If you’re a Survivor fan, then you know that host Jeff Probst is essential to the show.
His ubiquitous “Come on in, guys!” when the challenges are about to start, or his sad torch-snuffing face are a part of the Survivor fabric, and without him, it would be a very different beast.
Over the mind-boggling 38 seasons of the reality show, Probst has come to learn the tricks of the game, and of all people on the planet, he might hold the key to Survivor success.
Global News spoke with Probst about what character traits make a great Survivor contestant, and how it feels to know he has one of the most enjoyable jobs out there.
Global News: 37 seasons of ‘Survivor,’ and now a 38th. That is bonkers. How does it feel knowing you have the best job out there?
Jeff Probst: When it comes to gratitude, the craziest part is that my job really is as fun as it appears to be. There’s not a hidden wall of misery that I have to mask or overcome. It’s a blast. And I get to work with a great team of people I have known for years! We have a very fun format, we continue to have interesting, adventurous people who want to play the game, and we are fully supported by CBS to continue to try new and often risky ideas. I’m fully aware that I have it made.
Being a host of this show comes with some difficult aspects. There have been a few times contestants have collapsed or fainted during challenges and as a viewer, it looked like they were dying. How did those incidents impact you personally? Do you ever have lingering effects from what you witness in the game?
The underlying responsibility to take care of our players is something that everyone on the crew takes to heart every moment of every day. Any time a player gets sick or injured or has to be evacuated, I feel tremendous empathy for them. I’m aware of how much they sacrificed to come have this adventure and it’s devastating for it to be coming to an end.
There is also uncertainty for those players as they are in a foreign country, far from home and they want assurances they are going to be OK. We have so many plans in place for situations like this, and we are always able to quickly show them they’re in good hands. I’m happy to say that even our most dramatic evacuations have resulted in the players having a full recovery and often they come back to play again.
After all this time, you must know what personality traits/qualities it takes to persevere in ‘Survivor.’ What are some of those traits?
I’ve watched a lot of people try to navigate the social politics that come with playing Survivor. There are a few traits that always seem to come into play, and the top of that list is likeability. It doesn’t mean you have to be the most likeable person to win, but it does mean that the other players have to find something about you that they like. They are voting to award you a million dollars. They won’t give it to someone they despise.
I think it’s very similar to how most of us lead our regular lives back home. You don’t have to be a pushover, you don’t have to be a “yes” person. You can have boundaries, you can have opinions that differ from others, but on some level, you have to be relatable. Others have to be able to understand your motives. If someone can understand the why of your behaviour, then it allows them a way into understanding you.
What do you have to say to ‘Survivor’ nuts out there who want to apply to be a contestant? What do you recommend?
It’s as complex as it is simple. Just be you. You don’t have to be a filmmaker, you don’t need to have someone else shoot it for you, you don’t need props. We’ve had many people shoot a video in their kitchen or even in their car on a break from work. All we care about is learning who you are and what your world is about. I know that sounds vague, but it’s really all there is to say about it. Just talk. Casting Survivor is never about finding people who are “better” than others, it’s always about finding people who fit with the season we’re doing. So if you don’t hear back from us, it’s not indicative of anything other than it wasn’t the right fit for this season.
We live in a time when it’s post-modern ‘Survivor.’ People proactively search for immunity idols now (without clues), for example, and have really complex strategies based on watching multiple seasons of gameplay. How do you and the producers manage to keep this show fresh? How do you decide on the twists?
The single biggest task we have every season is how to reinvent the show so it’s the same thing, only different. There is no secret sauce. Coming up with new themes and new ideas is the hardest part of the creative process. It’s usually a combination of what’s happening in the culture, where our instincts are taking us regarding the format of the show, and the people we find to be on the show. Each feeds the other. But I will admit at times, it is quite daunting and we are often living in a state of “What in the world are we going to do next season?” The good news is that once we have a solid theme and a great cast, we feel pretty confident in our storytelling abilities.
What can fans expect from this upcoming season? What elements can you tease?
Survivor: Edge of Extinction is another twist to the format. The philosophical idea was to see how far players were willing to go physically and emotionally, to win the game. If given the opportunity, would they push themselves to their limits? And if they do, where would it take them? Once they are voted out, players will be faced with a decision. They can choose to be done with the game or they can grab a torch, get in a boat and head to an island where their world will turn upside down. To be clear, we still have the traditional Survivor gameplay happening, this is a secondary layer. We’re very excited to show fans the season. I think it will add another dimension to the game that we may bring back in future seasons!
Do you have a list of Top 3 or 4 past contestants that you’ll never forget?
My list of favourite contestants is so long. I have enjoyed so many past players. In fact, one of my few frustrations about our show is that players never really trust how much respect I have for them. I represent different things to different players. But I’m often seen as the authority figure, at least on some level, regarding the game. And nobody likes an authority figure, me most of all! But my truth is that rarely… and I mean rarely… has there been someone on the show that I didn’t truly enjoy watching play Survivor.
‘Survivor: Edge of Extinction’ premieres on Feb. 20 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Global.
[This interview has been edited and condensed.]
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