Survivor: Jeff Probst reveals how his son helped shape a challenge | EW.com

TV | Survivor

Survivor host Jeff Probst reveals how his son helped shape a challenge

Also, the host weighs in on two more crazy blindsides

(Monty Brinton/CBS )

Each week host Jeff Probst will answer a few questions about the latest episode of Survivor: Cambodia—Second Chance.’This week, he answers questions about both episodes 10 and 11, which aired back-to-back.

ENTERTAINMENT WEKELY: Look, bad weather is nothing new on Survivor and you even had 21 straight days of rain in the Philippines once, but how bad was this sustained downpour that had multiple players calling it the lowest point of their entire life? 
JEFF PROBST: One difference with the rain this season was the strength of the downpour. It really was like a dumping of water and it felt at one point truly relentless, as though there was nothing that was going to stop it. On top of the weather, there was one big mitigating factor and that was the mental fatigue consuming every player. We may never see another season played at this level of strategic intensity. There was not one moment of coasting throughout the season, so the players were exhausted on a level that made that rain just that much more devastating. And, as you note, the best evidence comes from the players themselves. It wasn’t just one, it was nearly all of them.

Jeff, you gave all the players the option to not compete in the first immunity challenge and if five said they would not, they would get a pimped-out new shelter. Eight of the 10 took the shelter over the competition. Did that surprise you, especially with so many returning gamers? 
Yes. In fact, there was major debate among our creative team as to how many players we should require give up their shot at immunity. Some felt that five was too many and we wouldn’t be successful. And they had a very good reason to be concerned since we had so many die-hard players and none of them easily persuaded to give up any edge. I felt that we had to have at least five because the invoice had to be steep enough to warrant us helping them with a new shelter.

It’s reason #736,215 that I love being a part of this show. This kind of collaboration is what we do. We conceive, we debate, we decide and then we execute. And every step along the way we challenge the idea. Sometimes we’re right, sometimes we’re wrong but we never, ever approach it halfway. Once again we were rewarded with an amazing reality beat where Joe, the favorite to win every challenge, is one of only two who doesn’t give up his immunity. That’s game play. I love it.

Giving an idol to someone else to play can be a solid strategic move to maintain numbers (like Parvati and Russell did in Heroes vs. Villains) or it can end up being something of a waste (like when Malcolm did it to get Phillip out but then left himself vulnerable for the next vote-out in Caramoan). How do you like what Jeremy did here by playing an idol for Stephen?
I loved it. This is the only way to play this game. You must play to win. I say it over and over and over and over and over. You can’t play safe. Not if you want to win. Jeremy wants to win. He put his faith in Stephen. It may work, it may not.  Next Tribal he may have to vote Stephen out or Stephen may blindside him. But for this moment, this was his best move and I love that he made it. Major game play.

I can’t believe you did the Survivor Folklore challenge! We haven’t seen this in YEARS! Why did you decide to bring this one back, and how long did you have to spend memorizing that story? 
We really wanted to do stuff at night this season, me especially! So we hid one idol that you had to find in the middle of the night and we decided to bring back Folklore! Another specific reason was I wanted to challenge our pyro and lighting department. These guys do such an amazing job at Tribal Council and we often don’t use them as much as we could or should. So this season they were tested and man, did they deliver. We had so many obstacles for Folklore, including the strong possibility of rain, but they never backed away from believing they could pull it off. They kept saying “No problem. Rain or shine there will be fire.” We had over 50 fires in that jungle. That is a major feat and a major endeavor to keep secure and make sure fires don’t spread.

The other challenge is having me tell a story that is difficult enough for the players to remember but also interesting enough and short enough to entertain the audience. I know we succeeded on the first part, but not sure if the story and play along was interesting to the audience. It’s a risk we were willing to take. Then we added in the idol clue and we had ourselves a kick-ass Survivor challenge. As for folklore, the writing of that is something I take responsibility for because every other department is already swamped. I just researched the story, wrote a first pass and then had everybody else weigh in with edits and suggestions until we got it as tight as we could. The key was trying to make it just confusing enough to make you think you are remembering something correctly … but you’re not certain. 

