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Survivor Host On Show’s Success, Future And Micronesia Season

February 16, 2008 01:42 AM by Ryan Haidet

jeff-probst-survivor-micronesia1.JPG16 seasons. The epic reality show, Survivor, has reached a milestone with at least two more editions coming since CBS announced the renewal of the show through season 18. Host Jeff Probst has been there since the start and his contract has been extended through four more seasons (although 19 and 20 haven’t been made official yet). Although some time ago it seemed Probst was ready to snuff his own Survivor torch and move on, he said in a conference call that he is happy to be a part of the team. “All you have to really do is step inside my shoes for a single moment and you’d understand why I’m still on Survivor,” Probst said. “I travel the world, I get to host and produce one of the most fascinating shows on television. And I get paid more money than any college drop out should ever dream of making. And when I’m not working, I have a lot of free time to think about what a great life I have. As far as the show goes, I think the reason that Survivor is still on the air and why it’s endured is great storytelling. Survivor is Joseph Campbell at it’s best. It’s unscripted, real-life drama. Everybody in this game is on their own journey and they leave their ordinary life behind and they embark on this adventure that will forever change their lives. That’s why I say it in every season, every open, because it always happens. Anybody who comes onto this game, whether they last three days or 39, their lives are forever changed. They face obstacles, they almost always experience a spiritual death whether it’s being literally being voted out, which is a death in this game, or whether it’s finding yourself so low you don’t know how you’re ever going to make it. And you think about quitting, and then you dig deep and you rebirth and you’re a new person. Some people would say, ‘Oh, Probst, that’s really corny.’ I don’t think it is. I sit out there and watch these people cry and cry and cry and say, ‘I think I gotta go home, I can’t do it.’ And then somebody comes up and says, ‘Just hang in there another day.’ And before you know it, they’re kicking ass on day 35 and they gotta shot at a million bucks. That is a death and a rebirth and your life is forever changed.”

Each season, the producers behind Survivor try to keep the show unique with twists and ideas that keep it fresh. This time around, 10 fans were put against 10 returning players in Survivor: Micronesia — Fans Vs. Favorites. Before filming started, however, a lot of past contestants thought this was a full-on All-Star edition. “We alluded to the fact that there would be 20 people on this season,” Prost said of casting Micronesia. “So when we started talking to the favorites, they figured there must be 20 favorites going — it’s an All-Star season. So we had 20 people on the hook thinking they were going, knowing all along we were only taking 10. And that the other 10 were going to be fans. So, that for us was important because we knew all these guys were talking on the phone to each other and trying to build alliances before the show even started. We wanted to complicate it a little bit and I think it worked. Some of the people we wanted on the show and just didn’t have a spot for: Shane from Exile Island, we really wanted him. Yul, we wanted back. A couple of the people we wanted that didn’t want to do it were Tom Westman from Palau. … The other person we really wanted back was Courtney from last season (China) and she didn’t want to do it either. So we had a couple people turn us down. But for the most part, as you can imagine, it was a feeding frenzy of favorites calling our casting director pleading their case as to why they would make a good choice.”

Probst said that this experience with returning players was much better than the first time. “We didn’t have any of the attitude that we had when we did the first All-Stars,” he continued. “When we did that first All-Star season there was so much entitlement from some of these people who had been pseudo rock stars because of being on the first Survivor. People like Sue and Richard and those guys. It was tough, there was a lot of attitude. This group, they were great. They were fun, they enjoyed the chance to come back. We took a lot of time in picking 10 people that we thought would complement each other. We didn’t just pick the 10 most physical or anything like that. We wanted game players, we wanted second chancers, we wanted favorites that the audience would love. We wanted a really good combination. It wasn’t that these were the 10 most favorite, it was 10 favorites. So I know there are some people who weren’t selected and I think their feelings were hurt. It doesn’t mean they weren’t worthy of being on the season, it just means we picked 10 different people probably for reasons that have nothing to do with anything about you.”

