That was the most screwed up episode of Survivor in the Show’s history – and that’s saying something. The closest thing I can think of in the past seasons was when Sue Hawk lost her temper at the challenge and quit the game. She was reacting to what she called a sexual violation from Hatch a couple of days before during a challenge. Her ire was at Hatch, but since he was gone, it was directed at Probst. Maybe the grinding saga back in Thailand qualifies too. I’ll throw in the night-vision almost fight between Fairplay and Rupert in Pearl Islands. But the Brandon Hantz implosion this week was off the charts.
It was compelling. It was fascinating. It was incredibly sad. Brandon should be embarrassed (I’m sure he’s not). Phillip was both at fault and incredibly restrained. Andrea must have been feeling a lot of guilt, as she was essentially the straw that broke the Hantz’ back. And Probst once again showed why he is the best host of any reality show – and I expect that he will be submitting this episode to Emmy voters – but showed questionable judgment in his line of questioning with Brandon.
This column will be all about Brandon. Let me do a quick summary of what else happened – The Fans power is in flux as the boys may be aligned, the old majority may be aligned, it is hard to say. Meanwhile, the entire tribe except Eddie sought the re-hidden idol, and Reynold once again found it. Who needs any clues for these idols if they are so simply found? That’s about it.
Let me say off that bat that Brandon Hantz should not have been allowed back on this show, and I am very dubious about claims made that he cleared psych exams. Just watching South Pacific, we all knew that Survivor does not agree with him. At his core, Brandon is a young man with a lot of problems. The Hantz family is a scripted TNT drama waiting to happen. I am no doctor, but this is a man in desperate need of counseling. He should never have been allowed back, and his first involvement in the show was questionable – it is only because of his uncle that he became part of this world. The Case of Brandon Hantz feels – more than any other past Survivor – of the show taking advantage of a vulnerable person who doesn’t know any better.
So, all season long Brandon has been teetering on the edge of quitting. After the first vote out, he went off on the tribe. He has threatened to burn down the shelter and pee in the food. He reiterated this desire to Cochran, Andrea and Corinne this week in a night-vision conversation the night the Fans voted out Laura. Their reaction was hysterical. Corinne called him loco, which is appropriate since Brandon has that tattooed in his body! The only reason he is still in this game in Episode 5 is because the Fans tribe was so inept in challenges. Before the grand meltdown, Brandon chose to quit to be with his family (which is ridiculous, because he would be sequestered until the show ended – I know Jenna got to go home when her mom was dying, but am unsure what happened with Micronesia Kathy when she quit for mental health), then he woke up and changed his mind again. And so on. And so on.
His clashes with Phillip were inevitable this season – as these two personalities are NOT easily matched. The interesting thing is that Brandon was on Survivor with the most Phillip-like other player ever on Survivor – Coach. Brandon got very far that season – and if you believe the other South Pacific cast, he could have won. Coach and Phillip are both extremely quirky men with gigantic egos. Both were attention magnets during their first seasons and objects of ridicule for cast members and fans. Both came back a second time with what seems like a conscious desire to be treated differently. The big difference is that despite the ego, Coach wants to teach and pass along what he sees as his insight into the human experience – for right or wrong. Phillip seems to exist in a separate world of his own creation, and has no desire to coach, he wants to give orders to followers.
Brandon has classic little man syndrome – and was perfectly played by Coach, while Phillip has no patience for that approach. Brandon does not respond well to instructions – his ego is just as huge as the other two. He needs to feel respected and heard. If you notice, the Faves he responded to well this season are those who just hung out with him and listened. Another huge personality opposite him was going to cause strife – Brandon remembers how Coach played him on national television. Throw in the disrespect and this was a time bomb.
I also believe that this is almost exactly what the show wanted. They had to know that a Brandon/Phillip pairing for two weeks would be toxic. I think they didn’t expect the extent of the problem and that there could have legitimately been physical contact. This is the dark side of the recent trend of casting big personalities and psychological case studies. You give them a forum and they’ll take it.
If you think about it, Brandon seemed to be really focused on taking down that camp and tossing or peeing in the food. It’s such a random thing to focus on, that it makes you wonder. Is it possible that creating such a moment was exactly why Brandon wanted to come back on the show? To prove his birthright as a Hantz by doing something outrageous? Would that surprise any of you?
In fact, the argument that triggered the whole meltdown seemed innocuous at first. Phillip was talking about how well they did at the challenge, and Brandon took offense to Phillip’s bragging about his role. To be honest, they are both kind of right here. The challenge was a variation on the old weight bearing challenge – Brandon and Phillip had to hold up rope baskets while the other team tossed coconuts in them. The Fans foolishly ganged up on Brandon to take him out while Phil rested. The Faves kept a steady attack on both ZZ Top and Mike. So Brandon goes out, and Phillip outlasts the Fans to win it. Both served a role – but it was bad Fan strategy that really won it.
So Brandon got worked up – again – and Phillip had enough. He told Andrea that he was considering the unthinkable – throwing the challenge to oust Brandon. Honestly, this is always a bad idea. I don’t care how toxic Brandon is – you don’t give the Fans ANY momentum here. You have them on the ropes. You are on Day 13 – and know a merge is about a week away. And you have to assume a shuffle is likely. You need the numbers. Just ignore him. It can be done – just hold your tongue and he will be gone soon enough. But Phil cannot hold his tongue.
Neither can Andrea, it seems. She decides to give Brandon a heads up on this plan. Why? No idea. But she does. Interestingly, while she does, Brandon yawns. For someone so irate, he sure seems sleepy about it. He must have gone away and thought about it – and then got freaky. He decides to scream at Phillip and say he is going to give a real reason to vote him out. He dumps the rice on the wet ground – ruining it. He tries to do the same for the beans, but it seems as if he is thwarted. He heads to the beach, tossing a Reward chair and tries to confront Phillip. The Specialist wisely gets the hell out of Dodge – or is told to by the crew.
And then one would imagine time passes – because would they really go straight to the challenge here? It means they had time to cool down, and likely for the producers to talk to the Faves. If so, it brings into question the giant outburst at the Immunity Challenge. Brandon seemed to manufacture the scene and then got rolling. Phil admirably bit his tongue for a very long time before mixing it up. He was correct in scolding Brandon for disrespecting his elders – including his uncle. He was incorrect in verbalizing this though. Even more incorrect was even mentioning Brandon’s kids – albeit as part of a larger point. Probst had moved Brandon over to his station to keep him away from Phillip, and here had to physically corral him and give him a rather vigorous shoulder rub to calm him down.
That’s what happened. Brandon cursed out Phillip a lot and then was voted out right then and there. He probably thinks it was amazing. Russell probably thinks it was something to be proud of as well. It was compelling to watch, in the same way that car crashes attract rubbernecking. It was memorable, but it was also sad. And I know I was riveted watching it, and I felt really shitty about it afterwards. Maybe now we will no longer have any more Hantz involvement in Survivor. Please.