‘Survivor’ Host Jeff Probst Discusses Classic ‘Survivor’ vs. Tons of Twists

by | September 11, 2013 at 11:43 AM | Fall TV 2013, RealityTV, Survivor, TV News

Jeff Probst (XFINITY)

Quick Note: I had a chance to sit down with all twenty of the “Blood vs. Water” competitors before the game began. I’ll be posting exclusive interviews with each pairing in the days leading up to the September 18th season premiere. Be sure to follow me on Twitter (@gordonholmes) for those interviews, behind-the-scenes exclusives, and more…

Gordon Holmes: Let’s say there are two fans. One wants it to be “Survivor: Borneo” all over again. Sixteen players, no twists, final two. The other is saying, “Show me something new.” How do you find a balance between the two?
Jeff Probst: Finding the balance of how to do the show is the single most important thing we do creatively. And I’ve heard a lot of people suggest, “Why don’t you go back to the beginning and have no frills? No idols, no Redemption Island, no Exile Island. Sixteen people, straight up, final two.” I look at it more like baseball. They juice up the ball a little bit, there’s more homeruns, it’s more exciting for the audience. I think when you add elements like an idol, it layers the game in so many ways…why would you take it out? Then you add in Redemption Island or Exile Island…it changes everybody’s strategies. We’re tossing around some other ideas for idols that would really throw people for a loop that maybe we’ll do next season. I like that because “Survivor” is an evolving game. Our job is to make you uncertain of what will happen so you’re constantly going, “If this, then that. If that, then this.” To go back to a straight game of sixteen people, thirty nine days, and then one will never happen.

Holmes: There is a (expletive deleted) of twists this season. Having pairs on the show is something I’ve thought of for a while, but could never figure out how to make it work.
Probst: We couldn’t either. It took about three months for us to figure it out. It takes months of sitting around and talking, sending emails, someone has another idea, then you talk about that…
Holmes: What I kept coming back to is the twist could encourage people to throw challenges. If I know I’m safe on my tribe with my alliance and I’m worried about my girlfriend on the other side, we might conspire to lay down a few times to get our people to the merge. Is that a concern?
Probst: One of the exciting things about this season is we’ve never done it so we don’t know what to anticipate. So, would someone throw a challenge if they thought they could get away with it? I’m sure these couples have talked and they have some way to show, “Baby, I’m in trouble,” when they see each other at the challenge. Will you play less hard if you can get away with it? I’d definitely be tempted to do that if my wife was on the other tribe. So, if I make myself trip and then apologize that I screwed up and still be tight with my alliance, that’d be an incredible story. And what’s great about “Survivor” is we’d know because afterward the guy would tell us in an interview that they threw the challenge.
Holmes: Or if they’re Phillip Sheppard they’ll just claim to have lost on purpose every time they lose.
Probst: (Laughs) That’s true.

Holmes: I am a cold, cynical jerk, but the stupid “Survivor” family visits always make me cry. It was Cochran and his mom last time. I’m worried you just signed me up for a full season of bawling every Wednesday.
Probst: See, I think this is taking the idea of a family visit and flipping it. I’m not here to give my loved one who’s playing love and encouragement. Ultimately I am here to beat them. This is a zero-sum game. There is one winner. I think what you’re going to see is moments of sadness when someone has to see their loved one lose at Redemption Island and be out of the game. But when push comes to shove, I’m guessing more people will shove.

Holmes: Another thing that has changed “Survivor” is the use of social media. Back in the day, if I was mad at Jerri Manthey during “The Australian Outback” I couldn’t drop her a line on Twitter and give her a hard time. Now she’s only a few clicks away. This past season there was an unfortunate situation with Dawn Meehan where she received all kinds of threatening messages after voting out Brenda Lowe.
Probst: I don’t know if social media is good or bad, I’ve just accepted that it is. There’s no getting away from it. And I don’t want to be the guy that gets off the merry-go-round and decides I’m going to stop being a part of this new world. It can be brutal. Dawn went through a lot. I read things about Dawn that broke my heart. People saying I hope your kids die, I hope you die in a plane crash. You want to say, “C’mon Dawn, get over it. It’s some idiot writing with crayons.” But when it’s you and you read it about yourself it’s very hard. That’s why people say, “Don’t read the blogs.” I can’t not read them, I’m a human. I’m looking for some insight. I’m looking for someone to say something positive about what I bring to the game. Instead I read that people wish I would die. It’s hard. But, there is no getting around it. I engage in social media because I believe there are people who enjoy the conversation about “Survivor” and I like getting it back from them. But man, some days I’ll think, “Why am I wasting my time with people who clearly have nothing positive to say.” And then I remind myself that this is a small fraction.
Holmes: That’s human nature. You get 1,000 positive comments and one negative comment, and you’re going to focus on the negative.
Probst: That’s true. I think the thing I struggle with is; I think I can differentiate between criticism and snarkiness. If someone wants to debate Redemption Island or Final Three vs. Final Two, I love it. There’s no right or wrong. I learn things that I take back to the team. But when somebody says, “You suck more than anyone else has sucked in this whole sucking world.” I don’t know what to do with that one.

Any Questions? Drop me a line on Twitter: @gordonholmes

Don’t miss the special 90-minute premiere of “Survivor: Blood vs. Water” on Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 8 p.m. ET.