But the 10 favorites make up only half of this season. What about the fans? “How we picked them was we wanted to find the biggest fans that we had,” Probst said. “Like Kathy. Kathy applied I think seven times. In fact we almost put her on Vanuatu. She didn’t make the cut so we kind of had her kind of floating around and she’s crazy to the point of being so wacky that it’s peculiar and entertaining. But she is at her core a huge Survivor fan. We have this kid Erik from a really small town. He’s 22 and he’s been watching the show since it went on the air. When we met him in casting he said, ‘I’ve been waiting for this day. I’ve been praying the show would be on long enough so that I could get a chance.’ There’s another kid, Jason, who is the same way. Young guy who kind of aspires to be Ozzy. He talks the talk. He is 22 also. He was from the Virgin Islands so he really fancies himself Ozzy Jr. And that’s all he could talk about was, ‘I can’t wait to meet Ozzy,’ almost like he has a man crush on Ozzy. And he said, ‘I can’t wait to get out there and show him what I can do.’ You know it’s one thing to talk the talk that you think you can take on Ozzy, but it’s another thing entirely to do what Ozzy does in this game. That was the idea, we wanted people that would be enamored when they discovered they were playing against some of the favorite people to ever play Survivor. And then we hoped what would happen is that idolatry would turn into animosity and it did.” He said that when the fans realized that the favorites weren’t there to make new friends, they quickly buckled down to make sure that one of their own — a new player — would take the title for this season. Both sides going in also felt as if they had the advantage. “When you look at the favorites, you have ten people who averaged maybe 30 days out there. That’s 300 days. That’s nearly a year’s worth of experience when it comes to building shelter, making fire and knowing how to play this game from a strategy point of view. That’s a huge advantage. On the flip side, you can’t hide if you’re a favorite. Everybody knows Yau-Man is not just a nice, older guy who’s trying to help you find coconuts. They know this guy is a strategic player and has to be watched. If you’re Ozzy, there’s nowhere to hide, they know you’re a physical threat in every single challenge. I think if you’re a favorite, you have a big target on your back. Everybody is afraid of James, they know he could’ve won it last time if he hadn’t made such a blunder with the idols. So there’s nowhere to hide. If you’re a fan, nobody knows you. Nobody knows Erik. Nobody knows Erik is athletic. Nobody knows Jason grew up on an island. I think the advantage the fans have is that they can become whoever they want to be and they aren’t a known quantity. The other thing the fans have going for them is they don’t know how bad it’s going to get. When we did the last All-Star season, about day nine, 10 or 11, some of the All-Stars started remembering how miserable this experience can be. And they were only a third of the way in. It kind of took a dent out of their enthusiasm. Whereas the fans have no idea, so they’re going on pure adrenaline.”

Although on hiatus from the China season, Exile Island has returned as viewers saw in episode two. This twist, originating in Palau when Janu was the first-ever exiled player, has gone through its own evolution. “The idea this time was, each week, one person from each tribe will have to go to Exile Island,” Probst said. “So you will always have one fan and one favorite. The idea behind that was two-fold. One is, you’re now going to be having one person from each tribe getting a chance to spend time together so if and when they merge these could be alliance breakers and you might have new relationships form that could play out after the merge. That was the strategy part of it that was appealing. The other from a game point of view is we have one (immunity) idol hidden somewhere out on Exile Island. We have two people, one clue, one idol. How is this going to work? How are you going to sneak away and look for the idol without the other person? What are you going to do if you both find it? Who will own it? No matter what, they’re probably going to know you found it. How are you going to keep them quiet?” Those are questions that remain unanswered to the viewer. Probst admitted that the idols are very important in Micronesia. “I can tell you that the idols play a major part in this season — capital letters. They have more impact this season than ever before. James currently holds the title of biggest blunder in Survivor history (after having two idols and still getting voted out). Luckily for him, he only holds it for one season because we have someone this season who makes an even bigger blunder, a major blunder and I know when it happened that James was thinking, ‘Thank God.’”

