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'Survivor' host Jeff Probst explains the switch to three tribes and a 'major setback'

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Timothy Kuratek/CBS

Each week, host Jeff Probst will answer a few questions about the latest episode of Survivor: Cambodia—Second Chance.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Something very interesting is happening this season, which we haven’t seen for a while: People on both tribes (Spencer, Shirin, Stephen — basically anyone whose name starts with the letter S) have ended up on the outs (or out completely) for playing TOO fast. Instead of the old school folks getting overwhelmed by the speed of the game, they’re ostracizing those who try to play at a new school pace. Did that surprise you?

JEFF PROBST: I’ve been sitting here at my computer, staring at the screen trying to decide if I agree with your observation. I definitely see what you are saying, but I’m wondering if it’s even a bit more layered. It seems that it might be a combination of playing hard and fast along with whether or not you are fitting in. Joe and Savage and Jeremy are playing as fast as anybody. They made a very quick agreement to stay together — but because they all agree, it’s okay. 

Fishbach is not “in” with that group, so he’s trying to find another way to play. So Fishbach looking for an idol is not a bad idea for a guy who is concerned he isn’t fitting in. Vytas may have “tried” too hard, but not sure he was playing any faster than anybody else as evidenced by Wentworth finding the clue to the idol and then brazenly retrieving it in the middle of the challenge. So I’m suggesting that maybe it’s too early to draw a conclusion as the game is still finding its feet. 

You mentioned the eerie parallel to Shirin being shunned by her tribe last season and having only Mike to offer a shoulder to lean on, and then Abi this time being in a situation where only Terry came down to check on her after a big fight, even though Shirin was there while all this was going down. Is this move by Terry the perfect example of how social and strategic games can work hand in hand?   

Yes! And I was really impressed by Terry. I know from my own personal journey and therapy and attempts at growth that it’s much easier to say you are going to change than it is to actually change. To change a habit, you have to really pay attention and look for opportunities to put that change into motion. That’s what Terry did — and he did it with one of the least likely people: Abi. He saw a person in need, that was his first call to action. Then he realized, “I can show kindness to this person AND improve my social game which will hopefully improve the strategic part of my game.” Win, win, win. This is a great example of what most excites me about this season: watching people who endeavor to change attempt to do it in the most extreme situation. I was so happy to hear so many positive comments about the premiere and I think this is why — this season is truly unique and it’s easy and fun to get invested in the individual stories.

Six days into the game, did you and all the other producers look at each and other and ask yourselves, “Why did we wait 29 seasons to bring Jeff Varner back?” This guy is pure gold.  

Ha! We’ve been trying to get Varner back for years. Every time a new casting theme came up he would be one of the first names on the list. We have always loved Varner. It just never worked out. I will say that the Varner who showed up was not the Varner I expected. I remembered Jeff as a young, cocky, charming villain who I would have been delighted seeing win the game. The guy who showed up for Second Chance is a much more mature, slightly annoyed, but still incredibly charming guy with just enough life experience and humility to be an equally satisfying winner. He’s a great storyteller with a unique observation on the world.  

BONUS QUESTION! You and I went through this challenge course and picked out a place to hide the immunity idol, yet Bayon did not find their clue so it never came into play. Still, how do you feel about our hiding place on to top of the third A-frame?

Yes, we wanted to do that with you and for you … because for years you have been such a big proponent of the idea of hiding an idol within a challenge. Once we decided to do it, we all agreed we had to involve you in the creative. So we let you have a big say in where we would hide it for that challenge, which, had it happened, would have been the top of the final A-frame. We had a GREAT camera shot lined up too! I was really hoping someone would find the note so you could see it play out — but they didn’t, so we didn’t get to give you the entire thank-you gift. 

But one of the benefits of it not working out is further evidence that we don’t control the game. We rehearsed it as though they would find it and when they didn’t, we pulled it out. That’s how it goes. But we do appreciate your genuine love of Survivor and your support over the years. And you can absolutely add “Challenge Co-Producer” to your resume!

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Okay, time to tease us up. You all have contracted down in tribes before, but I don’t recall ever expanding. What can you tell us about next week’s shift from two tribes to three?  

When you bring back returning players, it’s extremely tough to ever surprise them. So we had a few ideas in our hopper and we hoped that at least a couple of them would surprise at least a couple of players. I wouldn’t be surprised if several players considered the idea of a two-to-three tribe switch — but you never know for sure, and when it finally hits, it’s pretty powerful. The obvious impact is that it completely changes the game, and for some I will tease that it will be a MAJOR setback. 

I love these moments because it pushes people to find a new way. How do I get back in the game? Tribe switches are one of the few parts of the game you can’t control. It’s the “luck” portion of the game. By simply drawing the right — or wrong — buff your game moves in one direction or the other. That’s why there is no “fool proof” strategy. Survivor requires you to constantly adapt — 24 hours a day for 39 straight days. Exhausting … and life-changing. See ya next week!

To watch an exclusive deleted scene, as well as the placement of the unfound challenge idol, our pre-game interview with Shirin, and last week’s episode of Survivor Talk, 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.