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Survivor, Villain, Russell Hantz

Robert Voets/CBS

He's ba-a-ack!

Jeff Probst promises the contestants in tonight's "fantastic" premiere of Heroes vs. Villains are "20 of the best ever," but we're most excited about the return of last season's controversial runner-up, Russell Hantz.

Everyone who watched the Samoa season knows he was straight-up robbed of victory, so this time around will Russell—who's been cast as a Villain—go all the way?

We talked to Jeff and a few of Russell's Heroes vs. Villains costars and—Spoiler Alert!—here's what they tell us exclusively...

Coach, who admits he's "not smart enough to win" (no comment), slipped up when he told us this after filming the new season:

"It's pretty unfair that we didn't know how [Russell] played. If he were to play that game starting today, he'd be the first one out, no question...If he ever plays again he won't make it out of the first round."

So it sure sounds like Russell will go far. Right?

Russell already has one strike against him: He's been cast as a Villain, which means his competitors should realize he has a history of shady dealings. Fortunately for us fans though, Heroes vs. Villains was filmed back-to-back with Samoa, so neither tribe knew about Russell's trickery until they saw the season 19 broadcast themselves late last year.

That said, after seeing how Samoa went down, fellow Villain Boston Rob had this to say: "Nobody hoodwinks me. C'mon, smahten up, you should know that by now."

Wicked sad! So maybe Russell doesn't get the best of everyone in the very end?

"Russell's a character," Rob continues. "You know what's crazy? Watching him on TV after [we filmed], because we didn't know him when we went out there. And seeing all the stuff he pulled [on Samoa]—it's very entertaining."

Here's what else Russell's costars had to say about him:

  • Parvarti: "A tiger doesn't change his stripes." Meow.
  • J.T.: "Russell is a great strategist, but I think playing Survivor you gotta be careful. You don't wanna do things that you don't have to. You don't wanna make people mad that you don't have to. You don't wanna do things just for show."
  • James: "Russell's cool. Russell's good people."
  • Courtney: "Russell is a cutie. I like Russell."
  • Danielle: "I love Russell, he's a character, he's a great player. On the island I wanted to strangle him sometimes. I don't necessarily respect everything he did, but I think he's a great player. You can't hate him for that."
jeff probst, Survivor

Mark Davis/CBS

And it seems that Russell has one VIP in his corner: Survivor's host with the most, Jeff Probst, who also feels Russell was shafted in Samoa. "I think one of the most frustrating parts of the game is when it comes down to the final vote, and you have to put the show in the hands of the jury, and if you get a group like Samoa who can't see past their own bitterness, then you get a show that is not satisfying. [Natalie] wasn't the best player, Russell was."

Testify.

Are you rooting for Russell? If not, who are you hoping will win?