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Survivor: Jeff Probst reveals the casting decision that led to Millennials vs. Gen X

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Robert Voets/CBS

Survivor has a secret. Usually when the show trots out heavily hyped themes like Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty, or White Collar vs. Blue Collar vs. No Collar, the producers have the cast set before the concept. What that means is that they get the people they want to have on the show — regardless of theme — and then separate them up along designations they come up with later, rather than casting people to fit a specific theme.

This isn’t the way it always works, but host Jeff Probst has said that the show has had the most success doing it that way with the producers figuring that it is better to make sure they get the people they want, even if it means some of the designations don’t exactly make sense. (Tai himself laughed out loud at being put on the Beauty tribe on Kaoh Rong while corporate executive Nina seemed downright perturbed to be designated a No Collar on Worlds Apart.)

But that’s not what Probst and Co. did for the upcoming Millennials vs. Gen X, which premieres Sept. 21 on CBS. “We came up with the theme first, which is a little risky,” says the host. “We don’t typically do it, but what happened was, we had said to our casting director, Lynne [Spillman], ‘How do we get truly younger millennial types on the show?’ Because it’s hard to get young people who can play this adult game. And Lynne said, ‘Give me a shot. Give me a month. And let me go through everybody who’s applied and let me see who we have.’”

Probst says it was only when they looked at the pool of applicants that they felt good about moving forward. “We went in and started meeting them and realized, we have great young people,” says Probst “We have literally a kid who left high school to come play Survivor. He’s in high school, got a permission slip — ‘Hey, I have to go play Survivor ‘—and left. And that was it. So we said, let’s do it.”

The host is excited about the results and feels the time is perfect for such a generational culture clash. “Millennials vs. Gen X made sense because of the political turmoil going on. The Millennials had such a voice and it was striking to all of us. Man, this sounds like an old guy talking but they are the future, right now. These are the people who are changing the world. What if we put them up against Gen Xers, the people who inhabited a world and they changed their world? So you have a massive collision of Gen Xers who say, ‘The world is perfect. Stop messing it up with your technology.’ And you have the Millennials saying, ‘No, you don’t get it. The technology is the future. You just need to get a computer and stop writing in longhand!’”

To be fair, I’m a Gen Xer and have had a computer since I was in high school but I guess I understand what he’s trying to say. But when Probst pitched the concept to CBS, the network demanded one big change. “I pitched it and said ‘How about Gen X vs. Millennials?’” says Probst, “And they said, ‘Terrible name. It’s Millennials vs. Gen X.’ And we said, ‘We’re in. We’re good.’”

Watch the video above to see and hear Jeff Probst for yourself as he discusses the new season from base camp in Fiji, and for more Survivor scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.