Russell Hantz isn't a villain—he only plays one on TV.
So insists Survivor's evil mastermind, who talked with us this morning about his early exit from Redemption Island, praising Rob's "excellent" game, denying reports that he leaked spoilers from previous seasons of Survivor, and promising he'll be back on TV soon...
What is the meaning of your "Keep Hope Alive" tattoo?
I put it there because of season 19, but for so much more than that. I went to this Give Kids the World foundation [theme park in Orlando for children with life-threatening illnesses], and it's the most depressing and great thing I've ever seen in my life. If I ever do anything like Celebrity Apprentice, that's [the charity] I'm giving [my winnings] to. This little kid came up to me, itty-bitty kid, 4 or 5 years old, [recognized me], so he sat on my lap and took a picture. I looked at his mama, I seen the tears in her eyes, I told her, "Keep hope alive." It's so much more than a saying I said on TV. Your 5-year-old is dying of cancer—what else do you have. You have your God and you have hope that this can be a miracle. This is the villain speaking.
Is Russell Hantz really a softie inside—is the villain all an act for Survivor?
When I get out there I get so in the game. I get to a point where I am focused on one thing: that's the game. I'm able to step out of who I am and play this game. That's why I'm so good at the game—I'm able to step out and be a different person. The difference between me and Rob is with him, that is what you see. Rob, we ain't best of buddies and we'll never be. I know good people, from the South mostly...I'm the guy who will give you the shirt off my back in real life. I'm the guy who will come get you at three o'clock in the morning and bail your butt out of jail. To me, what I see in Rob as a person is he's fake, 100 percent. He is what he is on the show. Him and [Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains winner] Sandra, that's them. That's their personality, in real life.
What's your opinion of how Rob is playing the game this season?
I think he's playing excellent. I think Rob is doing a great job. He has it under control. I don't know what happens at the end of the day, but if anybody wants to make a bet with me right now, I'll make the bet. I know how it feels when you have control of the tribe. My tribe's about to fall to pieces because I'm not there. Mark my words.
So you're betting on Rob for the win?
The only person who coulda took me out at the merge was Rob. If the merge happened I was the only one who coulda switched one of his teammates. And you know who that is: Andrea. I didn't know all that stuff [with Matt] was going on, but I already talked to Stephanie and Krista and I told 'em, we're going after Andrea when we get there. I didn't know she was upset about Matt and all that, but when I looked into her eyes in challenges I knew something was wrong. I woulda took her so fast from Rob his head would've spun.
Why didn't you try a different strategy this season—why you didn't switch it up and try to ally with the men?
I did. You didn't see that part. First I went up to Stephanie and said OK, I wanna align with you. This is what I'ma do, I'm gonna go to the guys, I'ma align with them, and I'm tell them I talked to you. I'ma tell them we have your vote so it's gonna be four, we need another person, because Krista didn't like me at this point. She thought she'd be conceived of that Natalie girl I'd be resentful of. So I talked to Mike and Dave, they were like high-fiving me, [saying] "Yeah man, let's do this!" I said, "I'm telling you one thing: I talked to Stephanie. I don't want to keep nothing from y'all, but if there's any way possible I wanna drag her along with us, because that's just another vote. Whenever you're ready to get rid of her, we'll get rid of her." That was a lie. I wanted to keep her because she was like Parvati—she had a strategic mind like Parvati. So did Krista, but they don't show Krista in that light. That was the best alliance I ever had. Ever. That's how hard the game is—I still didn't make it.
Do you think the Hidden Immunity Idol was too easy to find this season?
What's up with that? I told Ralph to look for rocks to make the fire hotter, that's why he was looking for rocks. If you watch it again, he grabs [the Idol] and throws it to the side. He didn't even know what the hell it is.
Did you spend a lot of time searching for the Hidden Immunity Idol after you found the clue? We didn't see it on TV.
I spent a lot of time searching for it. I looked in the same spot and it was already gone, but it's just like Stephanie said (the little things she said made me know that Stephanie and Krista are players—I don't say that lightly): "Have they not seen Russell's résumé? The good thing about having Russell is we don't have to have an Idol." They split the votes. Ralph was so dumb, he didn't tell his tribe he had an Idol. They still split the votes and that was a dumb, dumb thing to do. If Russell happens to swing someone his way, one person, Ralph's gone with the Idol in his pocket. That would've been epic.
Was she as close to flipping at it seemed on the show?
That was how it was. Julie was really debating it. And at the end of the day—I don't know how she did, but at the end of the day, she's gonna regret that. I don't know who my fifth would've been [after the merge], but four would've been Krista, Stephanie and Julie. Because I would've had her back, like I said, but I got duped. I would've voted off Stephanie because she's a good strategic player. And then the vote would've been Krista, Russell and Julie for the million dollars. Julie would've won. She might've won—so props to her if she did—but if she would've went with me she would've had a 75 percent shot at winning a million dollars. You make one bad move in that game, it's done.
Were you playing to win or still playing for second place? Did you alienate or sabotage your tribe?
No, not at all. I was nice! You can ask. The only time I got rowdy was when they got rowdy with me. Ralph come up to me hollering and screaming at me how good of a player he is and wants me to show him the clue. He's such a dumb player...All he had to say was, "Hey guys, I got the Idol, don't worry about it—let's just put all our votes on Russell."
Can you comment on reports that you leaked Survivor spoilers? What is your opinion of people who leak reality show spoilers?
It sucks. The thing is, it's easy to say it was me, because I'm the villain. Everyone's asking me this stupid question. I don't want to give it any credit because that's exactly what these people want—they want credit.
You mentioned Celebrity Apprentice—are we going to see you again on TV?
I'll be back. It might not be Survivor, but I already have something in the works—and it's gonna be good.