There are three times I’ve been legitimately scared while watching Survivor. The first was when Mike Skupin in Australia stood there with his hands melting off. The second was when Bobby Jon’s eyes rolled back into his head after that brutal hike through the Guatemalan jungle. The third — and worst by far — was when I once saddled up to the refrigerator right before an episode and realized I was out of Milwaukee’s Best. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! (Let me just state for the record, whatever episode that was — worst one ever.) Well, it’s time to add another horror show to the list, and that would be Dreadlocked Russell’s challenge collapse.
It’s odd, really. We all saw it coming from the promos. And we all know he’s fine now judging from the fact that he’s online sending sweet tweets to Chad Ochocinco about it. But yet I was still riveted. The shot of Russell passed out on the puzzle table with his face being propped up by a corner was one of the eeriest things I have ever seen. (It was like that scene in The Blair Witch Project where the guy was standing there staring motionless at a wall.) As was the time he tried to sit back up, only to collapse again and lie there not responding with his eyes wide open. Seriously, it kinda looked like Game Over for a minute there.
I’ve given Russell some grief for picking pillows over a tarp, and for sending Shambo twice to the Foa Foa camp, and if I had to do it over again … I’D DO THE EXACT SAME THING! But he really showed me something here. Now, was competing in the challenge the smartest thing to do considering how obviously spent he was? No. But Russell is a hardcore competitor, and you have to love someone who wants to compete at all costs. Plus, his first reaction after collapsing? He wanted to get back up and finish the challenge! “No, I’m cool,” he insisted. “Maybe a little winded from pushing the ball, but I’m good.” A little winded?!? Dude, you were sucking face with a freakin’ puzzle table! Still, I love the moxie.
But do you know what I loved even more? Probst’s pick-me-up speech to Russell. It was supposed to make him feel better about leaving the game, but for me it would have had the exact opposite effect. “It’s frustrating to be pulled out of a game that you wanted to be a part of for so long,” began Probst.” You were in great shape. You were the leader of a tribe that was dominating. There were no signs you were going home anytime soon.” Wow, rub it in much, Jeff? I half expected him to continue: “Not only that, but you have some hot babes on your tribe and you probably could have tapped multiple asses had you stuck around a little longer. Oh, and did I mention that the next reward challenge we’re giving away a car…to everybody?!? Yeah, bummer you won’t be around for that. And just between you and me, you probably just threw away a million dollars by having to leave the game. In fact, to show you just how close you were to winning, look at this awesome oversized novelty check we had printed out with your name on it!” At about this time, Jeff would signal to a crew member perched in a tree, who would then fire his loaded bazooka at the check, blowing it up into a million little pieces while Probst and Dr. Ramona started high fiving and chugging beers.
Best part about Probst’s motivational chat? When he realized he wasn’t exactly making things better and told himself to shut up: “I’m gonna leave you alone and stop talking.” I’m giving Probst some good-natured grief, but honestly, he handled the situation pretty damn well. He was right on top of it when Russell went down and immediately stopped the challenge. It would have been very, very easy to not act quickly and decisively and make a bad situation much worse. So kudos, Jeff. We just have to work on your inspirational talks.
NEXT: Weathering the storm