Television Without Pity forums for mentions of him, I figured it was high time to actually embed something . . . in this case, how I would address the overrated bastard. Just replace "my" with "Russell's," and don't forget to throw in a "Rob's" for good measure. Enjoy!

PPS: The Joes in the van are Breaker and Dialtone. Now you know . . . and knowing is half the battle!

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