Brandon Hantz had a bit of a rough go last time we saw him on Survivor. During the South Pacific season he was portrayed as a leering pervert who could not handle his sexual attraction to another contestant, an unstable entity that would pop off at Tribal Council for no reason, and, finally, a rube who could get suckered into giving away his immunity only to be immediately voted off after doing so. As if dealing with all of that was not enough, Brandon had to also endure the public barbs coming from his own uncle — two-time Survivor finalist Russell Hantz — who tore into his gameplay both online and at the live Reunion show.
Needless to say, Brandon was hoping for a significantly smoother ride when he returned to play Survivor: Caramoan — Fans vs. Favorites (premiering Feb. 13 on CBS). I spoke with Lil’ Hantz last May just days before filming began and he talked about being a very different player this time around. He was also not shy about discussing his recent family troubles, including, yes, more issues with uncle Russell. In all, it makes for one of the most curious — and at times, confusing — Survivor pre-game interviews I have ever done.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why are you going to win this time around, Brandon?
BRANDON: I am going to win this time around because I capitalize on every mistake I make in my life in general, so that’s just how it’s gonna happen. I did one thing wrong: I allowed myself to beat me. I beat myself, man. I beat myself in the game of Survivor and that’s what people saw. They saw a convicted man. They saw a person that could not even forgive himself for some of the things he did in the past. And I gave a million dollars to Sophie. I allowed myself — my convictions and my past — to hinder the outcome of my future. And that’s not happenin’ again, my friend! I want to overwhelm anyone with oh, he’s trying to preach. No, I’m comin’ on here to win a million dollars this time. I was doing all that stuff for me. I wasn’t trying to change the Hantz family name. I was doing it for Brandon.
EW: Well, here’s the million dollar question, Brandon. Are you going to give away your immunity again? And let me warn you — you better say no.
BRANDON: Absolutely… [pause] not. People are going to see a different player. I’ve been through some ups and downs in life recently. And it’s made me stronger. Dude, if these returning cast members or whoever they are — if they think that they can get under my skin easy anymore or emotionally hurt me? Brother, ain’t nothing like living life. Ain’t nothing like it. Survivor is a game. But I’ve been though some serious mess here recently. I’m an icebox, bro. I’m an icebox. I’m hard. They’re not going to be able to get under my skin. They’re not going to be able to make me pop. They’re not going to be able to manipulate me into thinking that they are my friends, brother. Nobody talks to me after my season. The man I’d give $100,000 to does not even speak to me, bro. [Note: He’s referring to Albert here.] Okay? So if you can tell me that you are going to be my friend, you are MISTAKEN! Sadly mistaken.
EW: The thing you obviously struggled with last time was that gray area. Everything was very black and white with you and I guess the question is: How are you going to deal with that gray area this time? Are you going to continue to always tell the truth or have you learned to modify that a little bit?
BRANDON: Ask me my name.
EW: What’s your name?
BRANDON: Mr. Gray Man.
EW: Mr. Gray Man?
BRANDON: Boom! Boom! Boom! That’s all you need! I’m Mr. Gray Man! That’s my answer to that question. This is a game. If I were to play football — I know personally that Tim Tebow, and everybody in America knows it, that Tim Tebow is a born again Christian. The man plays one of the roughest sports ever. Do you think he’s freaking out about how hard he’s got to hit the quarterback? No! [Note: Tim Tebow actually PLAYS quarterback, but not unlike Bluto in Animal House, forget it, he’s rolling.] Cause it’s a game! I’m gonna smash — metaphorically speaking — these people! Mentally, physically — this is a different person here.
EW: What are the preconceptions other players are going to have about you that you’re going to need to change?
BRANDON: I’m going to have to be manipulative about it. I’m still a genuine guy, but it’s a game. And you know, the best thing for me to do is continue to act like that. They’re never going to guess that there was any kind of change. They’re going to be like, this guy is trustworthy. Although I did mess up by calling people out a lot at Tribals and stuff. I may have to back-peddle a little bit with that. I’m not going to be able to be as verbal, and I know Jeff is going to give me hell. I can already see it now. There’s going to be some pressure, like “Brandon, you gave me good stuff,” and I’ll be like “Hmmmm, I want a million bucks.” It’s about taking care of the family.
