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'Survivor': Jeff Probst answers burning questions about the finale

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CBS

Each week host Jeff Probst has answered a few questions about the latest episode of Survivor: Cambodia—Second Chance. Here, he shares his thoughts on the finale and the reunion show.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Okay, I always ask you every season to evaluate the winner. So how does Jeremy’s game stack up for you and do you think the jury made the right choice? 

JEFF PROBST: In a season where we had more good players than any other, Jeremy’s game stacks very high. There were very few easy moments this season and no easy votes. Every assassination took careful planning. I think Jeremy’s game was so good that I’m not even sure he used all his bullets. He’s very good at the people thing.  As for the jury making the right choice, I’ll give a qualified yes and no. Yes, no question Jeremy deserved to win. No debate.

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But I think both Tasha and Spencer played really good games. Tasha anticipated this being a season of no loyalty, so she chose to be loyal thinking it would pay off long term. That’s great game thinking. Spencer is like a guy hanging onto the edge of a building with his fingertips. Watching him hang on and make it to the end with a lot of individual immunity wins was also really impressive. I don’t know if we’ve ever had as strong of a final three. And then there’s Wentworth and Keith and Ciera and so many others that really played amazing games.

Wentworth vs. Jeremy in the finals: Who wins? 

Well, I wanted to ask that question last night but man there just is no time in that reunion show. For sure that would have been quite a showdown. I honestly don’t know. I can say this, we always believed Wentworth was a massive player, we felt she just didn’t ever get up to speed in her first season. She was always on our list to come back. It happens often — great players don’t get a great start and they’re out early. It is meaningless. Survivor is tough. Most people fall short, it’s the nature of the game. So to see her be back out there killing it was really fun. I didn’t answer your question. I really don’t know.

Spencer threatened Jeremy to work the jury against him if Jeremy did not bring him to the end, and he did this in front of the jury. Did that “arrogance” as it was later called ultimately hurt him with the jury? Was that a tactical misfire? 

Well, yes, I guess it was based on the response of the jury.  Personally, I thought Savage and Kimmi were being incredibly tough and unfair, but that is why Survivor is so interesting — the rules and decisions are made by the players. If Savage decides Jeremy and Spencer were arrogant, then they were arrogant. Period. If Kimmi wants to teach her kids that Spencer was being a bully then her kids will learn that Spencer is a bully. From my admittedly unencumbered point of view, I thought Spencer was playing the game. It never entered my mind he was bullying. Never. And Jeremy calling out Kimmi -—I’d have done exactly the same thing. She betrayed him. The truth in that moment, as Kimmi so honorably admitted in the live show is, she got caught trying to make a big move. That’s all. And her instincts were right. Jeremy was clearly a threat.  

We need to go back to that first Tribal Council of the night, where Kelley and Jeremy both played their hidden immunity idols and as a result you ended up with ZERO votes cast that counted. Then a tie on the re-vote. Then Keith tries to quit. Then Kelley persuades him not to and Kimmi is booted instead. Where did that rank in terms of crazy Tribals for you? 

Oh it’s probably No. 1 right now. You just condensed it so well. So many things were happening. And keep in mind, this was a first for us as producers. We were caught up in it too and wanted to make certain we handled it per the rules, which are so rarely used! The best decision we made as producers was to give them time to talk again openly before we did the second vote. That idea came from our CO-EP Matt Van Wagenen, who said to me as I was putting the votes in order — “Hey, since this is technically a brand new vote, they should get the chance to start over like it’s a new Tribal.” He was spot on. That one decision is what led to the discussion where Keith asked, “Who voted for me?” And all hell broke lose.

I often say this to you but I cannot appropriately express how much fun this show is to produce, but that’s another reason. It’s like there’s 30 seconds left on the clock, you have no time outs, you’re in the huddle, and you’re trying to decide: What is the right play to call? That’s the adrenaline we get during times like this and it all comes from the players. I hope that from this point forward any new players study this season. You want to make history? You want to be invited back? This is how you do it. Play hard from the moment you hit the beach.

You never have enough time to get to everything you want at the reunion show. What are some things you wanted to hit on but just couldn’t fit in?

This was the toughest reunion show ever. We were seven minutes long, in terms of things we wished we could talk about, before we started. That’s an entire act of television. And what nobody realizes is our two-hour finale is actually longer than two hours. It creeps into the third hour when I read the votes. So we really only have about 2/3 of the reunion show to work with. There were so many people and moments that I wanted to discuss.

Honestly, Dalton, I’d have to go get my script notes, there were that many. The irony of my job is that in my heart I love people and I have so much respect for the people who play Survivor. So it hurts my heart to not get to talk to everybody and let them clear the air and make their final speeches about the season. But when I am in producer mode I am only focused on trying to produce a good show. I get more people mad about the Reunion than anything else and it’s always the same comment:  “Why didn’t you ask ________ about _______?”  If anybody can figure out a way to get it all in, I’m all ears!  I welcome input.  

Go ahead and put a bow on the season for us, Jeff. Your final thoughts, please… 

I put it much higher than you do. I’ve never seen this kind of game play from day 1 to day 39 ever. I don’t know that any season has been as good. So for me, right now, the morning after, I put this No. 1 A, right behind our first season which will always be No. 1 for me. I reserve the right to change my mind at a future date. Thanks for a fun season of recaps. I know how hard you work on your column and I know it’s not easy to find new ways to make fun of me but I love all of them! Probst.