Survivor: Caramoan Episode 5 Review – Portrait of a Meltdown

brandon and tribeWell, that was a different episode. There’s practically only one thing to talk about when it comes to this week’s episode of Survivor, but there’s certainly a lot to say on the matter. So if you’ve seen the episode (or just want a breakdown of the craziest Survivor meltdown of all time) click through.

Alright, let’s not bury the lead. Brandon Hantz, nephew of infamous Survivor player Russell Hantz and returning “Favorite”, had an epic, scary meltdown on Wednesday night’s episode and was subsequently voted out on the spot, before an Immunity Challenge, by his tribe.

A Brief History of Brandon Hantz

brandonThe behavior wasn’t isolated to this episode, or even to this season. When Brandon first appeared on Survivor, his behavior was irrational enough that I questioned in more than one blog post if he posed a threat to himself or his tribe. There were suspicions that maybe this guy had been given it easy on the psych test, because of the drama of his family background. He leered at women and became obsessed with an attractive female tribemate, saying she was a temptation and calling her “Delilah”. He was paranoid, unpredictable and angry.

This time, there were rumors on the Internet that Brandon had failed his pre-Survivor psych test and was cast anyway. I should be clear, I have NO idea whether these rumors are true. (I won’t link to them, because a Google search brought up a page that contained spoilers and I try very hard to avoid those. Google at your own risk.) Jeff Probst told at the beginning of the season that Brandon had been cleared for the show. However, having seen this episode, you have to wonder how on earth Brandon could have passed a psych test. He was unstable to the point of appearing dangerous. His tribemates seemed actually scared.

Diary of a Mad Hantz Man

At the beginning of the episode, Brandon announced to his tribe that he was volunteering to be voted out so that he could return to his wife and children. (It is truly terrifying that this man has children.) The next morning, he’d decided that he was going to play harder than ever, out of his love for them. Ups and down. Ups and downs. He also told Corinne, Andrea and Cochran that he’d considered burning down the camp and peeing in the rice and beans. He did a few confessionals with wild, crazy eyes.

Following the Reward Challenge, Brandon began his downward spiral. The rest of the tribe was praising Phillip’s performance in the challenge because, you know, he won it for them. And Phillip, being who he is, accepted the praise and bragged a little too much. Annoying, but nothing to really get your knickers in a knot about. But Brandon couldn’t stand it, and lashed out at Phillip.

phillipThe argument was volatile enough that Phillip wanted to throw the Immunity Challenge to get Brandon out, and Brandon was acting crazy enough that I didn’t think Phillip was wrong for suggesting to do so. I’m rarely on board with throwing challenges, but in this case it seemed warranted. The big mistake, though, was made by Andrea. Apparently she and Brandon are pals, and she essentially told him that if the tribe lost the Immunity Challenge, she was worried he’d be voted out. Big mistake – the kid was too unhinged to get that news.

Somewhere in there, Brandon had attempted to apologize to Phillip and the end result was Phillip implying that Brandon should not bite the hand that feeds him. Those words stuck with Brandon, and he freaked out. He confronted Phillip about possibly getting voted out, then ranted to everyone else that he’d give them a reason to vote him out. Illogical, because he is unreasonable. Brandon poured out the rice and beans, and it seemed pretty clear that everyone on the tribe was kind of afraid of him. Erik tried to stop him from pouring out the food, but backed off pretty quickly. It made me wonder how much else went on with Brandon at camp that we didn’t get to see. They seemed truly exhausted from dealing with his behavior.

Brandon tried to start a fight with Phillip, and I think the producers should be counting their lucky stars that he wasn’t on a tribe with more aggressive people. Malcolm and Erik are calm dudes – how would someone like Shamar have dealt with all the rice getting poured out? Would Eddie have remained so calm? Can you imagine NaOnka on this tribe? Phillip walked away from Brandon, but not everyone would have.

Probst Plays Therapist

at the challengeEveryone arrived at the Immunity Challenge, and it was clear that the Favorites had already decided what to do. First, Brandon spoke – it was as manic and illogical as ever. He said he was giving the Fans a second chance, and told them not to let Phillip win. He didn’t really make it clear if he was quitting, but he was obviously trying to go out on his own terms or something. Next, Corinne spoke and delivered what seemed to be a prepared statement. She announced that the Favorites would be forfeiting the challenge so that they could attend Tribal Council to deal with some discontent within the tribe. Eventually Probst got Brandon to come stand by him so they could try and talk things through.