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Memorizing — that’s something I’ve always been able to do. It definitely comes in handy at times like that or complicated maroonings with several beats. One other fun note — we had always done Folklore with two possible answers. But it wasn’t dramatic enough because you had a 50-50 chance of being right, and if you missed one then you knew you were right the second time. So we had a big creative meeting to discuss options. All of our senior creative executives gathered together in a hot trailer bouncing around ideas for how to complicate the challenge. It was my son Michael, 11, who sat there listening and finally said, “How ‘bout three possible answers instead of two?” Yep. Seems so simple when you hear it, doesn’t it?  

Sticking with that challenge, I have always maintained that it is best to not win any reward where you will be forced to include and exclude people, because it more often than not leads to problems, and we certainly saw that with Stephen here. Do I make a compelling case that winning these types of rewards are too dangerous, or is that all poppycock? 
It’s a legit question for sure and a legit concern, but here’s the rub: Rewards come with food. Food is major. MAJOR. A good meal at a reward can often result in a major advantage for the next challenge as well as improved mental faculties.  So yes, there is an invoice for getting food. You will almost always have some dilemma, but choosing to not win and hope someone picks you to go along is a risky strategy. 

I would never do it. I would try my best to use my reward as a way to move myself forward in the game, by whatever means I can. I think people miss opportunities to strong arm. When you win, you have leverage. You may never have this much leverage again. So use it. Survivor has changed.  It’s a game for winners — meaning, the game has evolved so much that weak ass players have a very hard time winning. Just look at the recent history. It’s been a long time since a “lesser of two evils” won the game. So you have to play, manipulate, leverage, assess, reassess, lie, cheat, steal —  and often all at once.

I cannot even handle how insane this second Tribal Council was. Fishbach does the right thing and plays his advantage and then still gets voted out. That moment just turned this season from a very good one into a great one. Take us through the scene and your thoughts being there as that all went down. 
It’s reminiscent of last season when Dan used his “extra vote” and was blindsided.  My vantage point is really reactionary at Tribal. I know that Stephen has the advantage but I don’t know when he’s going to play it until he decides to play it.  So my head is filled with a lot of “what if” scenarios. What if this happens. What if that happens? What if an idol is played?  So I’m doing a lot of projected math and situational role-plays while conducting the Q&A of Tribal Council. And I love it! I love it when tribal is alive like that. It’s honestly why I still love this show so much. 

These people show up and play this incredibly difficult game knowing their odds of winning are so slight and yet they pour their heart and soul into it. Fishbach came up short, and I think in hindsight he will see he was too focused on snagging the big catch (Joe) and he ultimately robbed himself of his greatest asset — observing. But, and this is a big but … I give him a lot of credit for playing as big as he did. He really left it all out there. He let us see inside his heart and his vulnerability was really a beautiful thing to witness. Stephen’s game is a great illustration of how Survivor can truly bring you to your knees and then lift you up above the clouds and then slam you back into the ground again. Over and over and over.

Looks like we have a loved ones visit and a possible medevac coming up. What can you tease for next week? 
I am so happy you said this season just elevated from a good season to a great season because I feel the same way. These players should all be in the Survivor Hall of Fame. We’ve never had a group play this hard and it comes on the heels of White Collar, Blue Collar, No Collar, which I thought was another outstanding season. So yes, next week the loved ones come and it’s pretty doggone emotional. I think I welled up just a wee bit. And I won’t say if we have an evacuation but we do have a medical situation and it comes as a result of effort. Pushing a body so hard that it just stops.

To watch two exclusive deleted scenes as well our pre-game interviews with Stephen and Ciera, click on the video player below. Also make sure to read Dalton’s full episode recap. And for more Survivor scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.