Survivor Recap: Russell’s Swan Song

Malcolm Freberg, left, Russell Swan and Denise Stapley of the Matsing Tribe

Nobody’s perfect, especially not Russell Swan. The player who would be Superman finally succumbed to fate on this week’s episode of Survivor, becoming the fourth person evicted from the season.

Previously best known for having the scariest emergency exit in Survivor history, Swan’s new legacy involves one of the single worst performances ever from a returning player. He rejected his natural skills as a leader while still clinging onto alpha-male instincts, resulting in a confused performance that only kept him in play through three tribal councils because of the value of his brute strength. As former Survivor player and regular commentator Rob Cesternino puts it, Swan’s experience this season was nothing short of “a total grease fire.”

Cesternino joined Spinoff Online to recap the latest episode of Survivor: Philippines, covering everything from Russell’s demise and the ill-fated Matsing tribe to the Hantz-ish behavior of Pete Yurkowski and the power alliance of Jonathan Penner and Jeff Kent.

Spinoff Online: This week, the inevitable finally happened. Russell Swan is no more. It’s a little sad to see the guy go so early, but it’s hard to call it surprising. In your opinion, is there anything — anything at all — that Russell did right on this season of Survivor?

Rob Cesternino

Rob Cesternino: I mean, from the second he got off the boat, everything went wrong this entire season! For Russell, this was like “Survivor: Murphy’s Law.” This was perhaps the worst effort that we’ve ever seen from a returning player to come back to the game. The leadership fiasco, the blow-ups, not finding the idol. This just was a total grease fire.

It wouldn’t have been a Matsing loss at immunity without a Russell meltdown, and he did not disappoint in his swan song. You had to appreciate Jeff’s line: “You’re not a superhero, you’re just a guy.” Was that Russell’s fatal flaw, that he just expected too much from himself? Or do you think maybe he expected the wrong things — he didn’t truly embrace his own strengths?

Wow, that’s very deep, Josh. I take it you’ve been watching The Jeff Probst Show. For Russell, I come back to how he didn’t own who he is and that’s a guy who takes charge in the game. Once he got away from that, he came off as having multiple personalities and I think that was an issue. That being said, I think the outburst at the challenge was probably over the top … but you can certainly understand the frustration after losing four in a row.

Was there ever even a moment where you thought Denise and Russell would team up, or Malcolm and Russell? Or was it pretty clear to you that those two weren’t breaking up?

I have to say I did think for one second that Malcolm may be switching to vote for Denise at the point that Denise was saying, “Maybe it could be me tonight,” and then when they talked about how great she was at tribal council. I started to worry for a moment, but luckily we’ll get to see more of the Denise and Malcolm show, at least for a week.

Well, you and I have both been high on the Malcolm-Denise combo deal pretty much from day one. But Matsing is decimated. Those two are either about to be absorbed by other tribes, lost in some tribal shuffle, or completely wiped out in the next challenge. Is there hope for Mal and Denise? What needs to happen to keep them in the game for the long term?

Malcolm and Denise may be like a pair of Survivor star-crossed lovers. Their only hope for survival really lies in either dominating challenges if the tribes remain the same – which is unlikely – or being split apart with the hopes of finding each other again after the merge. They’re both savvy players, I hope that they do find each other again. You know, Josh, if you love something, let it go, because if it comes back to you, it will last forever.

Wow! Sounds like you’ve been watching The Jeff Probst Show! Alright, let’s look at what’s happening at Tandang. Pete’s causing all kinds of problems, pitting RC and Abi against each other. He’s almost like Russell Hantz wearing a Colby Donaldson costume; sort of an amazing combination. Do you like Pete? Do you think he’s playing a good game, or is he getting ahead of himself?

Russell Swan

I think Pete could provide some entertainment value but I think Pete is way too proud of himself at this early stage. Nobody should take too much credit in getting Abi-Maria worked up since it seems like the slightest provocation is enough to get her going. I think the chaos idea is a dangerous one, especially in the small group. If he keeps creating mischief, there are only so many people that could be the culprits and eventually it’s going to be obvious that its him.

Last week, the target was on Skupin’s back. This week, because of the conflict between Abi and RC, it feels like one of them is going to be next to go. Who do you think, given the way things are now, is the first to get booted if Tandang goes to tribal?

If I had to choose between RC or Skupin going first from that tribe, I would think it’s RC. I say that because of the way the challenges have been going with the three men playing in all the challenges for Tandang and for Kalabaw. I don’t believe that Mike is grating too much on these players and he’s a warrior in the challenges. I’d be surprised if they got out Skupin and with the tension between RC and Abi-Maria going on, I’d say RC.

Over on Kalabaw, it’s One World all over again, men versus women. More importantly than anything, though, is the biggest twist of the season: Carter can speak! But even after hearing his voice, does this guy bring anything to the game that you can see? Or do you think he’s more of the Nick Brown, Brett Clouser type — a guy who doesn’t add much to the equation, but can go deep into the game despite, or because of, a quiet personality?

I’m not exactly sure why the Survivor-verse is piling on Purple Carter so much… people must be expecting big things from this guy! More than anything, I think the problem has been the three tribe format, especially considering how Matsing has dominated the last 20 minutes of every episode. We’ve spent so much time with Matsing that we really haven’t seen much from Carter or the girls at Kalabaw – but I believe we’ll see more as the season develops.

How much do you trust that the Penner-Kent alliance is an actual thing that can last? Do you think that’s a sturdy relationship, or does it only exist as long as it’s convenient for them?

Well, I believe that everything in life usually exists for as long as it’s convenient for us, so why should an alliance be an exception? I do believe that Penner has won Kent over, as much as Kent wanted to get Penner out in the early going of the game. I believe that Penner is loyal to his alliance mates… and though he once mutineed from his tribe, he did so only because his main ally did it first.

Look ahead at next week for us: two Matsing, six Tandang, six Kalabaw. We have to be on the verge of a twist, right? What’s your prediction for where we’re headed next in the Philippines?

I would say that a shuffle or absorption would be on the way but I’m pretty scared by the preview from next week’s show about somebody being removed from the game for medical reasons. My gut says Jeff Kent is in trouble with his knee, but hopefully he can stay in the game and we don’t lose one of the really interesting power players of the game.

Survivor: Philippines airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

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