As a dedicated “Survivor” fan, I was of two minds when I heard the recent announcement that Russell Hantz and Rob Mariano would be returning as contestants for the upcoming “Survivor: Redemption Island” season, which starts Feb. 16.
On the one hand, I like both of them.
Russell is one of the smartest and most interesting strategists they’ve ever had on the show, and for all of his boasting and all of his attempts to draw attention to himself, he is undeniably fun to watch. He is a “villain” in the context of the show, yes, but I have never found myself rooting against him. He is manipulative and deceitful, but he is never needlessly mean-spirited like some contestants (such as Courtney Yates or Tyson Apostol), and he always seems to be in control (unlike last season’s loose cannon, NaOnka Mixon, who provided the season’s biggest laugh during the reunion show when she said that she had been friendly to everyone). Russell is a ruthless player in the game, but unlike the aforementioned people, I suspect he would be a fun and interesting person to know in his day-to-day life.
Boston Rob is also a tenacious competitor and a guy who I find myself rooting for in the game. He knows the way “Survivor” works from the inside out, and he plays a good game both strategically and physically. He was a marvel to watch in the “Heroes vs. Villains” season, when he was weak from illness but still rallied himself in a challenge to singlehandedly hoist a heavy block onto his back and push it into position to help his tribe win a very demanding puzzle challenge.
At the start of the “Heroes vs. Villains” season, I thought the most interesting element would be the interplay between these two men on the Villains tribe. They both like to be in charge, so it seemed likely that they would butt heads, but if they somehow found a way to work together they would be formidable. They didn’t disappoint – they immediately saw each other as rivals, and each respected the other’s acumen for the game. Russell came out on top of their little game of 1-on-1, but it was dramatic and interesting to watch them thrust and parry. They both can slide into megalomania, but unlike some contestants who do shtick – Johnny Fairplay leaps most readily to mind – they always seem genuine and fresh. They never seem to be just “playing a character.” For the new “Redemption Island” season, they will be on opposite tribes, once more going head-to-head. I have no doubt that they will be as fascinating as ever.