Brandon Hantz was brought back to create drama, and he certainly delivered. But should he have even been there in the first place?

By Dalton Ross
Updated February 27, 2015 at 11:18 PM EST
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Survivor

S26 E5
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“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.

NEXT: Phillip schools Sherri on the finer points of Haile Seleassi

The episode begins with the Fans tribe looking pretty upbeat for a bunch of people that just lost their fourth straight member. They all say it is a turning point now that they have voted out that weakling Laura. At least that’s what the guys all say. Sherri is upset because her closest ally is now gone, and if they keep voting out the weak, well, she could be next. Meanwhile, Reynold says how happy he is that the idol is gone because it was such a source of division. Reynold should hope there is never a challenge involving being a good liar, because if there is that will be the one he will not completely dominate.

Then something very unusual happens. We head over that same night to the Favorites tribe. I can’t recall an instance were we got post-Tribal Council night footage of the winning tribe that was not even at Tribal Council, but here it is. And here’s why we have it: Brandon is telling the others how selfish he feels for leaving his wife and family. “I can’t do that anymore. Enough is enough,” he says. “Next Tribal Council, if we have to go to Tribal Council, I am volunteering for you to vote me out of the game.” He then proceeds to tell some of them about how he almost burned down the shelter and peed on the beans and rice. I’m not really sure what that has to do with missing his family, but I guess it all makes sense to him.

However the next day, Brandon has — surprise! — changed his mind, saying that he now believes he needs to tough it out for his family. “You’re gonna see the most intense Brandon you’ve seen so far,” he promises us. “And it’s going to be awesome. I’m excited. I’m freaking myself out. I don’t know what I’m going to do!” Truth be told, you are kind of freaking me out as well, Brandon, but let’s both settle down and go check out the reward challenge.

The challenge sticks with this season’s theme of brawn over brains as two members from each tribe each hold a rope attached to a net for as long as they can without dropping it while the other tribe shoots coconuts into the nets. The winners get a BBQ complete with steak, sausage, veggies, condiments and — just for Corinne — lots of wine. Because the Favorites have three extra players, they sit Andrea, Dawn, and Erik. Michael and Matt hold the Fans’ nets while the ones for the Faves are held by Brandon and super duper straight-from-the-dead guest star Bob Marley, who randomly starts yelling out oddly intimidating Rastafari jargon such as “Jah, mon” and “I and I.” Whether that is somehow distracting or Sherri just stinks at throwing coconuts remains unclear.

Meanwhile, Reynold is once again a beast, dropping his coconuts into Brandon’s sack at will — wow, that sure came out wrong. No wonder Brandon is so upset! Sure enough, Brandon drops out first, and then so does Matt, leaving Phillip to battle Michael. Against a mere man, Michael might have a shot, but against the Gorilion? Forget it. The Faves win again and go to collect their bounty, with Corinne making sure she gets her mitts on the booze. Hey, I don’t blame her. If Probst was handing out Milwaukee’s Best, I would have been shotgunning them on the spot.

NEXT: Please don’t attempt to feed Brandon Hantz

I do have to pause for the cause and give props to Phillip for his performance in the challenges this season. I don’t know if he truly is the next Larry Bird or Magic Johnson, as he claims, but the guy has played hard and played well. On the “not playing well” side, you have the Fans. Back at their beach, there is a full-on scramble to find the newly placed hidden immunity idol. Sherri, Michael, Matt, Julia, and Reynold are all busy searching high and low for the HII. But what Sherri, Michael, Matt, and Julia do not know is that they only hand out hidden immunity idols at the cool kids table AND THEY’RE NOT INVITED! So, due to process of elimination, Reynold finds it, exclaiming “This is how you play Survivor!” which is certainly a more potent way to play it than, say, forming a four person alliance in a tribe of 10.

Later, the rain falls hard and fast on the Fans as we are treated to lots of disgusting close-ups on Matt’s feet. “I want my mommy,” complains Duck Dynasty. “I wish something good would happen to our tribe.” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what they call a cue.

