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Survivor: Jeff Probst reveals the scene that made him cry

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Monty Brinton/CBS

Each week, Jeff Probst will answer a few questions about the latest episode of Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We begin the first episode with Will informing Zeke that Jay has an idol, which is followed by this exchange:

WILL: “Just don’t say anything about the idol.”

ZEKE: “I won’t.”

WILL “I know you won’t.”

We then proceed to see everyone telling everyone about the idol in one of the best montages ever. Is this a prime example of the way the grapevine works when it comes to juicy gossip, not just in this game, but in regular life as well?  

JEFF PROBST: It sure seems like it. The key phrase is “Don’t tell anybody.” After we wrap a season and before we return to the U.S., I always remind the players that ensuring confidentiality is as much their responsibility as ours. They typically roll their eyes as I give a similar example of how telling just one person is all it takes. It’s the power of information. You have it. They want it. “Did you hear? No? Oh… wait until I tell you!”  Once you tell them you no longer have it, now they do. 

Thank you for acknowledging the very inspired editing in that sequence. That was an idea from Bill Bowden, one of our senior editors. It was a great idea that was placed at the right time in the episode and was executed perfectly. There are so many ingredients that go into a moment really landing — kinda like knowing when to spread really juicy gossip. And with that… it all comes full circle.

We had a real, unexpected, special moment as Bret tells Zeke that he is gay. In a season called Millennials vs Gen X, their conversation is probably the most stark example of the cultural differences between some members of the different generations, as Zeke talks about how it never even occurred to him not to tell people he is gay, while Bret talked about how he has “lived with not saying anything.” What was it like for you when you first saw this footage?

Well, since you asked such a direct question, I will give you the truth: I cried. I was watching the cut at home and I was genuinely moved. I was moved so much that I recorded the scene on my iPhone — directly off my computer screen — and sent it to Mark Burnett and Glenn Geller (president of CBS). I said almost exactly what you said — “This is the poster scene for the season.” I really can’t think of any other show that could provide the setting for a moment like this to happen so organically.   

This is also an example of what happens if you don’t push people to “tell their story.” People will talk if they want, when they want to. We never ever pressed Bret to tell us his story. Bret clearly felt safe with Zeke, which also says a lot about Zeke, and he opened up. It was beautiful. And I also have to acknowledge that CBS is a pretty amazing partner in Survivor. They never press us to exploit anything or “make a moment happen.” They trust in the format as much as we do, which is why I felt so safe to send an iPhone clip to the president of the network!

Okay, we need to discuss this second Tribal Council. First off, take us through what it was like being there with all the whispering and chatter going back and forth between multiple parties at multiple times. How do you like to approach that when you see it going on — and not just taking note of the whisperers, but also how the others react to that whispering?  

Those kinds of Tribals are very fun to be a witness to because they remind me how alive the game is and just how big the stakes. Years ago, I would have wanted to “track the stories” and probably would have gotten in the way and messed everything up. (And maybe I’m still messing it up today, just in a different way!) But what I endeavor to do now is incorporate the whispering into the story as it is unfolding without saying anything that might shut it down or inhibit it. 

My hope is that players realize I am not going to do anything to impede what is happening. I may ask questions, I may comment, “Man, everybody is talking!” But my agenda is to just pay attention and let them do what they need to do. It gets tricky if you try to get people to comment directly on what is being said, so I tend to ask more general observational questions.

And it all comes down to rocks. Jessica appeared the most worried about going to the tiebreaker and then she pulled the dreaded black rock. It’s a decision I am sure she regrets, although I don’t think she made the wrong choice. Put yourself in her shoes for minute and tell us what you would have done in that situation?

Personally, I don’t see what Jessica could have done differently. That was a “line in the sand” moment. And because of the rules, had she objected it wouldn’t have mattered anyway as without a majority you’re still drawing rocks. It reminded me of that great short story “The Lottery.” I will say that Jessica’s reaction was the most heartbreaking of any rock draw. Her desire to play was so strong. She was devastated. I hope her kids are proud of how she played and that she went out in a big way.

There seems to be a lot of constant realigning going on each and every day in this game, and I know we have a loved ones visit on the horizon, so what can you tease that’s coming up next week?  

I’m a very big fan of this season and it only gets better next week.  The loved one reward once again delivers and, as a result, the story, the plot, the strategy turns yet again.  

Check out an exclusive deleted scene from the most recent episode of Survivor above. Also make sure to read Dalton’s full episode recap. And for all the Survivor scoop you can handle, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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