Back in 2005, I traveled to the island of Contadora in Panama for an Entertainment Weekly story on the possible departure of Jeff Probst as host of Survivor. Filming was about to commence on Survivor: Panama — Exile Island, which would be the 12th installment of the reality franchise, and Probst’s contract was up after the season wrapped.
The host was negotiating with CBS on a new contract but had other interests like directing and talk show hosting, and the sense was that if the network did not back up the money truck, Probst would leave. And there were certainly times where it looked like that may indeed happen. In the end, however, CBS backed up that money truck and Probst signed on for four more seasons over two years. He then re-upped again after season 16 and his status as host has never really been in doubt since. (Although had The Jeff Probst Show caught on, it’s doubtful he would have been able to continue long-term doing both.)
Even with Probst locked in, there have been a few times where one couldn’t help looking ahead and wondering how far the show could make it. At one point, there were thoughts that season 20 might be the last installment. Then there was some buzz that Survivor might go out with an all-winners edition for 25. But people just keep watching. And once Probst became reinvigorated after essentially adding showrunner duties to his plate, talk about the show closing up shop dissipated.
There was really no question about Survivor continuing on past season 30, and season 33 (Millennials vs. Gen X) has already wrapped and will air in the fall. However, when we spoke with Probst out on location in Fiji for filming of season 34 (which will air next year), we couldn’t help but ask whether he had started to look ahead to big 4-0, as in season 40.
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“I will admit that 40 is the next big goal,” says Probst. “Our first episode of [season 34] will be our 500th episode and I did a little research the other day to put on the call sheet of how many incredibly popular shows never reached 500. It was pretty invigorating to see, wow, we have actually produced a lot of television. And our audience has stayed with us. I went to Survivor’s Wikipedia page. I started at the first year and went all the way down and there were some monstrous numbers in the beginning, but at around season 23, the ratings started to level off. And they haven’t dropped. And if you look at other shows, that doesn’t happen.”
Probst continues: “I feel like there is a commitment that we made to our audience which is, I promise that we are out here doing our very best to give you a great adventure, and if you just keep watching, we’ll keep taking big swings. We may not always be right. We may miss and have a terrible season. But we promise we will come back and do it again. I know it sounds corny. I truly believe that true Survivor fans know that we’re in this together. So getting to 40? Entirely possible. It looks like forever to get to 40 because just coming up with one theme is a gigantic hurdle. To come up with two, we always feel like we just conquered the beast. But that’s the goal.”
And a goal that seems entirely within reach. No matter how much longer Survivor continues, Probst knows he will now forever be linked with the show that kicked off the reality television craze in America. “I can’t believe a third of my life has been spent doing this show,” says the host. “At one point it was like, “Oh, I have this job Survivor,” and now I’m realizing, my career will be defined by Survivor.”
And that career shows no signs of being over anytime soon.
Make sure to also check out Probst’s take on the controversial Kaoh Rong finale, his thoughts on the Millennials vs. Gen X cast, some more intel on next season, and whether there ever may be a season of Celebrity Survivor. And for more Survivor news and views, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.