Love him or hate him, Russell Hantz has been the face of CBS' "Survivor" for the past two seasons.
 
Bullying, occasionally abusive, diabolically manipulative and bizarrely adroit at finding poorly hidden Immunity Idols, Russell has bulldozed his way to the final jury on two occasions and left angrily without the million dollars on both occasions.
 
To some fans, Russell is one of the game's legendary players, an example of how even the most repellent personality can dominate the game with guile, intensity and force-of-will. To other fans, Russell is a beneficiary of the over-saturation of Immunity Idols on "Survivor" and the perfect example of a player who understands one part of the game -- lasting 39 days -- flawlessly, but remains utterly clueless about the second part of the game -- successfully convincing nine people you voted out to name you Sole Survivor. Enough people fall into the first camp that Russell won an online vote for the most popular player in "Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains," giving him $100,000 and some solace after getting shut out in the jury vote.
 
HitFix caught up with a still-bitter Russell the morning after the "Heroes vs. Villains" finale to discuss his season, his disappointment and the under-the-radar strategy he never got to employ.
 
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HitFix: When you went into Sunday's live event, what were your expectations?
 
Russell Hantz: Well, I could read everyone pretty well. I knew I didn't win. I thought maybe I got one vote, if I was lucky. So I was prepared to say exactly how I feel about Sandra's gameplay, which was weak. If someone like Sandra can win the game, twice, when she has no physical play and no strategic play... Her strategic play was to get rid of me the entire game and it didn't work for her. Her physical play is probably some of the worst in "Survivor" history and her friggin' social game is terrible. She's always hollering at everybody. You know? Nobody likes her. Nobody liked her out there and she was always getting in arguments. So if someone like that can go to the end and beat Russell Hantz and Parvati Shallow? I mean, two of the greatest players to ever play the game, then there is a flaw in the system. Something's wrong. If you were having this conversation with me telling me that Parvati won, I'd be OK with that.
 
 
HitFix: Here's my question, though. You knew that the show you were on was one that Sandra had managed to win before, with a similar strategy. Why wouldn't you have thought she could do it a second time?
 
RH: Man, I just thought that these All-Stars would respect the game. I thought that if I dropped the weakest player... And that's what I did. I brought Sandra because she was the weakest physical, strategic player out there left. So I brought her because of that. I thought that the jury of All-Stars would vote for the best player. I'm not telling you that I'm pissed cuz I didn't win. I would be OK if Parvati won, because she played a good game. Sandra didn't.
 
 
HitFix: Could you clear up the timetable for me? When you started on "Heroes vs. Villains," did you know the results of your first season?
 
RH: You know, like I said, you can read people pretty well. So, in my mind, I didn't think I'd won, because I could hear it in everybody's voices that they weren't going to vote for me. So no, I didn't think I won. I thought I came in second. And that's what happened.
 
 
HitFix: How important or how much of an advantage do you think it was that you came into this season playing with people who didn't know your game, didn't see you coming?
 
RH: Well, everybody keeps asking that same question. The thing is, nobody realizes that I'd just gotten off a season for 39 days. I love 50 pounds. I was weak. I was tired. I was hungry. I mentally screwed up and I have to go play the game with All-Stars? You know? With people who probably know each other? They talk to each other, they party together. And I don't even know none of them. And then I'm going to the Villains tribe, which shows them immediately that I'm a bad guy? That doesn't sound too... I thought I was gonna be going home early because of that.
 
 
HitFix: And why do you think you didn't go home early?
 
RH: Because I'm good at the game and I saved my alliance to get further in the game. By the time they knew, by the time they figured it out, it was too late.
 
 
HitFix: Why was it important for you to make the alliances with the players you sided with, rather than trying to play the game with a stronger player like a Boston Rob or like Coach?
 
RH: Because if you're aligned with somebody like Boston Rob, you're going home pretty soon, because he'll stab his own alliance in the back. One thing that I play and I showed it in Season 19, I don't stab my alliance in the back. You have to at some point, but I brought Foa Foa, the four, to to the Final Five. I brought three of them to the Finals! I would have never stabbed Parvati in the back. The only time it was time for her to go was when she accepted my Idol and then didn't tell me that she had one. So then I couldn't trust her anymore. That was it. It was every man for himself after that.
 
