When we met up with Survivor host Jeff Probst in early August, he had just returned from Fiji and the back-to-back filming of Seasons 35 and 36. The deep-dimpled host says Season 35 is going to “rock.” Here he shares how the long-running CBS reality show keeps the fire burning this season.
What does Season 35’s theme mean, “Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers”?
Well, the idea was taking three groups of people who have these positive traits attached to them, and taking people who live very positive lives and watching how they will behave in a game that — by design — is manipulative and cutthroat. And it was really fascinating because each group approached it very differently.
How do you continue to keep the series fresh?
Our fundamental job as producers of the show is to keep it relevant without messing up the format. The format is really simple: A group of people have to work together and vote each other out. And within that box, you can do a lot, and that’s what we endeavor to do. And we’ve been encouraged by CBS to continue to take big swings.
The 18 castaways for the 35th season of 'Survivor' include an Olympian, an NFL player, a bellhop, a diversity advocate and a urologist.
So, let’s talk about big swings in Season 35. What can you tease?
We have a big format change that I don’t want to reveal because it’s a fun one. But to be in our 35th season and to change a fundamental aspect of how the game plays, with the blessing of the network, is really amazing. And I’m always so thrilled when I pitch them something, and they say, “Uh, OK!”
What’s a moment from Season 35 where your jaw dropped?
I’m thinking of one, but I don’t think I can tease it. … Here’s another way to answer that. One of the things that’s been happening the last three or four seasons is people are getting more aggressive at Tribal [Council], which means moments before they’re going to vote, people are changing their minds — which is really risky. And it happens again this season, where you see people looking around and thinking, “I’m not sure I’m going to go with the plan I told everybody.” And someone senses that and then thinks, “Oh, my God, does that mean it’s me?” And now, it’s on.
And speaking of Tribal Council, I’ve heard a rumor that the phrase “Fire represents life” takes on a whole new meaning this season in the way that the final four becomes the final three.
[Nodding conspiratorially] That would be really cool if fire came into play again. I love fire.