By Kate Ward
Updated March 03, 2011 at 06:28 PM EST

Image Credit: Monty Brinton/CBSAs we saw on last night’s Survivor (SPOILER ALERT!), Russell Hantz — lover of immunity idols, himself, fire, hats that don’t suit him, and himself — was booted all the way to Redemption Island… just three weeks into the competition. Now, thanks to this season’s new twist, we can’t count Russell out yet — something tells me that Survivor‘s most aggressive player would be the one to rise from elimination like the imaginary Phoenix flying around in Phillip’s head, blocking out the part of the brain that helps you pronounce “Francesca.” But it still begs the question: Even if Russell returns, can he win the prize? Can Russell ever win Survivor?

The only contestant to play Survivor three times in the course of two years, Russell is undoubtedly a target. (In fact, he’s such a target, that that might have been the dumbest, most unnecessary sentence I’ve ever written.) Particularly because he’s played consistently over the past three years: Whereas other returning all-stars can claim they’ve weakened since their first go-round, Russell is just as strong — and hungrier than ever. And he becomes an even greater target when you consider that he’s a Survivor contestant that became a legend… when his first episode aired in 2009 during season 19. (Does anyone even think of Richard Hatch as Survivor‘s super-villain anymore?) So why not vote out the lying, back-stabbing bad guy (or hero, depending on how you view the game) at the first opportunity? Heck, even Russell fan and EW Survivor expert Dalton Ross called Russell this season’s “dead man walking.” Should he return from Redemption Island, I’d imagine his chances would be no better — especially when you consider his competition has been aligning during his isolation period.

That being said, even if he does return to the game, I’m having a tough time believing I’d root for him. Sure, during Survivor: Samoa, many of us felt unsatisfied when nice-girl Natalie picked up the $1 million over the clearly dominating Russell. But after watching him lose Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains (when he really had a chance to take advantage of his anonymity, since his competitors hadn’t seen him yet on Survivor: Samoa), he’s now become the contestant that we love to watch lose. (Or rather, that we love to watch try to win.) It’s like rooting for the Boston Red Sox pre-2004 — once the cursed team finally picked up the win, what was there left to watch and hope for? I’m not saying I hope Russell’s idol-loving hands become idle — even though, like many, I do grow wary of The Russell Show, I am hoping to see him back during a later season. Instead, I’m saying Russell should perhaps be proud of his legendary status on the show: The best Survivor … who’s never won.

What do you think? Does Russell ever have a chance? And do you ever want him to win?

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