Brandon Hantz was brought back to create drama, and he certainly delivered. But should he have even been there in the first place?
“He’s loco, for sure. Clearly he is spinning out of control and it’s just a matter of time.” — Corinne Kaplan
It did feel like a matter of time. And that’s what makes this last episode of Survivor: Caramoan —and my reaction to it — so difficult and complicated. Anyone who watched Survivor: South Pacific would have come away with the impression that Brandon Hantz was a very troubled young man. From his obsession with getting rid of Mikayla for wearing revealing clothes, to his bizarre rants at Tribal Council, to his teary admissions of mistakes he had made in his life, Brandon came across as a guy in serious need of therapy to deal with his myriad of issues. And this was before all those issues had then been broadcast on national TV for all to see, which can just create more issues. Just imagine what that can do to one’s psyche?
I was definitely concerned about Brandon being psychologically fit enough to play this game again when I heard he was coming back for Fans vs Favorites, and those concerns were only magnified when I spoke to him in a somewhat bizarre interview just days before filming began. I even asked Jeff Probst whether Brandon was emotionally stable enough to bring back, and he indicated that the show’s psychologists had cleared him. But all the warning signs were there.
The last thing I want to do is sound all high and mighty — getting righteous about a show exploiting someone’s personal demons for the sake of ratings and drama. Lord knows I have enjoyed many a freak out on Big Brother — a show that goes out of its way to cast people likely to blow up at any second (like, say, Brandon’s other uncle, Willie, who was kicked off the show for head-butting another contestant last summer). I would be hypocritical if I did not acknowledge my voyeuristic side that has supported (and, at times, secretly wished for) such behavior.
But this feels a bit different. And it feels different to me because we saw how much Brandon struggled in this environment already in his first outing. You can’t now use the excuse of “we didn’t know how he would react in such a situation,” because we already saw exactly how he reacted the last time. So that makes it hard to celebrate the drama created by yet another clear emotional meltdown by a guy already proven to have serious issues. Instead of exciting, it just comes off as kind of sad.
At least that’s how I felt watching it. Sad that this guy went back on national television to have all of his demons exposed yet again. Sad for his tribemates that had to endure such a clearly uncomfortable living situation. Sad for myself and the audience, whose appetite for drama shares the blame for encouraging producers and networks to feed that appetite through casting which may border on dangerous or irresponsible. Just sad all around.
I’m not trying to cast stones. And If I am, I am certainly casting one at myself as well. But that was my reaction upon watching Brandon’s multiple freak outs in the episode — fascination mixed with sorrow. We all knew there was a very good chance of something like this happening with him. You take someone already on shaky psychological ground and drop them in the worst conditions possible — wet, tired, hungry, and cut off from a support group of friends and family —well, what do you think is going to happen? Now that it has, how do we feel about it? How do you feel about it? I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments below. In the meantime, let’s go through the rest of the episode from the very top.
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