There’s a Classic ‘Survivor’ Phrase Jeff Probst Wishes He Could Still Say on the Show

The show’s faster, wilder format has robbed its longtime host and producer of an iconic six words he misses saying

Jeff Probst Survivor
Jeff Probst on "Survivor" (Credit: CBS)

When “Survivor” was nominated for Outstanding Reality Competition last year, it marked the first time in 17 years that the show that helped jumpstart the entire reality genre was recognized in the Emmys’ top category for competition shows. The drought ended at a time when the long-running show had retooled its gameplay to create a shorter, faster experience (26 days instead of 39) with contestants given fewer provisions and a larger, more complicated array of advantages and twists.

The show remains one of the top-rated series on broadcast television, with its eye on a 50th season that could air in the spring of 2026. Jeff Probst has hosted the show for all of those seasons, winning the Emmy for reality host during the first four years of that category’s existence. Probst, who also serves as a producer on the show, did this interview via email from the Fiji location of an upcoming season.  

At this point, six seasons into the “new era” “Survivor,” what is your verdict? What do you love about the new version and what do you miss from “Survivor” Classic? 
I’ll start with what I miss most about the older seasons: “39 days, 18 people, one Survivor!” It was always such an iconic part of the show! We had a blast finding new spots to shoot those tag lines and I’ll admit a few of them were a bit risky, which made it all that much more fun! 

In terms of a big-picture view, “Survivor” has always evolved from one season to the next, so I don’t spend much time comparing the old era to the new. I see them as connected. There are still elements of our first season that can be found in our most recent season. That’s what keeps “Survivor” grounded.

Overall, what I enjoy most about the new era is the elevated level of danger in the game design. It was very obvious to us as producers that in order for the game to continue to evolve, we had to inject some new ideas in the form of twists and format changes, so that players had a new world in which to play. Things like Beware Advantages, the risk of losing your vote, the Shot in the Dark at tribal council, are all designed to open the game up in new ways for the players!

It seems to me that blindside eliminations are more frequent than ever before, and so is the frequency of contestants going home with immunity idols in their pockets. Do you think that’s accurate? And if so, why? 
Blindsides are a mandatory part of game play for the simple reason that if a player has an idea they are going home, they are incentivized to do anything and everything to stop that from happening. That’s why social relationships and social game play will always be the foundation of “Survivor.” If you are good at forming relationships and getting people to trust you, then you are capable of pulling off a blindside. But if we do our job right in casting, so is every other player! 

So the only thing you can do is accept that blindsides are woven into the game and it is extremely likely that when your torch is snuffed it will be due to a blindside. This simple acceptance allows you to focus on your own game because you know everybody else is doing the same thing.

We’ve talked in the past about how the increasingly intricate system of immunity idols and advantages might have gone too far with things like Change History and Do or Die. Are you comfortable with the number and kind of idols and advantages you’ve had in recent seasons?
Here’s the truth about advantages and idols: In the same way that a player has to be willing to risk losing in order to win, we as producers have to be willing to go too far with an advantage in order to find the appropriate edge. Creating the game design on “Survivor” is not a science, it’s an experiment and one that we are constantly adjusting. We’re very happy with where the game is, but that doesn’t mean we think every idea works. We fail all the time with ideas, but that’s the only way you can find new ones! 

I encourage players to take the same approach to playing the game. If you have an idea for a new way to use your Shot in the Dark, or a new approach to a Beware Advantage, try it! If it works, do it again. If it fails, try something else.

Survivor
CBS ©2024

After almost 700 episodes, how do you come up with challenges that feel fresh? Do you ever get tired of puzzle pieces?  
Ah, the dreaded “Survivor” puzzle! Here’s a fact. Every single challenge in the history of “Survivor” has been overseen by the same person: John Kirhoffer. He and his team have a very complicated job in that they have to create a season of challenges that are often epic in scope, difficult in execution, require a variety of different skills and on any given day can be won by any individual. That’s a herculean task. 

Puzzles are the great equalizer and to date they are the fairest idea we have come up with. When you consider that we’ve done more than a thousand challenges over the years, it’s inevitable that some elements will be repeated, but we do our best to have fun with our puzzles and mix up the types we use.

How often do you have a good sense of who might win by the halfway point of the show, and how often is that sense correct?  
This is such a fun question because I never get it right! The gameplay on “Survivor” is so fluid that what is true on the morning of Day 6 could have completely flipped by the afternoon of that same day. An alliance that seemed rock solid just a moment ago can change based on nothing more than a feeling that “something is off” and that is what makes the new era so fun for players and fans. The game is never locked. No alliance is ever impenetrable. No player is ever safe. And this means, even when all hope seems lost, there is still a chance.   

Do you think “Survivor” gameplay evolves from season to season, or is each season its own beast? We’ve had several winners recently who didn’t make the kind of “big moves” we often expect from winners – do you think players will now adjust and begin to target under-the-radar players because they’ve been doing well? 
It’s a good question. I think both are true. The gameplay evolves every season and yet each season is still its own thing. I think it’s extremely unlikely that game play will start to dissipate. We just finished “Survivor 46” with some of the most ruthless, cunning, exciting, dangerous gameplay we’ve ever seen in a season. It led to more blindsides and unplayed idols in the history of the show. 

I can’t say this loudly enough to future players. If you play to not lose, you will never win. Today’s jury will not reward cowardice. You have to play to win, knowing it may mean you lose. It sounds like an oxymoron but it’s not. And to take it one step further, when you give yourself permission to lose, it frees you up to see opportunities that allow you to play to win.  

You’ve got a few seasons to go before your 50th, but are you thinking about ways to make that season special?  
We are very excited about “Survivor 50” and it definitely comes with some pressure! We really want to please our fans because they are the reason we have been around long enough to do a 50th season! The most important thing to us is that we want “Survivor 50” to be a celebration. There are a lot of ideas floating around and each one takes you in a different direction. Ultimately it will come down to one big question: How do we create a fun season of “Survivor” that still features great game play, has a nod to nostalgia but still feels fresh and involves the fans in a way that will make them feel this is as much for them as it is for us!  

You’ve already announced that Season 50 will consist of returning players. In the era of social media, can you prevent pre-game alliances from forming?  
Now we’re really talking the nitty gritty. Pre-game alliances have been a part of every returning player season, so on some level I guess it is to be expected. There isn’t any way to prevent them, you just have to produce the game with them in mind. That’s one of the fun elements to add to the “Survivor 50” creative wish list!

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