When you think of “Survivor” uber-villain Russell Hantz, you probably picture the trash-talking, sock-burning juggernaut who dominated back-to-back seasons of the popular reality show. When you place that whirlwind into the setting of a house-flipping show, you end up with big personalities, big arguments, and the occasional big disaster.
But what you also get is a fascinating look into how sudden fame can wreak havoc on marriage.
I had a chance to speak to the “Survivor” Hall of Famer in the days leading up to the premiere of “Flipped Off” and asked him about what it was like to open up a new side of his life to reality TV cameras…
Gordon Holmes: Right off the bat in the premiere of your new show, your brother Shawn Hantz decides that you don’t need to pay for a home inspector.
Russell Hantz: He wanted to be an inspector. I was like, “OK, is that what you want? I guess you can do it.” So we let him do it.
Holmes: What are Shawn’s qualifications for being a home inspector?
Hantz: Shawn has no qualifications pretty much for anything. The reason I have Shawn as my project manager is because he has the drive. He has to learn, and we are learning the hard way, that’s for sure. But he has the drive. We have the same bloodline. I’m successful; I just need to bring it out of him.
Holmes: And you’re younger than he is?
Hantz: I’m the little brother, but it seems like I’m always the big brother.
Holmes: So, you and Shawn will butt heads, then your realtor, Kristen Bredehoeft, gets to be the voice of reason. Does she get an extra cut of the profits for having to rein you two in?
Hantz: (Laughs) No, she just gets her regular commission. That’s it. You know, sometimes I’m scared that she’s going to walk away from us.
Holmes: I wouldn’t blame her.
Hantz: She’s definitely good for the team. I get upset with Shawn and she’s always calm and collected and able to calm us down. She’s a really smart young lady and Shawn thinks that she’s bossing him around. She’s not, she’s just thinking of something better to do.
Holmes: There was a cameo from your mother, Meemaw Hantz in the first episode. Is she going to be a reoccurring character?
Hantz: I hope so. I hope she’s in it quite a bit cause she’s my mama. She’s probably one of the only people that can contain me.
Holmes: So, if you get out of line she’s not afraid to smack you back into shape?
Hantz: Oh, no no no, she’ll let me know real quick, my dad would too. They keep me in line, so it’s a good thing to keep her around. That’s why it was good to do it in Houston, because that’s where we reside. She pops up on the worksite all the time, my kids pop up, and I don’t want them to see me too upset or aggressive.
Holmes: I’m sure they saw you on “Survivor.” Did they have any issues with how you acted there?
Hantz: The thing on “Survivor” is, I was fan favorite two seasons in a row. I thought when I was out there my family, my grandparents, the people I respect the most in my life, I thought they would be upset. But when I got home, everybody was excited. I went out there to play the game and I played it as strategic as I could possibly play it. And that’s like this new show, I’m driven by success. You set your mind to do something and you don’t let anything stop you. And that’s why I’m successful, I just keep going forward.
Holmes: What are you learning about the home-flipping business?
Hantz: It’s not as easy as it looks when you’re watching the home-flipping shows on TV. It’s real life. Once you have all that money invested it gets kind of hectic. Now I can lose money and embarrass myself on national television. I talk a big game and I need to back it up.
Holmes: One of the things I think that separates you from the other house-flipping shows is how personal it gets with the marital problems you’re having with your wife Melanie. What was it like to open up that part of your life to the cameras for the first time?
Hantz: Our show is real life. My show is based on what’s going on in my life. I might go flip a restaurant or a car wash. We might not do nothing one episode. We might be fighting the whole time. But the thing is, it’s my life. I’m not an actor, that’s not what I do. The cameras are rolling and we just settle things. It’s hard to do it, because it’s personal stuff, but I am who I am. A lot of people are going to be upset that I bring that into the TV world. But, like I said, I am who I am. She’s OK with it. As long as we talk about it like adults and we get through it.
Holmes: You’re a very polarizing character in the “Survivor” community. When we did the original “Survivor” Hall of Fame, there were those who thought you were a no-brainer, first-ballot inductee and others who thought you should never be inducted. There’s almost no middle ground, people either love you or hate you. For those that don’t love you, do you think “Flipped Off” is a chance for them to see the real guy?
Hantz: This is real life. People are going to see the softer side of me…well…not always. I get pretty aggressive sometimes. But, my kids are here, my family is here. People show up and the cameras are there. I think that people are going to see the real me, especially when it comes to my kids. Little Gracie, my baby girl, she’s almost four years old, it’s amazing watching her. When the cameras are filming her, she just doesn’t care. She’s kind of like her daddy. I think that people are going to see a different side of me. And you’re still going to have people that hate me. (Laughs) Well, you’ve seen the show what do you think? I think it’s going to be a big success.
Holmes: Alright, here’s my ten-cent review. I’m a homeowner. I find home-flipping shows to be informational even when they’re not entertaining. I’m also a “Survivor” fan, and I enjoyed watching you on the show. So, there are two selling points for me. However, what really interested me was getting to see your personal life and learning how your new-found fame has affected your family.
Hantz: It’s not the normal house-flipping show. And I want something different. It’s like I did on “Survivor,” I changed the game. So, I don’t like to do things that other people do. I wanted it to be more personal, that’s why I let that into it. So they can see me on a different level. Is it the right thing to do? I don’t know. As long as it doesn’t hurt Melanie or my kids. I talked to them off camera about if they’re OK with this, and everyone’s OK with it.
Holmes: Have you been watching “Survivor: One World” at all?
Hantz: I watched a few episodes. I know that people were trying to compare me to the guy Colton (Cumbie).
Holmes: Are those comparisons fair?
Hantz: You can’t compare me to him. I went out there to play a game, I didn’t go out there just to be a butthole to everybody. I went out there to play a strategic game. I said I was going to play a certain way and I did exactly what I said I was going to. But it wasn’t my fault I didn’t win. It was the juries’ fault for not doing their job.
Holmes: Here’s one I’m sure you get all the time; any chance we’re going to see on “Survivor” again?
Hantz: That question is a tough one now. I have a lot of people that I talk to. So let’s say I get the call, I can’t just say “Yeah, I’ll go.” I have to consult with a lot of people. Especially if we get a second season, which I think is going to happen.
Holmes: I’ve only been to Houston a handful of times, and those times were very brief. Are all real estate agents in that area as attractive as Kristen?
Hantz: No way. It took a little bit to find her. But it’s not just her looks. She’s very smart, she has her own broker’s license and her own firm. She knows what she’s doing. And she’s pretty. She’s easy on the eyes. It’s easier to sell a house with pretty people. It just is. I’m not the prettiest thing in the world, I couldn’t sell the house.
Holmes: And as we see in the opening episode, she can swing a sledgehammer.
Hantz: She’s a tough broad, that’s for sure. If she can deal with us, then she can deal with anything.
Holmes: I don’t think you’re paying her enough.
Hantz: (Laughs) I probably ain’t.
“Flipped Off” premieres Saturday, April 28, 2012 on A&E at 10:00 pm ET.
Any Questions? Drop me a line on Twitter: @gordonholmes