On the surface at least the result seems preordained: the new players will vote out the two returning players fairly early in the proceedings. Maybe. Survivor tends to be filled with surprises and there does seem to be a pecking order in the way that people are eliminated. In the “Team Phase” the initial impulse is to keep the team strong by voting out the weakest players. It is only as the “Team Phase” is winding down and the merge is approaching that attention is redirected towards the strongest players. In addition, this season adds a quite deliberate twist in that a player who is voted out isn’t immediately eliminated. Instead they go to "a new area – called Redemption Island – where they subsist in exactly the same sort of circumstances that the players who are still in the game are surviving in. As each new player is eliminated they are sent to Redemption Island where they compete against the person who is already there. Whoever wins stays on the island alone and waits for the next person to be eliminated. Eventually the player who survives on Redemption Island returns to the main game and is eligible for the main prize. So even if Rob or Russell is voted off they aren’t actually out of the game until they’re beaten by someone on Redemption Island.
Mostly though this is a personal battle between Rob and Russell. They went head to head in Survivor: Heroes vs Villains where they were on the same team, and while Rob quickly saw Russell for what he was – a backstabbing conniver who would be your best friend at one Tribal Council and be working to get rid of you the next (or even the same day, as in the case of Tyson) – Rob was unable to develop a truly united front, mainly because of Russell’s ability to persuade people to vote against their own best interests. The animosity between the two was palpable from the beginning – at one point Russell told the confessional that he wanted to burn Rob’s trademark Red Sox cap – and boiled over at the Heroes vs Villains reunion show where Rob told Russell that, “given the opportunity, I’d gladly go back and kick your ass all over the island.” In this particular season the other sixteen is just a side show – the real battle is between Rob & Russell.
Here’s the tale of the tape:
Nickname: Boston Rob
Trademark: Red Sox Cap
Previous Seasons (Finish): Survivor: Marquesas (10), Survivor: All Stars (2), Survivor: Heroes vs Villains (13)
Little known fact: He went to Xavierian Brothers High School with Matt Hasselback, the brother-in-law of Elizabeth (Filarski) Hasselback who appeared on Survivor: Australia with Rob`s wife Amber Brkich.
Strengths: Since his first appearance on the show he has constantly improved his game. In his first season he was seen as part of the group on his tribe who “didn’t work.” In later seasons his work ethic improved. His survival skills are quite strong; he was the first cast member to ever start a fire by rubbing two sticks together (which other people on his team felt would never work). His social game has definitely improved over the years. Strong in team competitions, particularly in challenges involving puzzles. In working with members of his own tribe he’s been increasingly smooth. A sound strategist he tends to develop core alliances and work outward from there. Has a strong ability to “read” opponents like a poker player. He picked up on Russell being untrustworthy and his biggest opposition on his team practically from the moment that he met him.
Weaknesses: Limited experience with individual challenges. he only really faced those in his All Star season. Has very limited experience with the Hidden Immunity Idol. His only exposure to that was in the Heroes vs Villains season and initially at least he was quite disdainful of it. His high public profile might also be a problem when playing against new players. He may be one of the two or three best known of all Survivor contestants because of his multiple TV appearances, both on Survivor and on other TV shows, often as a reality TV contestant. This may put a target on his back from the moment he begins.
Nickname: Demented Hobbit; Immunity Idol Magnet
Trademark: Grey Trilby style hat, bald head and beard.
Previous Seasons (Finish): Survivor: Samoa (2), Survivor: Heroes vs Villains (3)
Little known fact: Although he lists his profession as being in the oil well services business, he also owns a bar in Lafayette Louisiana. He was arrested for misdemeanour assault and battery there after an altercation in the bar.
Strengths: Very physical player, sometimes to his own detriment. He tends to turn his work ethic on and off as necessary. He thinks a lot about his game and plans out scenarios. He seems to regard alliances as transitory, to be set aside or renewed as needed. His only enduring alliance during the Heroes vs Villains season was with eventual second place winner Parvati Shallow. His greatest strength in both seasons in which he played was his ability to find Hidden Immunity Idols, sometimes without any clues, and to use them effectively to blackmail those around him into doing his bidding.
Weaknesses: Russell has several major weaknesses. He has a tremendous ego which has been boosted by twice being voted the Player of the Season by viewers of the show. His social game is virtually non-existent, and he has in previous two seasons seemed incapable of understanding the importance of the social game. At least some of his former tribe mates have described being with him in the game as being similar to an abusive relationship. Russell also had something of an advantage in his Heroes vs Villains season in that he went straight from Survivor: Samoa to that season so that the people he was playing against had no idea of what he was capable of while the he knew a lot about many of the people he was playing against so that he could work them. Coming into Redemption Island the roles are reversed; the players that he’ll be up against will know all there is to know about him while the only person he’ll know anything about is Rob. It may be that a smart player would want to take him as far as he can knowing that a jury won’t vote for Russell, but it may also be that he’ll be regarded as too dangerous and annoying and voted out quickly.
What Probst says: Jeff Probst has literally seen them all come and go. Here’s part of what he told Entertainment Weekly about the two:
I do not think Russell or Rob will be the first person voted out of this game. Because I think they bring too much experience — 156 days between the two of them. When you’re playing a game, there’s a lot to be learned….Rob may have an easier time initially, but Rob’s gong to have a tougher time long term because Rob could win. Rob is likable enough. He could win. Russell’s not going to win. Russell doesn’t get that. He’s not gonna win. Even if he was nice this season, the payoff for past seasons won’t let him win. Rob is going to have a tough time if he makes it to the merge.
So what do you think? I want to know, so I’m starting a poll (as soon as Blogger will let me) which will run until just before Survivor: Redemption Island debuts. The question is simple enough: Who will last longest in the coming season of Survivor: Boston Rob Mariano or Russell Hantz? Don’t forget that I would also like to read your comments on this so feel free to post them here or wherever.