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Survivor's Jeff Probst on that Tribal Council Super Idol shocker

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Robert Voets/CBS

Each week, host Jeff Probst will answer a few questions about the latest episode of Survivor: Kaôh Rōng.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Oh, Jeffrey, this was positively delicious. Please take me through every single second of what it was like being there and what happened at Tribal when Scot expected Tai to hand over his immunity idol to make the Super Idol and Tai didn’t do it. Give us some on the scene reporting!  

Well, I was exactly like you and everybody else watching. I really didn’t know what he was going to do. Tai is unpredictable and Tribal is unpredictable, so all that uncertainty was really suspenseful. After last week’s Tribal I think everybody was expecting Tai to stick with his alliance and use the Super Idol, so when he didn’t, it was definitely a surprise. It definitely rocked the jury and, of course, Scot and Jason. 

There was a lot of weight to the moment in terms of human energy.  You could see Scot and Jason both racing to catch up to the ramifications. They clearly never anticipated Tai betraying them. And Tai, just sitting there, feeling the pressure that comes with making a big move. Impressing the existing jury on one hand but insuring he won’t get Scot’s vote if Tai makes it to the final. 

Personally, I just enjoyed the game play. I notice that with each passing season I become less and less emotionally shocked by anything that happens at Tribal. It’s a really fun disconnect in that I am actively involved in the proceedings but I don’t have any expectation about where it will lead. In other words, it’s never a case of “Will this be an entertaining Tribal or a boring Tribal?”  It’s always “What will happen at tonight’s Tribal?”  

RELATED: Ranking Every Season of Survivor

The players have evolved the game play to such a level that Tribal is almost always entertaining because they make it so. In the same way that players increasingly vote out the weaker or less interesting people early on. I know that may hurt some feelings but I do feel that it is often the case of late. It’s like there is a sense of what will make for the best game play and if it’s great game play it makes for a more fun season, and as a player that is what you want because it increases your chances of being asked to play again!

Tai talked about having to listen to either his head or his heart in terms of which alliance to go with. Does that mean this decision to vote against Scot and not hand over his idol was made from an emotional place as opposed to a strategic one? (Although it certainly seems like the right strategic call seeing as how the men were planning to ditch him anyway.) What was your take on why Tai made the move?

It’s a great question for the live show because I honestly am not sure what inspired the move. Generally speaking, I think Tai is led by emotion. Almost always. But, I also think he’s a very crafty player and he’s clearly willing to make big moves. So if I had to guess, I would say it was strategic. Just not wanting to give up that idol with so much game left, and also sensing that Jason and Scot were very tight and sooner or later he would be the odd man out.  But the biggest issue Tai seems to have is that his big moves come with an emotional price tag. Some players are able to blindside their closest friend and not get upset about it. I don’t think Tai is that way. Whether he is showing it or not, I get the sense that Tai wants to be liked, and when he is defensive it’s because it’s difficult for him to accept his own behavior. Add it to the list of reasons why Survivor is an ass kicker of a game.  

Just so everyone is clear, had the Super Idol been used by Scot, then the next two highest people with votes were Tai and Aubry, with two apiece. So what would have happened next?  

Well, first you have to remember that Tai voted for Scot, so he was never going to use the idol to save him.  e betrayed him the moment he wrote his name down. So if Tai had used the idol to save Scot after voting for Scot it would rival the worst move in Survivor history! But yes, if he did use the idol, regardless the circumstances, then Scot is safe. Then, everybody except Tai and Aubry would vote again and they could only vote for Tai or Aubry. Tai would have been voted out and would still be in therapy trying to figure out what happened.

You know I am all about providing choices in challenges, so tell me about the idea—which I loved—of allowing the contestants to choose whether to play for food, letters from home, or an advantage in the game. That also forced them to have to figure out not only what was most valuable, but which would be easiest to win due to a possible lack of competition. What was the inspiration behind the idea and what would have happened if only one person had decided to go for one of the three? 

I love that you asked. Here’s how it went down. I felt the Survivor auction was broken. It had become about one thing — getting an advantage. So I gave the challenge department their own challenge: How do we take the things we like from the auction — love, food, and advantage — and turn it into a challenge. One thing about our challenge department: They always rise to the occasion. Chris Marchand, who works side by side with Survivor Challenge Master John Kirhoffer, came up with the idea. We knew it was a brilliant idea the second we heard it. It’s one of those moments that come around once or twice a season if you’re lucky. We were lucky. And yes we will use it again in the future.

BONUS QUESTION: Which would you have gone for: Food, letters from home, or the advantage in the game? And why?  

Advantage. But only because I would have felt I could win. I like that challenge, I like my odds, and advantage is definitely the #1 choice. But what’s fun about it is what you mentioned; it handicaps the challenge in a really interesting way. If you feel the challenge is going to be a tough one for you,  then increase your odds of winning something by choosing the item you think has the least overall appeal — letters from home. Chances are you’ll be matched up against people on your same skill level and now the challenge has evened itself out. It’s truly a great idea and one that every other incarnation of Survivor being done around the world will steal.

We are getting close to the home stretch here, so tease us up for next week’s episode.  

I think you saw a taste of it tonight. Loyalty. There have been so many different, fractured alliances. Now more than any other point in the game, you are looking for people you can trust, if only for one vote. 

Check out an exclusive deleted scene from the episode above. Also make sure to read Dalton’s full episode recap. For more ‘Survivor’ scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss, and check back soon for our exit interview with Scot.