Interview: Russell Swan talks 'Survivor: Philippines'
Disheartened after his second time, Russell explains the compulsion to return
I got on the phone with "Survivor: Philippines" bootee Russell Swan expecting to talking about all of the usual exit interview things.
While I knew the frustration that he'd obviously felt having his torch snuffed in Wednesday's episode, I still figured I'd talk with Russell about the mistake of taking a leadership role after vowing he wouldn't, about the decisions to vote out Zane and Angie and Roxy and whether any move could have reversed his tribe's ill fortune and about the last day at camp being lied to be both Denise and Malcolm.
As you can tell from Russell's first response to my first question, that wasn't the kind of interview he was really prepared to do, so we went off in a very different direction.
I've done a lot of these interviews, but this one is, to me, one of the best insights into the mind of a "Survivor" player, particularly the mind of a repeat "Survivor" player. The last answer, especially in light of Russell's post-"Survivor" condition, is definitely the most enlightening.
Check out the full interview...
HitFix: Everything you said and did on Wednesday's episode was in the heat of a very specific moment. You've had a couple months to reflect and readjust. How do you view your second "Survivor" experience from a distance?
Russell Swan: Well, let me correct you on one thing: The reflection that you're saying that I did actually hasn't happened, because when I left the game, in real time, it sucked. Bad. And so I got home and I knew I needed to be kinda whole and present and functional and so I completely pushed this whole ridiculous experience out of my mind and basically pretended like it never happened. Every piece of paper, even the luggage that I carried my clothes in, I basically just put it away and pretended like it never happened. It wasn't until they actually announced the cast and I thought, "Oh gosh. It's really there. I'm gonna have to deal with this." And I just was in denial until it happened again and I'm reliving all of it.
So I am just in a pattern of, "Look, I don't know what happened out there, dude. This sucks," and you've gotta be functional in other parts of your life and try to put this in perspective the best you can. I will confess to you, as I have the others, that it had a profound negative effect on me right now, but that's just right now. In the fullness of time, I will do exactly what you said or speculated that I had done and I will get a chance to reflect and I will be able to give these pearls of wisdom like I did after Samoa. I left there and I thought it was a negative and come to find out there were actually a lot of great things I learned. But just in terms where we are in the continuum now, I'm just not there yet. So I can't even begin to answer that question.
HitFix: How long did it take you after Samoa to be able to step back and get perspective on that experience?
Russell: That's a good question. I would say it was about three months after "The Eyes" episode, as I say, because before then, I didn't even realize that that episode existed. Jeff Probst had even said, "Dude. You're gonna see that you were not good out there" and I kept thinking, "This dude is lying through his teeth." And I saw the episode and then so the initial thing is just shock like, "Wait a minute. Did I just almost die? That can't be!" Because I almost died. Of course, my wife freaked out. So it took the better part of three months. I would say by the time we had gotten to the finale, I was able to intellectualize a lot about what happened out there, rather than having that initial emotional response: The shock, the disappointment, the anger. So I'm more on the, not so "shocked," but definitely more on the disappointment and anger and humiliation front right now.
HitFix: But you've been watching the episodes this season?
HitFix: Was there any consideration to not doing that?
Russell: Oh yeah. Yeah. Yes. Yeah, I did. Thank the Lord for my wife. Wives, they say they're the best thing ever invented and that's definitely true. She could tell I was upset when I first got back. She was like, "OK. Please don't tell me that you're gonna have another medical moment" and I was like, "No." The first time, I didn't tell her anything. This time I kinda told her everything. I said, "I don't wanna be involved. I don't even think anything is worth it. I'm not gonna go. I'm not gonna have any of these interviews. They can just..." do a few things that I won't repeat in this phone conversation. She basically said, "No. That's cowardly. You went into this with your eyes wide open that this was in the realm of possibility, so you've gotta face this." And I have. I understand from an intellectual standpoint that this is a TV show, this is a reality TV show, and that's all just a game, but there is this component that I'm not an actor. That is me watching me, watching unsuccess and problems and trouble. And so I would be completely untethered from reality, I think, if I said that this doesn't impact upon me. It does. It's not comfortable. It's difficult. But, like I said, in the fullness of time, I'm pretty sure I'll get to the point where, like in Samoa, I will be able to put this in perspective and have a much different conversation with you and others about what the hell happened out there, because I'm gonna be working through that through my synapses myself to try to figure out what do I have to say about it. People already have plenty to say about it themselves, so...
HitFix: What was your wife's reaction at the end of Wednesday's episode when the credits rolled?