EW: You see Dawn and Cochran out here from your season. Are they people you want to try to work with?
BRANDON: Cochran has got a bad rap. If anybody watched his season, he’s known as a person who pretty much betrayed his own tribe. Brandon Hantz is known for nothing! Betraying no one! I don’t think that’s ever been done! Other than the fact that I made some pretty harsh words towards a specific person, I didn’t do anything. Cochran did something! He’s got a bad rap, man! If you don’t think people are looking at him? Please! That’s radar! [Makes a beeping radar noise.] That’s like, you might as well be Russell coming into the game. Dawn? She’s cool. I made her cry one time and I’m sorry for that. I don’t think that’s gonna hurt me much. Hopefully she doesn’t hold that against me.
EW: So are you going to work with them?
BRANDON: Any person I tell Cochran to vote for he will vote for. If not, then I can’t help him. Cochran is vulnerable. He’s going into this game knowing he’s vulnerable. He’s going to cling to anything that shows any sort of help to him. I’m going to go to him and say, “Look man, we played this game together. We’re friends. I can help you.” He thinks I’m already his physical protector from when Jim Rice got all upset. So the way I played last time I don’t regret because it sets me up for this time. I’m not a threat to anyone, and that’s a beautiful position to be in right now. If we know each other, obviously you’re going to look out for the people who were manipulative in past seasons. You’re going to look out for the people who are good in challenges. I’m great in challenges! Cochran’s not very good in challenges. I love the guy. He’s a great guy, but this is just facts. Not good in challenges, and a threat because he betrayed his own tribe.
EW: What about the other returning players you see here?
BRANDON: Honestly, I’m going into this one open-minded, man. Francesqua? [Note: He means Francesca, but mistakenly pronounced it a la Phillip Sheppard.] She’s going to be like my mother. I’m her son. I’m going to be attached to the hip. I don’t know. I possibly might not do anything I just told you now!
EW: You obviously went through a lot of stuff last time you were on the show. How have you been since you got home?
BRANDON: I’m going to write a book now: To Hell and Back, by Brandon Hantz. It was pretty rough, but it was actually a good thing because now I get another opportunity to do this. It’s all about second chances for me. I actually messed up in my relationship and got a second chance with that, which is awesome. Thank God. And I messed up in the game of Survivor, and simultaneously — within a month — I get a second chance with that, so I’m definitely a blessed person as far as that’s concerned. But yeah, it was pretty rough. It definitely prepared me mentally. I went through some mental crap, ya know, that would put people down as far as depression and stuff, but it’s made me stronger mentally and stronger spiritually. So I’m kind of starting to know who I am. I’m only 20-years-old dude. I mean, what do you expect? I’m a kid.
EW: After everything you went through on national television, were you hesitant to throw yourself back into the fire again?
BRANDON: That’s like crazy sports like bull riding, which I did before. As many times as you get thrown down, you get back on it. I failed the last time, and it sucks because I was bred to win at everything. And when I messed up — I had a million dollars in my hand, bro! — let’s get back on that subject. I messed up! Nobody voted me out of that game. Brandon voted Brandon out of that game! I’m getting back on the horse, man. He threw me off and I’m getting back on. It’s what any tough Hantz man would do — get back up.
EW: Well, let’s talk about a tough Hantz man. Russell was pretty harsh about your previous performance, both during the season and at the live reunion. What’s your relationship like now?
BRANDON: Uhhhh…it actually was wonderful, until I got back together with my wife.
EW: Why is that?
BRANDON: Because when you’re lonely and sad, you want to be lonely and sad with someone else. And I’m being straight-up. I want him to see this. I want him to read this. Maybe it will hit him in his head. When something good happens for somebody and nothing good has happened for you, you get a little bit bitter. And I feel like that’s what it is right now. I feel like he’s very sad and hurt and it kinda sucks because we had a really good time together when I wasn’t with my wife, and I wanted that kind of relationship, even with my wife. So it shows that it’s an ulterior motive from him to obviously have me as a friend, as a companion. I’m just there to help his pain go away, which I didn’t do anything with him sexually so I don’t see how that is a problem.
EW: Ummm…okay. So who’s your loved one this time if you make it to the loved ones episode?
BRANDON: My wife. She’s tough, man. She’s got guns!
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