A special Tuesday Feature Article coming your way today, as Ozlet, Clay Shirley, takes a look at the comparisons being made between current Cagayan contestant Tony Vlachos and notorious villain and three time player, Russell Hantz. In his article, Clay discusses the similarities between and what sets Tony apart from the sock burning, water dumping Runner-Up of Survivor: Samoa! Don’t forget to get involved in the fun and leave a comment with your opinion below!
In the world of Survivor, comparison is a constant. Fans love to hold up current Survivor players in comparison to former ones, debating who is like who and why. Often times this is done at the start of a season, before we really get to know each contestant’s personality. Throughout Cagayan, there have been several fan assessments likening current players to those of the past, from calling Woo the “Asian Ozzy,” to Trish being a version of Sherri. I’ve seen LJ referred to as “Boston LJ,” on several occasions, while quitter Lindsey got comparisons to both Flicka and Courtney Marit. Some of these observations are astute, some less so. More often than not, these kinds of comparisons are made based on very surface level criteria. Sherri and Trish are both thin, blonde middle aged women, but their gameplay and personalities really have very few similarities. Even CBS plays the comparison game by having current contestants answer a “Survivor Contestant You Are Most Like” question for their official bios, in which case I feel it’s not so much about seeing which contestant they are actually like, but how they see themselves and in some cases, just how delusional they really are. But this season, one fan comparison reigns supreme, as a large amount of viewers have posed the question, (or even stated it as fact), “Is Tony Vlachos the next Russell Hantz?”
As mentioned before, the first place these kinds of comparisons tend to arise is on a surface, physical level. At the very least, it’s possible that this comparison gets made because Tony and Russell share similar physical features. That’s not to say they actually look like each other, (they don’t), but they share certain qualities. First there’s the obvious fact that they’re both bald. Secondly, they’re fairly close in age, with Tony only being three years older than Russell was the first time played. While Tony’s height has been hard to gauge, (and he’s certainly not the munchkin that Russell is), he seems to be on the shorter side as opposed to the taller side. Add on the fact that Russell and Tony are both broad guys, (again, to varying degrees), and you have, on the surface, two short, bald, broad bodied, middle-aged men who are also automatically lumped together because of the game they are playing. Of course, had Tony turned out to be, let’s say, a complete lunkhead who could barely put together a sentence, the comparison wouldn’t be made at all past pre-game. For these two, however, the similarities don’t end there.
When it comes to game play, Russell and Tony are similar in that they are both very aggressive players. They are both the kind of player who are never content to sit back and let things happen. They have to be in control at all times, steering the game in their direction. A large part of that is finding Idols, something both Tony and Russell have done on multiple occasions, sometimes without Idol clues. This form of aggressive gameplay is immediately comparable, in large part because there are so few others to compare it to in the first place. In other words, the gap between Tony and Russell can seem small because there is no one else to fill it. Russell was an extremely aggressive player and despite his impact on the game, no one since Russell has played with that same constant aggressive force.
Another factor is similarity is that they are both showmen. Both Russell and Tony have used Tribal Council as a platform not only for big moves, but also for big performances. Be it in Heroes vs. Villains with Russell giving his speech before bestowing his Idol to Parvati or Tony with his “bag of tricks” or taking a moment to speak to Jeff about the “inexperience of the young lad” Spencer. Both players not only make the moves, but they give them theatrics. The same can said for their confessionals, which are usually relayed with the same excitable relish. Here, however, lies a big divide. While Tony uses his confessionals to narrate the happenings like a kid on Christmas morning, Russell uses them as a remorseless serial killer might during his interrogation.
There’s excitement and glee in both, but one has a more good natured feeling while the other can stray in to flat out ugliness. Tony is able to lie and backstab without cutting people down personally along the way, something Russell can’t resist. Ultimately, I feel this is where the biggest line of all is drawn. Attitude and personality. While Russell gets to a point where he can’t stop talking about himself, Tony never anoints himself as the best or the smartest player. He simply acts in a way that he feels is best for himself and he does so in a way that keeps him smiling without crossing the line against others. He’s keen to pat himself on the back, but not gloat to the point of incurring hatred from the other players. He’s been called annoying by his tribe mates, yet he’s still very much seen as a threat to win. Russell, meanwhile, couldn’t see anything outside of his own game, which despite making him a dominant player, ended up costing him the win, twice. Tony, however, has a definite shot.
Despite being aggressive players, their actual games have been very different. While Russell spent the majority of Samoa fighting for his life on a losing tribe, Tony spent the first half of the game sailing, not having to visit Tribal Council until the Tribe Switch that sent Cliff packing and he’s had a pretty easy time of it since. While Tony has a “tight” alliance, he’s willingly hopped back and forth, siding with LJ and Jefra to vote out Cliff and later teaming up with the minority alliance to blindside LJ. Russell, despite his devious ways, spent his first season with an alliance he didn’t budge from until late in the game. In Samoa, Russell was a remarkably loyal player, something that Tony can’t claim.
Finally, perhaps the greatest commonalty that Russell and Tony share is that they are incredibly polarising players. They each have created a divisive reputation amongst the fans, loved by some, hated by others. What’s interesting is that Tony’s legacy is yet to be confirmed. If he wins, he’ll likely be lauded as one of the greatest winners of all time, a strategic mastermind who never lost control of the game. If he loses, fans will call it foolhardiness getting it’s due; a reckless game that was bound for failure and that it was only a matter of time. Either way, Tony has successfully etched out a place in Survivor history, one that has him compared to arguably the most infamous player of all time. While that comparison is often made for all the wrong reasons, it’s exciting to have a player who is so divisive and so compelling that people can’t stop talking about.