December 22, 2006 12:03 AM by Joe Reality
Written by Ryan Haidet. “Survivor: Cook Islands” started in September with the most controversial twist to date – separating the 20 contestants into four tribes by ethnicity. “We had talked about doing this for two years,” host, Jeff Probst said. “And it’s always the question of when’s the right time. And as you start dwindling on ideas, things that didn’t seem like a good idea start seeming a little better. But I loved it the second we made the decision.”
Not soon after the announcement of the twist was made, controversy was sparked. “I’m not surprised. After hearing the criticism, it makes sense,” Probst said. “I didn’t anticipate it though. I really thought people would think this was an interesting idea – naÃƒve me. But, as I did interviews and people would say, ‘Well here’s the reasons why we’re upset,’ I said, ‘Yeah, I get it.’ I don’t know why I didn’t think about it. Especially for a reality show tackling this topic of dividing based on ethnicity. But I inside, I know us. I know the crew, I know the producers and I know our intentions.”
Twists are brought into the game each season in order to keep the show new. “The hardest thing for any show like this that’s on for any length of time is how do you keep it fresh? That’s the same question every season,” Probst said. “We sit in the same room and scratch our same heads and go, ‘Uh, all right, what are we gonna do this season?’ We come up with a lot of ideas and we realize this isn’t ‘Survivor’ because they change the show. So, we don’t use them.”
Probst said fresh ideas are getting harder to come by. “I won’t lie, the pie is getting thinner,” he said. “The slices are getting smaller. It gets harder and harder because there’s only a certain number of ideas that are ‘Survivor.’”
Even though thousands apply to be a contestant each season on the show, because of the racial twist this season, the producers recruited people. “We’re not afraid to recruit people,” Probst said. “There’s so many reality shows on, that truthfully, you’ve gotta be inventive. And you have to sometimes approach somebody and say, ‘Have you ever thought about it, because you seem to have the qualities for it.’ But to get through our casting process, you gotta want it because we will kick you to the curb – we don’t want to get stuck with somebody who doesn’t want to be there."
“The ethnic diversity made it also, because we don’t have an abundance of Asian-Americans applying, African-Americans applying and Hispanics applying. So we did have to go out the communities and say, ‘Look, we’re looking for people.’ And now, we’re starting to see submissions come in that we weren’t getting before, which is nice.”
The 14th season, premiering in 2007, takes place in Fiji and also has twists. “We came up with a couple of small ones for Fiji that had a big impact,” Probst said. “We have two immunity idols. It’s kind of funny to talk about all this stuff. We changed it by adding another immunity idol and we changed the location of them. And nobody knew where they were and it became a very different game.”
The idols apparently play an important role once again. “Idols get played next season,” he said. “People don’t hold onto them like Yul did. That makes for great drama because tribal council was suddenly a wild card. Every night you’re thinking does somebody have it, are they gonna play it?”
This isn’t the only major thing Fiji’s season will deliver. “One of the biggest decisions that’s ever had to be made on our show gets made late into the season – and it’s controversial,” he said. “And it will definitely have ‘Survivor’ fans on one side of the fence or the other. There will be no neutral on it. You will think this decision was the right one or the wrong one.”
As many know, shortly before the shooting in Fiji came to a close, there was a coup. “Fortunately, the coup that happened in Fiji, did not affect the Survivors at all,” Probst said. “They were protected.” He said the Survivors didn’t even know it happened.
Having just wrapped up a 14th season, what is Probst’s defining moment of his “Survivor” career? “The single defining moment is when Richard Hatch won,” he said after some thought. “Because we did it live on the island and it was so risky. Burnett was adamant and said, ‘We are doing this live, and they’re gonna keep a secret, and that’s the way it’s going.’ And Hatch put his hands in face knowing he had won a million bucks and I thought, wow, we just finished a season of a really interesting show, I wonder if anyone will watch.” Millions did and millions more will when “Survivor: Fiji” begins in 2007.