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'Survivor: Second Chance': Jeff Probst promises 'chaos and scrambling'

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Monty Brinton/CBS

May 31 was a pretty awesome day if you’re a Survivor fan. Not only did it mark the 15-year anniversary of Survivor debuting on TV, but it was also the marooning day for Survivor: Cambodia—Second Chance. We had a chance to sit down with host Jeff Probst on the beach in Cambodia after shooting the opening segment to discuss the start of filming, as well as the excitement of the live vote reveal that had CBS asking for more.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Talk about what it’s like kicking off a new season. You’ve been working on this for months and months. You finally get here, it’s day one. What’s it like when you get to this point?

JEFF PROBST: We started this Second Chance process almost seven months ago, and here we are shooting it. There is an excitement around day one that is hard to explain unless you’re here. It’s the culmination of seven months of creative that you’re laying out and essentially turning over to a bunch of other people to go play. So you want it to be good, you want it to work. We have this great opening plan where we’re going to do something we did the first season, and you’re going to see chaos and scrambling out of the gate. It’s very exciting. And it’s not lost on me that this is the greatest gift I could have ever been given, to be still doing this 15 years later.

The fan voting was a phenomenally successful endeavor in terms of getting people really excited. You had the players all campaigning, and you had fans making their lists of whom they wanted. It had to get you thinking about ways you can do something like this again.

I’ll tell you the truth. We started with the list at probably 100, and then we got it down to 50. That was really tough. Then we got it down to 40. Then we got it down to 32. And then there was a point where I called Lynne, our casting director, and said, “Is this a terrible idea? Are we crazy to turn this over to the fans and let them vote?” And she said, “Yeah, I don’t know.” And it goes back to something you and I talk about all the time: When you’re scared and nervous that you don’t know what’s going to happen, it’s usually a sign that it’s worth trying. I was so pleasantly surprised by the turnout of votes, the diversity of the cast, the enthusiasm of the 20 who made it, and the 32 who showed up at the live show that it just kind of once again renewed my spirit of “just keep trying to make it interesting and it will work.” People want this to happen.

I know it was tough for you to have to tell people on live television that they didn’t make the cut. But I also thought it was riveting to watch and made for great TV. Talk about that whole process. How did you feel about the live reveal at the reunion?

I felt bad for the cast of White Collar, Blue Collar, No Collar, because their reunion was truncated so much and I know that annoyed all of them, as it always does. They never get enough time.

Stop right there, because I want to stay on that. If you did something like this again, or if you could redo this, would you consider doing it as a whole separate hour the next night—kind of like what you did with that goofy America’s Tribal Council special after All-Stars where Rupert won a million dollars?

That’s not a bad idea. Maybe if we did it again that would have made sense. The other tough thing is that we are on a network, CBS, that is doing quite well. It’s hard getting an extra minute, and they give us three hours on our finale, so I don’t know if we could get the time. But I think you make a good point, that I didn’t even think about, which is you could probably milk that.

On the other hand, one of the things I like about Survivor—we don’t milk it. For instance, when we reveal the votes. When I walk up and read the last votes, you can think of all the shows that would say “And after the break, I’ll read the votes.” And they get a whole other five minutes of B.S. We don’t do that. I walk out and get to the votes as fast as possible. Let’s just keep the show moving. We’ve got good content. On the Second Chance vote, an hour might be milking. Maybe that’s exactly what you needed was five and half minutes, and the anticipation and it’s over. And it hurts, and we move on, and now here they are, and now we’re playing, and here’s a new season: forget about Joe, here’s another guy. I kind of like that.

But you could put recaps in and make little packages for each of the players, and reveal votes throughout the hour. You know me, I’m just a geek and want more.

Yeah, maybe. I still as a producer would say, “Does anybody really care, or are you just fast forwarding to see if they get on or not?” But to your bigger question of would we do it again, I think you have to have the right situation. This worked because the investment was so high, and the stakes were so real. You knew that Andrew Savage and Terry Deitz—they’ve been waiting for a decade to play again. And you felt that. And when you saw me say no to T-Bird from the third season, you felt this anguish of “Ugh, oh my God!” I can still see her face! So, yes, CBS called me the next day and said, “Oh my God, that was great! When can we do it again?” To which I said, “Well, it would have to be the right situation.” Because we’re never going to go back and do something if it doesn’t work.

We’ll have more from Probst in Cambodia on the set of ‘Second Chance’ later this week. And for more ‘Survivor’ scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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