The 16 new contestants of Survivor: Redemption Island will have to battle more than the elements and each other. They’ll also have two familiar faces to deal with as Boston Rob Mariano and Russell Hantz will be renewing their heated rivalry from Heroes vs Villains and returning to play the game once again. For Russell, it will be his third appearance in the past four seasons, while Boston Rob becomes the first person to ever compete four times on the show.
Rob and Russell’s feud in last spring’s Heroes vs Villains helped make the season one of the franchise’s finest, but could some fans be feeling a bit of Russell fatigue after seeing the polarizing player command so much screen time on both Samoa and Heroes vs. Villains? Host Jeff Probst doesn’t think so. “I’m not concerned at all about any Russell fatigue — that people have had too much,” says Probst. “If you’ve had too much of Russell, I dare say you’re not really a Survivor fan. He embodies Survivor. He’s polarizing. You hate him or you love him.”
The former players will each join a tribe after a drawing of concealed buffs and — contrary to internet rumors — they will not be offered any immunity, meaning either one of them could be voted out first (and sent to Redemption Island, where they would be forced to compete to reenter the game). But while Russell may seem like a shoo-in to be the first person out, Probst told EW.com while on location in Nicaragua just minutes after filming on the season began that he doesn’t believe that will be the case. “I do not think Russell or Rob will be the first person voted out of this game. Because I think they bring too much experience — 156 days between the two of them. When you’re playing a game, there’s a lot to be learned.”
Probst also believes that Boston Rob — who transformed himself from a villain to a hero last year — may actually have a tougher time than Russell sticking around when the going gets tough. “Rob may have an easier time initially, but Rob’s gong to have a tougher time long term because Rob could win,” says the host. “Rob is likable enough. He could win. Russell’s not going to win. Russell doesn’t get that. He’s not gonna win. Even if he was nice this season, the payoff for past seasons won’t let him win. Rob is going to have a tough time if he makes it to the merge.”
For exclusive on-location video of Jeff Probst discussing when the idea was born to bring these two players back and why he would align with Russell, check out the video player below. Also make sure to view our photo gallery of the 16 new contestants as well as exclusive video interviews with the cast. And for more Survivor news and views all season long, follow me on Twitter @EWDaltonRoss. Take it away, Jeff…