Jeff Probst has been snuffing torches for 14 years now as host and executive producer of one of television’s most popular reality series — Survivor, which ends its 28th season (Survivor: Cagayan) Wednesday, May 21 at 8pm ET on CBS with a two-hour finale, followed by a reunion special. Probst recently took time — before the live finale and leaving for the next season of Survivor, which films this summer — to answer some of our burning questions including who are some of his favorite Survivor players.
The top-rated series continues to surprise and delight us with its varying themes like this year’s “Brawn vs. Brains vs. Beauty” and its eclectic casting. And when it comes to casting — yeah, where do we start? — the series always delivers the gamut, from cutthroat players you can respect and admire (those who outwit, outplay and outlast) to some downright crazies. As one of the most likable and respected TV hosts, Probst never tires of putting contestants on the hot seat and making tribal council something to remember. Here’s what he had to share about the show and the contestants.
Are you privy at all to what happens at the camps? Your questions at tribal council give the impression you know who is stirring up trouble. As an executive producer, do you have some type of mission control command center with cameras detailing all the contestants at any given time?
Jeff Probst: I’m aware of “big” themes but not of the details. I’ve never watched tape and even if I wanted to, it would be an impossible task. We shoot thousands of hours of them on the beach. There isn’t a command center — although that would be cool — it’s just a couple of camera crews and producers on the beach documenting their lives. When we get to tribal I’ll know if somebody found an idol or something big like that but otherwise my questions almost always start out pretty general until we start getting into the details of what is happening.
How long does it actually take to film a tribal council?
They average around 45 minutes but might go as long as an hour or even longer depending on how many people are there and how crazy it gets. The longest is probably over two hours but that was many, many years ago. We’re much faster now!
In a scenario when a player goes crazy, like J’Tia (pictured) did earlier in the season, do you discuss and consider giving them more food or just let them starve? Or do you rewrite things to get tribes to merge so they can get food?
Absolutely not. If I had to go give them more rice it would come with a heavy price — such as tearing down their shelter or taking a tarp, etc. There are no freebies. And no, we don’t merge early to save a tribe.
Just because J’Tia and past contestants like Brandon got us thinking, does the show hire psychologists to ensure a good mix — sans any “Dexter” types?
Yes, we have a psychologist and we do deep testing during our casting process to make sure everybody we put on the show is capable of handling the stress. Sometimes the extreme conflict is just too much but if you look at our history of over 400 people and 28 seasons, I’d say we’ve done a pretty good job!
If you had to be stranded on a deserted island with no supplies for a week with either Cochran, Colton, Richard Hatch or Jerri Manthey, who would you pick and why?
That’s easy. Cochran. I enjoy him. Jerri would be second. I like her, too. Those last two would be tough.
In all seriousness, who are some of your favorite players — not in terms of the most entertaining from a viewer standpoint — but the ones you watched and really respected for how they played the game?
Oh, there are a ton and I’ll only annoy the ones I leave out, so at 11:30pm on a Tuesday night, here’s a few off the top of my head — Boston Rob (pictured left), Parvati, Sandra, Cochran, Coach, Ciera, Kim, Malcolm, Phillip, Jeff Kent, Troyzan, Chelsea, J.T., Tyson, Stephenie LaGrossa, Stephen Fishbach — OK, I have to get some sleep!
Lastly, how far ahead is filming vs. what is actually airing? For example, is this season already done filming?
Yes this season is finished except for the live show. We shoot an entire season and then we come home and edit the episodes. We will go shoot another season in June/July and it will air in September!
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