Survivor: Caramoan Ep. 26.5, “Persona Non Grata” sends Brandon Hantz on a suicide mission

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Survivor-26.5-Brandon

Survivor: Caramoan Review, Season 26, Episode 5
“Persona Non Grata”
Airs Wednesdays at 8pm (ET) on CBS

When Survivor announced their cast of returning players for this second “Fans vs. Favorites” season, the one that stood out was Brandon Hantz. Although he provided memorable television in his first appearance, he’s also an unstable guy who demonstrated awful gameplay. Putting him back on the island felt like a bad idea, and it was only a matter of time before he lost his marbles. When his fragile state combines with nasty weather conditions and other volatile personalities, it creates a powder keg that’s ready to explode. This week, a minor squabble with Phillip winds up Brandon and pushes him to new levels of rage. His choice to dump out the rice and beans is stunning even when compared to other wild moves. Never has a player so openly destroyed a tribe’s resources in front of the entire group. It sometimes makes sense to keep a crazy player around for strategic purposes, but this situation is different. The favorites don’t feel comfortable having Brandon at camp, so gameplay considerations go out the window. When a tribe of returning players willingly forfeits immunity before a challenge, they want this nutcase out of commission as soon as possible.

The big question hanging over Brandon’s actions is whether he lost his mind or purposely acted insane to quit the game. Even though he isn’t a calm guy, Brandon knows what he’s doing. He’s been considering this type of move since Francesca was voted out in the first Tribal Council. This episode begins with Brandon talking about quitting, so he wants to exit the game with a bang. It’s like a disgruntled worker who walks into his boss’ office and keeps insulting him until he gets fired. While the employee doesn’t technically quit, the desired result is the same. The favorites try the diplomatic approach and have Corinne explain their desire to air their grievances at Tribal Council. Predictably, Brandon isn’t going to bypass his chance to grab the spotlight. He’s ready to fight Phillip in front of the cameras and the shocked fans tribe, but part of it is just bluster. Only the massage skills of Jeff Probst keep the situation from getting worse. Although he shares the blame as executive producer for casting Brandon again, Probst masterfully handles the situation and recognizes the story potential. He’s trying to avoid a horrible scene while realizing this is gold material.

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Looking closer at the conflict between Brandon and Phillip, it shows what happens when two oddball personalities come together. Phillip has spent his time grabbing camera time by giving silly nicknames and inducting everyone into his “Stealth ‘R’ Us” alliance. He’s in control on the surface, but no one takes him seriously. The exception is Brandon, who is carrying a major chip on his shoulder because Coach manipulated him in the South Pacific. Phillip tells him not to bite the hand that feeds him, which makes sense from a strategic standpoint. They’re in an alliance and can benefit by working together. The problem is that Brandon feels powerless to control his fate. Instead of working to usurp Phillip by getting votes against him, he decides it’s better to fall on his sword. While Brandon’s thinking is idiotic, it puts Phillip in a more tenuous place. The fans all witnessed the outburst and understand Phillip’s role in the tribe. When the tribes are likely swapped next week, they’ll immediately target him as a possible threat. His silly antics won’t blind them to his intentions to control the tribe. Brandon’s honest assessment of Phillip as a joke is actually spot on, and that makes it one of the most intriguing conversations thus far. If Brandon had channeled his anger towards beating Phillip, it could have worked given his good relationships with Cochran and Andrea.

Although the episode focuses on Brandon’s outbursts, there is some time with the fans. Despite eliminating a physically weaker player in Laura, they lose the reward challenge and are left scratching their heads. Sherri is on the outs after struggling, and the change for her has been stunning. Matt and Michael seem ready to work with Reynold and Eddie because they’re getting decimated. Speaking of Reynold, he also finds another hidden immunity idol. It’s pointless to complain about how easy it’s become to find these prizes. The producers clearly want players to find the idols quickly, so they hide them in obvious places. Reynold’s persistence serves him well, though telling Eddie is a mistake. Even passing information to an ally is unwise in this game. If Eddie’s back ends up against the wall, he’ll throw Reynold under the bus without a second thought.

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Does casting a player like Brandon benefit Survivor? Yes and no. It provides compelling drama in this episode and makes it unpredictable. However, it also cheapens the show and shifts the attention too far away from strategy and game play. Reality TV gets criticized for showing insane camera hogs begging for attention, and this fits into that mold. Brandon has mental problems and serious inner demons, but this isn’t the place to exorcise them. Bringing him back and labeling him a “favorite” is questionable even if his mania doesn’t reach this crescendo. It’s a shameful move from Probst, Mark Burnett, and the other forces behind the scenes. They had to realize the potential for this type of breakdown when choosing Brandon. The refreshing part is that the issues happened early and didn’t poison the entire season. There is great potential with this group, and the remaining episodes could be great. The fans get a chance to regroup, and the potential for a shake up within the favorites is higher. With Brandon gone, Survivor is set to take off as it heads towards the merge.