Okay, we have to get back into this now. Are you ready? I’m not sure I am, but let’s just do it. For the most part this season, Brandon has been on the outside of the tribe looking in, and that has to be hard when a guy like Phillip Sheppard appears to be in a position of power. Add in the fact that Phillip has been the hero in multiple challenges, and you have a ready-made recipe for jealousy to take hold. “Phillip Sheppard, this dumbass spy agent, whatever you want to call him, thinks he won the challenge,” says Brandon back at the Favorites camp after the contest. “And it’s really, really, really pissing me off. Right now I’m a little aggravated, and I feel like venting a little bit.”

Vent he does, telling Phillip to “shut the f—up and let someone else have an opinion.” What we’ve seen from Brandon both this season and last is that the guy is an emotional rollercoaster — high one day, low the next. You never know which side you are going to get. Says Corinne: “I think we can all agree that Brandon is definitely unstable and unpredictable.” Of course! Why do you think they cast him on the show?!

Now the back and forth begins. Brandon tries to mend fences with Phillip, who tells Lil’ Hantz that he is the one controlling how long Brandon stays. Brandon actually remains calm during the conversation, later telling us that, “As long as I can keep myself under control, I’ll be good. But by damn, that might be a really tough thing to do.” Brandon ends up keeping his cool for roughly the time of one commercial break. “I don’t need no old 54-year-old punk bitch telling me don’t bite the hand that feeds you!” he fumes while looking entirely possessed. “He doesn’t feed me! I’m a Hantz! I feed me!” This will become a running theme of the episode. Apparently, Brandon is very concerned that everyone know that he is capable of feeding himself. It seems like an odd thing to focus on, but I’m pretty sure logic already got the hell out of dodge a long time ago.

NEXT: And there goes the rice. And the beans.

It is right about this time that Phillip brings up one of the ultimate Survivor taboos — throwing a challenge (which we will get into shortly). He tells Andrea that’s how badly he wants Brandon gone. Andrea, clearly not having much experience dealing with people of an unstable nature, then goes and tells Brandon how mad The Specialist still is. I don’t think she is trying to start trouble here, but boy is that not a smart move if you are trying to foster tribe unity before a challenge. It’s like setting nitro up on a blind date with glycerin. Things are not going to end well.

So Brandon goes to talk to Phillip again. Phillip says he can’t trust him and then it is GAME ON! “Can you drop the Stealth R Us thing?” asks Brandon. “It’s like playing with a child. It’s demeaning, man. I’m not a conqueror, nobody in there is exterminator and exterior. It’s really bulls—. Nobody likes their name. Everybody doesn’t actually like you.” I was so hung up on the fact that there was actually someone in Stealth R Us named The Exterior (is that what Phillip calls his pink undies?) that it took me a minute to fully realize what was happening next.

Next thing you know Brandon is blatantly ignoring his promise to pee on the rice and beans and instead pouring them out on the ground. Honestly, I‘m not sure if this is a well-calculated move by Brandon. We know how Phillip likes his scoop of the crispy, and what’s crispier than rice mixed with grains of sand? While Erik and Dawn scramble to save as much food as possible, Brandon keeps yelling at his adversary: “Come on, bitch! I thought you were a secret agent! Come get some! I’m the author of my fate! Now vote me out, bitch!” This is not the last time Brandon will call himself an author (although a few times it sounds like he may actually be saying “Arthur”). Either way, he’s pretty insistent about it. He’s also insistent on using the word “bitch” a lot, which he is just getting warmed up on.

The Favorites are so scarred by this entire experience that they are actually considering the unthinkable: skipping the challenge and going straight to Tribal Council. I have been very consistent over the years with my thoughts on throwing challenges: It’s idiotic. I hated it when Jonny Fairplay and company did it in the Pearl Islands, I hated it when Ozzy’s tribe did it in the Cook Islands, and I hated it when they did it on Redemption Island. I hated it most of all when those bonehead males on Survivor: One World won the challenge then asked to go Tribal Council instead to vote of Bill Posley. There are so many reasons why it is a bad move: You give up part of your numbers advantage, you give the other tribe hope and momentum, you put yourself one step closer to being voted off. Like I said, I hate it. However…

NEXT: Special challenge-throwing exemption granted!

