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'Survivor': Russell S. goes down, reminds us this is a true game of survival

October 22, 2009 | 11:06 pm

Russells During the last few seasons of "Survivor," it's sometimes been difficult to remember that this is a game show about -- well, survival.

There have been rewards that include overnight trips to beautiful destinations where contestants received warm showers and massages. Extravagant helicopter rides over sweeping vistas. Endless spreads of exotic food cooked by locals.

But such luxuries haven't been at the forefront of the show this season on Samoa, where the players have so far been pounded with almost a week's worth of torrential downpours. The wet climate has made fire nearly impossible -- meaning heat and drinkable water are unattainable. And the harsh conditions have led to some serious dehydration, which got the better of Galu's leader Russell S. this week.

Even before the tribes met at the challenge, there were signs that Russell S.'s body wasn't faring well against the weather. He kept up a tough front, trying to start a fire while standing shirtless out in the cold as his other tribe mates huddled under the shelter of a tree. But when he stood out on the beach, lightly tossing a fishing line into the ocean trying to catch something, he appeared dazed. In his interviews on camera, he looked bleary with wide, bloodshot eyes.

And as soon as the challenge began, it was clear something was wrong. Russell S. was panting loudly while mumbling "stop" quietly under his breath. My heart sank watching his condition deteriorate as his blindfolded tribe mates were unable to help him. The moment his head began to drift toward the ground, Jeff Probst stopped the challenge and got medical staff to intervene. 

It was terrifying to watch Russell S. faint not once but twice as his heart rate dropped to a dangerously low level. In an interview with People magazine on Thursday, Probst reiterated just how dire the situation was. 

"Moments after we took his blindfold off, we could see he was in really serious trouble," Probst told the magazine. "They couldn't get him to respond and they were slapping his face and chest, and for 7 or 8 seconds he didn't respond and that was the most afraid I've ever been on this show. I thought we were losing him. I'm still affected by it this day."

Perhaps the most heartbreaking part of the entire event was seeing how devastated Russell S. was about being taken out of the game.

"My family depends on me to be the strong one," he told Probst in a stupor while choking back tears.

"You were in great shape. You were the leader of a tribe that was dominating. You pushed your body until it said it was enough. There's nothing about that that's quitting," the host said, trying to comfort Russell S.

When Probst broke the bad news to the two tribes at tribal council later that evening, it was truly baffling to me that Foa Foa thought they would have won the challenge were it not for Russell S.'s medical emergency. Like, really guys? You were playing against someone who nearly had a heart attack. Had Galu been in the race with someone in good health, I'm sure the competition would have been neck and neck.

The comment clearly got Galu's Erik, who seemed the most emotional about the untimely departure of Russell S., fired up. As he pointed at Foa Foa, promising to beat them in future challenges, I got excited about the prospect of the competition heating up again once the rain dwindles. With only five members left in Foa Foa, it's clear that Russell H. is really going to have to strategize to stay in the game if he makes it past the merge. While it's likely he'll make it past the joining of the tribes, I'm not sure how much favor he'll cull from the remaining Galu tribe members. Did you catch all the eye rolling from Galu as Russell H. was singing the praises of Foa Foa and dissing the other tribe? Doesn't seem like they're going to welcome him with open arms anytime soon.

So, let's talk: How scary was Russell S.'s medical emergency? Did he have the potential to win the whole game? And do you feel bad for the tribes with all this rain, or are the elements just part of the game? Comment away. 

-- Amy Kaufman (follow me on Twitter @AmyKinLA)


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Photo: Russell Swan, the Galu tribe leader who was pulled out of the game for health reasons. Credit: CBS.