Dan Heaton

7 Comments
  1. Dylan says

    You make solid points about what the casting of Brandon meant to the show, about how this takes focus away from the strategy and the game, but I can’t help myself – this was the best episode in years, if not ever. It was cuckoo-nutso! It didn’t feature an immunity challenge OR a real tribal council!! Has that ever happened? I think not.

    “Reality TV gets criticized for showing insane camera hogs begging for attention, and this fits into that mold. Brandon has mental problems and serious inner demons, but this isn’t the place to exorcise them.”

    Sounds like two different things. There are camera hogs and there are mentally unstable people, and I don’t think Brandon is both. I keep saying that I have no doubt in my mind that we will read a headline at some point in the future that tells of Brandon killing someone (or multiple someones). It’ll probably be his family. I’m not being glib, either, though we do all like to laugh at Brandon. The kid is seriously nuts and needs help. His wild mood swings, short man syndrome, anger issues, low IQ, etc, all roll together to form a walking stick of dynamite. They wanted him out because he legitimately scared them, and I can’t blame them. I kept saying “he’d be thrown out if he touched anyone,” but that was my own missing the point. The game didn’t mean shit to him – he’s more than capable of losing it enough to grab that knife and do some damage. Good riddance. (Until the reunion show, which ought to be fun – and staffed with security.)

    My big regret is that Jeff never talked to Malcolm about the situation. His reaction seemed to be the closest to what mine would have been, and I was dying to hear what he had to say. Andrea’s theatrics were pretty absurd, too.

    1. Dan Heaton says

      Dylan, I think Malcolm is interesting to watch this time because he played with a fairly sane cast (besides Abi-Maria). He didn’t have too many people like Phillip or Brandon with him. He’s also tried to mediate some nastiness in both of his appearances, so that would be interesting.

      Andrea did play a role in setting Brandon off by giving him the info on throwing the challenge. I let her off the hook on all the crying because it was probably even worse than what we saw on TV. Still, she was being pretty dramatic.

      You make a good point about the difference between a camera hog and mentally unstable people. Phillip is a camera hog, but I don’t see a case where he throws out the rice or openly looks to fight someone. Without some heady thinking from Probst (and some off-screen producers I’d guess), the situation could have gotten ugly.

      I’ll admit that I was fascinated by the episode, but I still feel icky about it. It was one of the more compelling hours they’ve had, but I wouldn’t want to see something like this very often. I hope the game play will pick up now.

  2. Jess says

    Everything is going to change next week it seems. How long has it been since they did a tribe swap where they mix everyone up? I want to see that. I see it being less likely being that it is fans vs. favorites but I would like a big dynamic change.

    Damn, Brandon did not make for compelling television necessarily but it was entertaining. I can’t imagine what went through his tribes mind as he dumped out the food. So insane. It was fun at least to see something completely unexpected and new happen. Has there ever been tribal at a challenge before?

    1. Dan Heaton says

      Jess, they sort of did a tribal swap last time, but it was different because they were absorbing the Matsing tribe. I think it would have been different if all three tribes were more even. They also did one in the One World season, but bad luck only flipped a few players, so it had little impact. They skipped it on the two seasons before that, and I think it made them more predictable. So I’m glad to see what will happen this time. I hope they really flip it around and have four favorites and three fans in each group.

      There was one case where a vote happened after a challenge, but that was very different. In Palau, Tom and Ian had like a 12-hour challenge, and it ended with a vote since it was already into the night. Still, that was a very different circumstance. This was new territory for sure.

      1. Jess says

        Oh I actually watched that season I think. Way back when. I’d like to see something crazy happen with the tribe switch.

  3. Wordschat says

    Brandon was unstable but so too was Shamar in much subdued way. With signs of PTSD and severe lethargy I was afraid he would drown or fall in the fire. He gets my sympathy vote and was sorry to see him go with an eye injury. Neither should have been cast this season. I’d also prefer in no one except the jury come back for the reunion show. It just takes time away from stronger ‘stable’ players.

    1. Dan Heaton says

      You raise an interesting question about casting Shamar, but there is a big difference. Brandon was already on the show and had problems, so bringing him back is the problem. It’s tricky because he does provide a certain type of interesting TV, and they probably get better ratings with a guy like Brandon than a more strategic (but less volatile) player.

      I don’t mind seeing the entire cast at the reunion. The problem is that Probst focuses on a few people and sometimes even ignores the winners. I recently caught up with the Amazon season, and that reunion was so different because we actually heard something interesting from pretty much everyone. Of course, there were only 16 players.

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