This season also delivers, according to Probst, in the form of surprise votes and love affairs. “We have a record number of blindsides this season. It is amazing how many blindsides happen in a row. And you would think, after this many seasons, that pulling off a blindside would be tough. But it just showed me you really have to have your wits about you in this game, because if you are not aware, then you’re in the fog. And if you’re in the fog, you’re in trouble. My job dropped at so many votes, so many Tribal Councils. The Tribal Council would end and I would say to them, ‘Got me again.’ We have love affairs this season — plural. And they play from episode two. And we have some of the most intimate footage we’ve ever had of a love affair developing and consummating in a Survivor way. It was brilliant how we got it, how we captured it because it’s hard to do because they tried to hide and we outthought them and got some great footage and the love affairs play a big part in this season all the way to the end.”

As any true fan would know, this season is also returning to a familiar location — Palau. This is the second time Survivor has gone to its shores. “Palau is hands down the most beautiful place we’ve ever been,” Probst said. “We have great underwater photography again. You’re going to see all kinds of underwater sea life. You’ll see great shots at challenges. I love itwhen you see somebody jump off a platform and then come into the water and it’s them and they grab a key and they bust back up out of the water and a camera is tracking along them as they’re swimming. That’s fun and we have that this season.”

With at least two more editions guaranteed, how long can a show like Survivor last? “I don’t know,” Probst said. “I don’t know. I am so impressed and grateful for our viewers. Survivor is like one of those shows like the X-Files. They had their audience. If you like Survivor, you watch. If you don’t like Survivor, you could care less if it’s on ever again. I’m still, to this day, going 16 seasons in, I get approached by people who say, ‘I’ve never missed an episode. We watch every Thursday. My kids have to get their homework done by 8 so we can catch it. That’s the rule.’ I think that’s what’s kept us on the air. When CBS sent me the stats of how long it’s been since we lost a night, and I bet if we did the numbers, the nights we’ve lost have been a few. They were probably to Friends and maybe Idol goes up against you once in a while, but we’re pretty damn consistent. I think that’s because we have a loyal audience and we stay true to our show. We don’t change. We could have taken a lot of different roads and every season we come back and we say, ‘Let’s adjust the creative a little bit, but let’s do the same show we always do, just a little different.’ And that’s what you expect. You hear the music, you see the open and you remember, ‘Oh yeah, I’m in good hands.’ Occasionally somebody will come up and say, ‘Why do you always say the same things like, “Wanna know what you’re playing for?’” That’s the show, it’s slightly corny. It used to be really corny, now it’s just accepted corny, but that’s part of it. I’m never gonna change that stuff.” Probst also said that the writer’s strike didn’t have much effect on the legendary reality show. “Survivor doesn’t need any help. We haven’t lost a regularly scheduled Thursday night since 2003. Last season we beat Ugly Betty by 50 percent, we beat My Name Is Earl and 30 Rock by almost 100 percent. I mean we’re squashing anything that goes up against us and we have been for years. Nobody writes about the fact that it’s been over five years since we lost a regularly scheduled Thursday night, but we know.”

Survivor has lived up to its own name surviving for eight years on the air. It’s taken its viewers to numerous locations, with various twists and great casts. Is the long-rumored all-winners season on the horizon? “We have to wait for Hatch to get out of prison,” Probst laughs. “We have talked that at a certain point it might be fun to bring back all the winners and see if we can crown the ultimate Survivor winner. I think it’s a great idea and maybe it’s a way you end your run. You know maybe it’s the last season you do with something like that. It definitely has merit.”

This interview came from a series of questions during a CBS-sponsored conference call.

Reality TV Magazine is your source for Survivor Micronesia news. For other great Survivor news, please feel free to check out SirLinksALot: Survivor Micronesia.

Photo Credit: CBS

Topics: Survivor |

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1 Comment »

One Response to “Survivor Host On Show’s Success, Future And Micronesia Season”

  1. Christine Fix Says:
    February 16th, 2008 at 6:04 am

    Nice interview, Ryan!

    Christine

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