"The Tribe Has Spoken": The Story Behind Survivor's Iconic Catchphrase

Rob Moynihan

Survivor: South Pacific

Fifteen years ago, a handful of unknown Americans were marooned on the shores of Borneo to participate in a social experiment that would eventually become a reality television phenomenon. Every three days, they would face judgment at Tribal Council, a makeshift jungle courtroom where they would be questioned by fresh-faced host Jeff Probst. Dreams of the million dollar grand prize would be dashed when Probst extinguished the flame on their torched and uttered four simple words: "The tribe has spoken." As part of our continuing coverage of Survivor's upcoming 30th season, we spoke to Probst and executive producer Mark Burnett about the origins of the show's most recognizable catchphrase.

Jeff Probst (host and executive producer)
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? was on the air and [host] Regis [Philbin] had the line, "Is that your final answer?" Everyone was quoting it. So once I had walked through [the first] Tribal Council and saw there was this torch snuff, I felt very strongly that we had to have a line to [the castaways] to let them know that it's over.

Mark Burnett (executive producer)
I remember being in the jungle all day and all night with Jeff on very little sleep. We were working, prepping, shooting, running 24 hours a day and trying to come up with what Jeff would say at that moment when he snuffed that torch.

I had this big white board and anyone that walked by, I'd go, "Hey, imagine that you just got kicked out of this game. What would you want to hear?" But none of the lines were working. And Mark said, "I don't think it's that big of a deal, the torch is enough." But my gut was really strong, I had to say something. And Mark said, "Ah, um, well Jeff, just say, 'Well obviously your tribe don't want you 'round no more.'" That was his exact quote.

I just had the instinct. The tribe was making the decision. It's not one person making it, it's the collective.

I said, "Yeah, that's the idea, but it just doesn't really roll off the tongue." And Mark was kind of frustrated and went, "Well, I don't know what to tell you, Jeff, the tribe has spoken and that's the way it goes." There it was. Mark inadvertently said the greatest line ever.

Many people in the conventional wisdom had said to us Survivor is really hokey with snuffing Tiki torches, that it wasn't going to be dramatic, but silly. But fire represents life, so it's metaphorically snuffing out the life.

I knew that I would be mocked for it, but I was the one insisting on having a new vernacular. Thirty seasons later, it's still a part of the fabric of the show.

Survivor: Worlds Apart premieres Wednesday, Feb. 25 at 8/7c on CBS.