Russell: It's not so much my wife's reaction that was interesting, but I think what's more interesting was my daughter's, because I think that's more telling and that's why I have faith that there's gonna be some gems that'll come out of this. Actually, before the episode aired. I told my daughter that I was gonna be voted off and she asked me "Why?" And it wasn't that she asked me, but the way she asked, almost like, "How can this happen to you, daddy? How is anybody gonna vote you off?" And I thought to myself and was like, "We lose the next challenge and daddy gets voted off" and she started to cry. And I don't want to get into all the conversation I had with her, because a lot of it was personal and private, but suffice it to say that one of the things that was really interesting is we had this conversation about not everybody liking you... and it was just a very interesting thing that this experience helped us to bond in a way and me to raise an issue about the fact that sometimes there's gonna be people out there that are gonna have plenty to say about you and you're gonna be voted off your own island at some points in your life. So my wife just basically said, "OK. It is what it is." She got up and said, "I'm taking the baby upstairs and I'll see you when you come up." And that was pretty much it.
HitFix: We've established that you haven't had that reflective moment about the season, but what new information has watching the season given you on what happened out there? Are there things that you hadn't realized or recognized when you were in the heat of the moment?
Russell: Ummm... I have to honestly say nothing much. There's only a tribe of six, so there wasn't any big maneuverings or stuff like that, just because we were just trying to win a damn challenge. It was no great mystery to me that returning players were going to be targeted, that I was going to be targeted specifically, that Denise and Malcolm seemed to work well together and, having played this before, I know what that means. So there was nothing new. What I did see is what I remembered, including not being able to find the Idol, challenges that just never seemed to go our way and lots of rain.
HitFix: How much do you think the rain really was to blame in terms of what it did to your group psyche and whatnot?
Russell: Yeah. That's a good question, because it's all linked into what happens when you begin to lose challenges and all of these different things and the cumulative, synergistic effects of all of these different things: Losing the raft, the rain, losing a challenge or two, being down in numbers. There's no question in my mind that that played some role, because it always does. It wasn't as much of a problem with me, because I knew that it could be miserable, but as I watching some of these newer folks, who did the best they could under the circumstances, I knew it was making them miserable, because it is miserable. So it was definitely a factor.
HitFix: Does everything that happened seem inevitable, then? Would it have made a difference if you'd voted Angie out first? If you'd kept Zane around? If you'd kept Roxy around? When you look back, is there anything that you could have done differently that would have made a difference?
Russell: Man... If you look on CBS' website, Artis says something along these lines about us making a mistaking having voted Zane out first, because the other tribes still had their three men and we got to see that play out in this challenge this time, although there's still just a tremendous amount of luck. There's an element of luck that comes into it that you can't just completely ignore, but it is interesting. It's speculative, at best, to think it would be different, but maybe. I wonder about that. But then that pits folks against folks and you knows? You keep Zane and he has a horrible day the next day? You keep me and I have a horrible day? It's just hard to tell. That's the beauty of this game. You can look on paper and think you understand what's going on up one side and down the other and at the end of the day it doesn't matter, because there are just too many unknowns.
HitFix: You sound down on the game still. Can you foresee any circumstance in which you can imagine yourself coming out of this, having your period of reflection and deciding in three months or six months or two years that you might want to do this again?
HitFix: Why is that?
Russell: It's weird and it's interesting to answer that question. The first time I played, I did this whole "This is Reality" kinda like "Survivor" fundraising circuit that you can do, Chitlin' circuit, where you go to this fundraiser and that fundraiser and you get to see everybody and do these things. That's where you get to meet a lot of these folks and it's interesting, because I've met a lot of them and at the time I was thinking, "Man, this show sucked and I can't believe that it almost killed me." And so everyone I asked, no matter what their experience was -- some of them were winners and some of them were voted off first -- every last one of them said they'd do it again in heartbeat. And I thought, "These people are crazy! You already won, why do you want to go back and be dirty again? You already won! You risk your legacy! And you? You sucked the first time and got voted off first!" You kinda think, "Wow, these people are crazy." And then, just like you said, three months down the road, I dreamed, hoped, prayed for the phone to ring. I don't know. I think it's almost like birthing babies. You know? Why would a woman go through that more than once? I saw my wife have our child and I thought, "My gosh. I'm surprised there are any children on this planet." You know? And there are women who do it more than once. What's up with that? If you were to ask me now, "OK, if the phone rings tomorrow, would you do it?" Hell to the no. But I can definitely foresee a time where I get into the same game-amnesia about how much it sucked and how painful I was and how angry I was and I'd say, just like I said: Let's line it up. I'm ready to go.