All that said, I am going to do something absolutely shocking and support the Favorites’ move to accept defeat here. Sometimes there are exceptions to the rule, and this appears to be one of those times. When you have a person living amongst you sabotaging your daily life by tossing out your food onto the ground, that is not good. And remember that we are only seeing snippets of what living with Brandon is like. Imagine having to deal with that 24 hours a day. It must be completely exhausting, and possibly dangerous. This could be one of those few scenarios where everybody wins by cutting Brandon loose — the Faves for getting some peace of mind around camp, the Fans for actually not losing something for once, and Brandon for getting the hell out of what was clearly a toxic situation for him.

So we’re off to an immunity challenge that we can already tell is not going to played. But the fireworks are not over. Not even close. “Brandon, how you doing?” asks Probst. What happens next is a bit confusing. Basically, Brandon asks to address the other tribe and tells them that he is their second chance in the game, and to not let Phillip get to the end. Corinne then explains that they are forfeiting the challenge, leading to the first of many incredible Eliza Orlins impersonations from Reynold, whose open-mouthed look of shocked disbelief would fit right in on any jury.

Then, for some reason, Brandon seems to take issue with Corinne’s statement, because all of a sudden he is yelling “bulls—“ (and I don’t mean “bullspit”). The guy is getting seriously riled up, so Probst does a very smart thing and has Brandon walk over to a “neutral spot” next to him. Whether this is done out of genuine concern for the player or just so the host can show off his awesome massaging skills is open to debate, but had he not done that, chances are things could have gotten physical.

But even the calming hands of Probst can not settle down Lil Hantz, who keeps hitting on his major themes: “I feed myself, bitch!” “I took myself out of this game!” and “Shut your mouth!” Things reach a boiling point when Phillip talks about how Brandon treats his elders, including his aunt who is watching his kids back home. “You bring my kids into this?” Brandon yells back. “I’ll come over there and knock your f—ing head off!” Bring my kids into this, bitch!” As Brandon’s temperature rises, so does the intensity of Probst’s neck and shoulder massage as the host goes in for some serious deep tissue action. Seriously, did you watch that guy go to work? He even stopped talking at one point to devote his full attention to the rub down. Is it just me or is Probst doing a lot of rubbing of contestants lately? Last season, Dana was on the receiving end of a big rub after being medically evacuated, and now Brandon got a “hands-on” experience as well. Watch out, Cochran! You may get lucky out there after all!

NEXT: When is a Tribal Council not a Tribal Council?

Anyhoo, Probst has Erik hand the immunity idol over to the Fans and then hosts an impromptu Tribal Council right then and there, having the Favorites each say their vote out loud. Of course, Dawn cries during hers, breaking her tear-free season pledge for approximately the 12,374th time, and Brandon is officially out of the game. So I guess he did not technically quit. Nor was he technically pulled from the game. But it kind of feels like both of those things happened anyway, especially without a torch snuffing or a “Tribe has spoken” send-off. (The only other impromptu Tribal Council at a challenge I can recall off the top of my head is when Ian made Tom promise not to bring him to the finals on Survivor: Palau.) After one last shoulder squeeze, Probst sends Brandon to exit back behind the challenge, which he does while calling Phillip a bitch in case he did not hear him the first couple of hundred times.

And this sad, sad chapter in Survivor history is finally over. “I don’t regret none of that because I proved my point. I was the author of my elimination,” says Brandon after the preview for next week (which seems to indicate a tribe shake-up is coming). It being 10 months later, I’ll be curious to hear how he feels about the entire situation now that he has had a chance to get some distance and reflect upon it. And you can hear that for yourselves when I chat with Lil Hantz on Thursday’s edition of the InsideTV Podcast. I also asked Probst in this week’s Q&A all about the re-casting of Brandon, his meltdown, and how the show handled it both before, during, and after the incident, and that is a must read for everybody. Want to know how Phillip felt about Brandon leaving the game? Find out in the exclusive deleted scene in the video player below. And, as always, you can get more Survivor scoop delivered right to your virtual doorstep by following me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

Now it’s your turn. Was it irresponsible of producers to bring Brandon back on the show after what happened last time? How do you feel Probst handled the situation at the challenge? Do you agree with the Favorites’ decision to hand the challenge over to the Fans? And do you want a Tribe shake-up next week? A lot of big debates brewing, so have at it, and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy.

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Survivor

Jeff Probst leads adventures in the ultimate (and original) reality series.

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