In light of the almost daily emotional breakdowns Brandon Hantz suffered while playing Survivor: South Pacific — including his odd obsession with female contestant Mikayla, popping off for no reason at Tribal Council, teary confessionals, and then being manipulated into giving away his immunity before being voted off — many wondered if he could really handle such an experience all over again, especially when you consider the stress that comes with trying to outwit strangers while starving out in the elements. Those questions popped up again after my bizarre interview with Brandon that took place just days before filming on Survivor: Caramoan — Fans vs. Favorites (which premieres Feb. 13 on CBS) began. So I asked host Jeff Probst recently if they had any concerns about putting Brandon back on the show, and if Russell’s nephew was truly equipped to handle being put through the emotional wringer again.
Probst says that Brandon was indeed vetted by the show’s psychologist before returning to play. “When Brandon played the first time, what was most noticeable was that he wore his emotions on his sleeve and he was so combustible,” says Probst. “You rooted for him in the sense that he was so earnest in his pain. So when he was first finished, we all kind of thought, hmmm, not sure we should ever bring him back. And then a little time went by, and he talked to us, and we talked to him, and our psychologist talked to him, and he sounded like he was going to be okay. So we brought him back for what is going to prove to be, once again, a really tough emotional adventure for him.”
Of course, emotional instability is at the core of much of Survivor’s drama. The question becomes: When does that instability become a danger to that person or to others? It seems the Survivor psychologist and producers here felt that Brandon posed no such risk by returning to play. I also asked Probst his thoughts on some of the other returning Favorites. (He already talked about Malcolm right here.) Here’s what he had to say about some of the familiar faces:
“He’s one of our biggest characters ever. The thought that we weren’t going to bring him back never entered anybody’s mind. It was just a matter of time, really — who can we pair him up with?”
“Wait until you see what he has in store for you this time. It’s a whole new Phillip Sheppard. A brand new thing! You’re gonna love it. It’s a 2.0 version.”
“Francesca was connected to Phillip at the hip. There were a couple of things going for Francesca. One was we knew that we had Phillip coming back and their relationship was so funny and his inability to remember he name. There was the other element that we knew Francesca wanted revenge on Phillip and how fast would she get it? And number three was, we always thought Francesca might have been a great player if she had survived a little longer. And then there was this fourth thing, which was, oh my God, Francesca, whatever you do make sure you’re not the first person off again! So there were a lot of elements that made what on paper you might go, huh? That made her a really compelling choice for us.”
“He’s in an interesting spot. I think Erik’s a little over having the I-made-the-dumbest-move monkey on his back. I think he’d like to get that monkey off his back.”
“I’m really, really excited Brenda is back because I felt like Brenda — and I could still be wrong — but I feel like Brenda made a really bad decision when she played the first time. I felt like she let her pride get in the way of the game, and that she could have lasted longer and been a good player. And instead it was like, ‘I’m not going to beg to stay.’ Well, then you’re gone! And I said to her, I think it’s a little bit of being a beautiful woman. I think you’re used to things just working out. But they aren’t going to. You’re going home. So I was excited that she said yes to coming back. I like her. I like Andrea. I like the idea of these young women coming back and using their brains and getting outside of their looks.”
“Corinne is one of the most despised players ever in the game. Not a damn thing has changed about Corinne and she’s the first to tell you — ‘I’m the same person I always was.’ And that made it very interesting.”
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