“He may get second! He damn sure ain’t gonna win!” – Jeff Probst, Survivor: Samoa Cast Assessment
I like to refer to Survivor: Samoa as “the second Borneo” because not only did it help to reinvent Survivor strategy, it also played a huge part in introducing more people to Survivor. Despite that, the season isn’t exactly held in high regard among the fandom. A lot of people really, really despise this season, and there’s a lot of good reasons why, and believe me, we’ll get to them. Even I, one of the more optimistic people in the fandom, was not looking forward to re-watching this season, but seeing as my sister needed to catch up before we got to Game Changers, I didn’t really have a choice. I can’t just force her to ignore the fact that someone won twice, right? So here we are, reviewing Samoa. What did I find?
Honestly, on a rewatch, this season really wasn’t that bad. Look, I’m not calling it a good season, but there’s definitely worse ones out there. If there’s enough entertainment value to outweigh the negative aspects, I can be okay with it. Hell, that’s why I like Survivor: Fiji. Sadly, though, there’s way too many negatives for me to give Samoa a full pass.
For one thing, Samoa introduced a new feature that has unfortunately became sort of a trend in recent years: something I like to call “spotlight editing”. This is basically my way of describing reality shows that ignore most of the cast and focus entirely on the noisemakers, and it is everywhere this season. You want to know how bad the editing was? Here’s the best way to sum it up. In the third episode, a few members of Galu are doing yoga while Shambo’s working/complaining from the sidelines. The scene is only one minute, twenty-five seconds long, and we cut back to Foa Foa as soon as it’s over. I’m sorry, but that’s inexcusable. You can’t just focus your cameras on half a handful of people the whole season. I don’t care if you think everyone else is boring. People are going to notice them anyway! Christ, the person who won the season didn’t get a confessional until four episodes in!
While we’re still talking about camera hogs, I’m sure a lot of you are probably expecting me to tear into that sentient Texan gargoyle himself, Russell Hantz. Well, you are going to get my full opinion on him, but not in the way you’d expect it to happen. I want to make it clear: I don’t like Russell Hantz. I don’t outright hate him like a lot of other people do, because I actually do think he can be entertaining. But let’s be real here, he’s a terrible Survivor player who was doomed from the start. Look at his introductory episode; his first “strategy” was sabotaging his tribe so they’ll be weak. Gee, you don’t think that contributed to Foa Foa’s losing streak, do you? But more importantly, he had no idea that this was a social game. It doesn’t matter if you played the best strategic game if you’ve spent the same amount of time being a condescending little prick to your opponents. Remember this when we get to the next season.
No one could have predicted how this final vote was going to go down. Really, the fact that Natalie won with a strategy that could basically be called floating is shocking. Letting Russell take all of the bullets while you take the time to build bonds with everyone else is very smart, in my opinion, but at the same time, we run into the same problems I had with Michele Fitzgerald and Jenna Morasca. If we don’t see enough of someone’s winning qualities, we won’t think they can win. Believe it or not, Natalie did have one big strategic move, which was getting the rest of Galu to vote out Erik. That one move began the purple tribe’s downfall, but most people look past it in favor of her alleged coattail-riding, and I totally understand why she’s considered one of the lesser winners. If you won by letting someone else take all the heat, no matter how good your social game might have been, you shouldn’t be surprised if you’re not looked fondly upon in the future. Just saying.
Of course, that wasn’t the end of Russell’s story, oh no. Just weeks after thinking he pocketed another seven figures, he was off to compete against some of the series’s biggest players, and I can’t think of a better way to tease his next adventure than a single quote from Day 37.
“It’s a shame that I’m set up with this bunch of misfits, because I should be here with superstars.”
Uh, no, Hantz. Trust me, you really don’t want that.