 
HitFix: Coming in for the second time in a row, did you give any consideration to trying to play a different style of game? Just to mix it up?
 
RH: Yeah. Yes. When I first got there, because I didn't think I won Samoa, when I got there, I was like, "OK. I'm gonna try to do this, you know, calm." I tried! The production even came up to me and said, "Hey Russell, what's wrong?" I was trying. But this guy, his name is Boston Rob, if you took on him, you're in trouble. And he was running around like a chicken with his head cut off and a really strong strategic player, so I knew I had to step up my game. And I did. I had to go full-speed-ahead with this crowd. I had to, or I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you about even not winning the vote, because I would have never made it to the Finals.
 
 
HitFix: I've gotta hear more about this Calm Russell, this under-the-radar Russell. How were you going to play the game in that version of things?
 
RH: I was gonna go behind Boston Rob and be the one that he thinks he can trust, trying to act like Natalie was to me. I know it might have looked funny, but I was gonna try and do it. But then I couldn't. My personality would not allow it, because Rob's personality was just as strong as mine and he was bossing everybody around, telling everyone what to eat, what time to eat, what time they can friggin' got take a leak in the woods. And I just couldn't deal with it no more. I'm in control of everything I do. And in the game? You know my job? Everything. So I was like, "You know what? I've gotta take control in this game, cuz if I don't, I'm goin' home." I couldn't do it.
 
 
HitFix: You were so miserable for the first segment of the reunion show, with the jury results, but were you able to find a way to enjoy winning America's vote and that $100,000? Or were you too bitter?
 
RH: Oh no, man. That's what I wanted. I mean, I wanted the Sole Survivor, of course, but by getting America's Vote, I almost have to sit here and say, "Hey, I'm the best that played in the last two seasons." Guess what? Listen to the millions of people who voted. They said I was the best that played. So that's just a fact. It solidifies what I think, that I *am* the best.
 
 
HitFix: But in your final jury speech this season, you actually apologized to the members of the jury who you may or may not have offended. You didn't do that the first time around. What was up with that?
 
RH: Well, I figured I was trying to get my votes. I was doing what everyone says that I wasn't doing. I apologized. I said, "Hey guys, I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings, but I played the game as hard as I could and I can't apologize for how I played. I'll apologize to you as a person, but not for how I played." You know. And they... I guess it's just the wrong speech.
 
 
HitFix: What would the right speech have been?
 
RH: I mean, my speech in Season 19 was probably the best speech... I went back and listened to it and I was like, "I laid it down for them." If you get time, go back and listen to it. It's amazing. I tell 'em exactly what happened. I laid it down, all of my strategic plays. I did everything. I told them what physically I won, what mentally I won and socially how I brought I brought Foa Foa and they trusted me so much they wouldn't waver from my vote. But it doesn't matter, because if you stab somebody in the back that hard, they're just not gonna vote for you no matter what you do.
 
 
HitFix: So if you acknowledge that no matter what speech you make, you can't get people to vote for you based on the game you play, do you agree with what Boston Rob said at the reunion that you play the game to get to the end, but you really just don't want to win?
 
RH: Yeah, he's actin' like all that and he ain't even won. What's he talking about? He didn't even make the jury twice and he played three times. He came in second once. He doesn't have room to talk. He's a good player, but his record's not too good in the game. So what he's saying? It doesn't mean nothing to me. Like I said, he didn't even make the jury twice.
 
 
HitFix: Last question: You've done it twice, done it twice in a row. Would you play a third time? Do you think you could get away with playing a third time?
 
RH: I don't know if I would, but I think that I could even go out there still, because social game *is* that good, and make it all the way to the end. Even still. And that would be amazing.
 
 
HitFix: But you don't know if you would?
 
RH: I don't know. That would be something that I would have to really debate. I don't want to go out there and then it's not fair to me or my fans for me to get voted off first or second.
 
 
Previous "Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains" Exit Interviews: