Russell Hantz went from being the most hated man in Survior history to the most liked. He has also been called “the greatest player of all time” by the show’s host – Jeff Probst.
Frankly, there’s nothing Russell, 37, did not do during his season of Survivor. He sabotaged the camp by emptying canteens and burning socks, he lied about being a Hurricane Katrina victim, and he was able to get rid of people he thought were threats. In his latest interview with PEOPLE, Russell talks about his game and his thoughts on not winning the $1 million prize.
Excerpts from his interview below:
You said at the final tribal council your chance of winning had dropped to 55 percent. Were you still that sure you had won?
It kind of shook me up. I knew I didn’t win because I can read people that good. It’s like, you try so hard for something, and when you hear you didn’t win it, it’s rough. I thought maybe there’s a shot, but I started thinking and thinking about it when I was home, and analyzing everything that everybody said, and I was like, ‘I didn’t win.’ That’s why I already opened the website, russellgotscrewed.com. That’s why it’s so impressive to know that John did vote for me and Shambo did vote for me because you da man if you can get stabbed in the back, turn around, and give that person the vote. That takes a strong personality.
At first, you were the most hated contestant ever. By the finale, you were the Fan Favorite. Is that because people began to understand your game play?
Everything I did out there was strategic, every single move — burning the socks, pouring out the water. Best move I made was pouring out the water and burning the socks! It’s a tough thing to do because when you do it, you can’t get caught because if you get caught, you’re going home. But I went in it with very aggressive play and I think it worked for me. I made it all the way to the end and I would never change anything about the way I played the game.
Did you have a plan in mind when you started?
You don’t know how you are going to play the game until you are out there because you have to evaluate the people that are around you. So when I went out there, I’d seen that I could manipulate them, so I took control of the game the whole time, from day one. As soon as we were able to talk when we got out to the island, I said, ‘Let’s get some bamboo,’ and you see me do it four or five times. Right then, I was trying to see whom I could trust. I couldn’t trust Betsy. I couldn’t trust Marisa. I knew I could trust Ashley for a little while. I knew I could trust Natalie the whole time. The physical game is good and all, but for me, it’s a mental game and you just control people. And it’s crazy how you can control people so easily.
Were you a fan of Survivor before going on it?
I had never been a fan of the show. I just never really watched it! I put my application in, never thought they would call me up, but then I watched the last all-stars, where Parvati won, then I fell in love with it.
You held on to your third hidden immunity idol when you didn’t play it the last time you could. Where is it now?
Oh, it’s in my game room. It’s in my game room with a picture of me finding it and the rules for it and the idol just sitting there!