is a seasoned veteran of reality TV. In its 25 seasons preceding the current cycle of Survivor Caramon: Fans vs. Favorites
, producers have managed to keep the show fresh by adding little strategic twists here and there while maintaining the same format and certain amount of predictability that keep bringing fans back.
The only thing that remains unpredictable season after season are the people who play. On last night's episode
, one of the show's most unpredictable players Brandon Hantz had a meltdown. "Meltdown" may not even be the appropriate word. In past seasons, "meltdown" may have meant a player shedding some tears about missing home or being physically and emotionally exhausted due to the toll the elements and lack of food took on them over the course of the game. What happened to Brandon was an all-out mental breakdown.
It was clear that Brandon had been stewing little by little since he returned to the game after being a contestant on Survivor: South Pacific
. Even on that show he seemed a little unstable, often having irrational outbursts that were excused by his youth and inability to control his emotions. But according to this EW interview with Jeff Probst
, Brandon passed the same rigorous psychological tests that all of the contestants are put through before deploying to the island.
Not to mention the outside pressure Brandon must have felt coming into the game. Brandon's always struggled with separating his image from that of his uncle Russell Hantz
, who is one of the most notorious villains in Survivor
(and maybe even reality TV) history. But his relation to Russell is likely the only reason he was put on the show in the first place, and probably one, if not the only, reason he came back to play again.
Things started to change in last night's episode when Brandon started to become visibly agitated by his tribe mate Phillip Sheppard (which doesn't seem that abnormal, considering Phillip is extremely irritating). Not only were his tribe mates instantly aware that something was off about Brandon's behavior, but viewers could see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice in his confessionals. Brandon was taking his anger way outside the parameters of game and starting to show violent tendencies toward Philip well before he threatened to act upon these violent thoughts at the immunity challenge.
The moment Brandon proceeded to dump the entire food supply of his fellow tribe mates is the second Survivor
stopped being entertaining to me, and I say that as a loyal fan and legitimate lover of this show. At that moment, it stopped being a show that is a fun and light-hearted social experiment and turned into something too real for reality TV.
In my opinion, the minute the rice and beans hit the ground is when there should have been producer intervention. The other people in Brandon's tribe are existing in a somewhat self-governing little bubble outside of the real world. At that moment, the producers had already failed to protect them and guarantee their physical safety from other players within this bubble. The least they could have done to attempt to rectify the situation would be to immediately remove Brandon.
I'm not saying that they left Brandon in the game and allowed the blow-up at the immunity challenge to happen merely to score ratings or create a controversy or new "plot twist." Jeff Probst said in the aforementioned interview that this was a situation they have never been faced with before. What I am saying is that what Brandon was dealing with was clearly a chemical imbalance, and as such, it should have been treated like any other physical injury that has occurred on the show, with an examination by a medical professional.
That said, I do realize that I am formulating my opinion with the benefit of hindsight. At the immunity challenge, Jeff once again displayed why he is TV's greatest host by not only maintaining control of Brandon (as well as the other people in the game) but also appeasing him. But now that something like this has happened, I hope that the producers can formulate a more effective plan for if it happens again that will not bring embarrassment and discomfort to everyone in the game as well as the viewers.
Mental illness is a serious thing. And while I've never been a fan of Brandon "the player," my heart truly goes out to him and as his family for what will be a life-long struggle for Brandon "the person."