Brandon continued to say unsettling things, and act like a person who probably has a mental illness and likely needs some serious help. Andrea started sobbing at one point – I still can’t believe that she and Brandon were close -and Dawn had a hard time holding it together as well. Everyone just looked drained, like they’d been dealing with unpredictable, irrational behavior for a long time.

First of all, it was awkward to watch Probst give Brandon such an intimate shoulder massage during all of this. Second of all, he did a pretty good job of keeping the guy calm and I’ll be interested to hear what he has to say about it all tomorrow in his weekly Q&A with But while he deserves credit for dealing with the situation well, it’s a situation that never should have happened.

Entertainment vs. Exploitation

I fear this is getting too long, and I’ve already stated that I don’t think Brandon should have been cast on Survivor this season, or any other. But this could lead to an interesting discussion about reality TV show casting in general. There’s been talk before about suicides of reality TV “stars”, and other violence, though it often seems to revolve around shows that I’d consider a lower quality than something like Survivor. Yes, there is such a thing as high-brow reality TV. Accept that fact.

Recently on American Idol, a young man was put through to the live rounds who obviously wasn’t equipped to handle all the pressure that came with it. He delivered an awkward performance – a pale redhead wearing a tanktop, ponytail and feather earring – and then took criticisms from the judges for being different than what they’d expected. They signed up for a particular brand of quirky, and he hadn’t delivered. Afterwards, he painfully told Ryan Seacrest that he only smiles because he thinks he has to. Hearts broke, and the kid seemed to troubled that I actually worried for him. Like Jeff Probst this week, Ryan Seacrest handled it well, but you had to ask why the guy had been put into the situation to begin with. The quest for good ratings and buzz on Twitter should never trump ethics. Putting Brandon on this season of Survivor was exploitation, not entertainment. I’m disappointed in the show for doing it.

Verbal Voting

On a lesser level, I think it’s unfair to the other Favorites that Brandon was cast. He was impossible to live with, and the tribe was essentially forced into forfeiting a challenge in order to vote out someone that seemed threatening to them. Sure, they had an opportunity to vote Brandon out instead of Francesca – but that was three days into the game, when Brandon wasn’t yet sabotaging food and threatening physical violence. I think it’s unfair that they had to lose a tribe member because the producers were irresponsible in their casting decision. Furthermore, what about their food? Will it be replaced? That also feels unfair.

Anyway, Probst moved things right into Tribal Council (because everyone knew allowed Brandon to return to camp would be a mistake) and everyone verbally voted Brandon out, except for Brandon, who voted for Phillip. He was sent to wait behind the Immunity Challenge structure, hopefully for medical assistance, and the Immunity Idol was handed over to the Fans.

Hidden Immunity Idols and Such

OK, a few other things did happen during this episode. The Favorites won yet another challenge, and got to partake in a tasty BBQ feast. The Reward Challenge required two players to hold two large baskets, while players from the other teams attempted to fill them with coconuts. The team with the last player standing won.

reynold02Reynold seemed to have a good strategy going in piling all his coconuts on Brandon, eliminating him for the Favorites, and then moving onto Phillip. But where the Fans went wrong was putting Michael and Matt on the nets. Eddie definitely should have been in one of those roles, they didn’t need both of their strongest guys throwing the coconuts.

At the Fans’ camp, everyone went looking for the Hidden Immunity Idol and Reynold found it again. My fiance Rob ended up with Reynold in the office Survivor pool, and we originally thought that he wouldn’t last long. But Reynold keeps getting lucky, and the Tribal shake-up that’s about to occur is just what he needs. That’s right – next week, the tribes are going to be shaken up, which means anything could happen. I often dislike this game twist, because it undermines all the hard work people do in building alliances early on. But it can certainly lead to a more unpredictable game, and this season has been an exciting one so far. I feel confident that it will keep up.

OK, your turn! Take to the comments and sound off on Brandon’s behavior, and all the rest.