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Survivor: Jeff Probst explains what makes this season so different

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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: Such fascinating talk this week at both Tribal Councils about the need to make big moves to pad your résumé, but then also how those big moves then make you an immediate target. So how, as a player moving forward in future seasons, do you avoid that deadly catch-22?

JEFF PROBST: You don’t. You wanna win? You have to stand up and play. If you look at a list of the most recent winners: Jeremy Collins, Mike Holloway, Natalie Anderson, Tony Vlachos, Tyson Apostol, John Cochran, Denise Stapley, Kim Spradlin — all of them were game changers. They were willing to make risky moves to further their game. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn’t. Your question is the one that messes everybody up — you can’t be the best player if you’re not playing.

Yes, it’s a bit of a catch-22 but that’s the game. I sometimes hear from Survivor bloggers that I “say things like this so that people will make big moves.” To those critics I say, “When you’re ready to get off your ass and actually play, call me.” The format of Survivor is the star of the show. It works. The game has evolved because of the gameplay and that comes from the players. I’m not saying you can’t win by playing a somewhat quiet game — Michelle did that last season — but the overwhelming majority of recent winners have earned their votes by playing hard. Next question.

The other really interesting thing about this season is the fact that we have seen so much strategic backstabbing, yet with the exception of Michaela, not a lot of fireworks from people as they got blindsided. People do not seem to be taking it personally and are actually respecting the moves that got them out. We even saw a great scene with Adam and Jay on the hammock where Adam told Jay right out in the open how he was going to make him use his idol, and then they immediately bonded over the health of their mothers — even though they are batting in the game. I don’t think we’ve ever seen such a separation between personal and strategic on such a wide scale before. Why do you think that is?

That’s a really great observation. I was actually just discussing this today with the team as we are putting together the finale — how gracefully so many people exited the game. It’s too early to tell if it’s a trend or just this group of people. But man, it makes the game SO fun to watch — tremendous, devilish gameplay, and then, in most cases, total respect for the move that got you voted out. It’s how I would hope I would be. My best version of myself. Not likely, I know, but that’s what I’d hope for!

What a great challenge this week with the puzzle and the Survivor pinball table. Part of me wondered if would just be faster to NOT split your attention and just focus all-in on the puzzle and then take a break and study it while suffering the penalty. How crippling were those penalties, and what did you think of Adam’s move to stop competing and just help Ken win?

It’s an interesting theory, but it would take crazy confidence to let other people continue to move forward. That’s the kind of thing Spencer would do! I think the penalties were crippling for at least three reasons: 1) You can’t work on your puzzle and 2) You know everybody else IS working, which leads to 3) Panic! Kudos to John Kirhoffer, Chris Marchand, Anthony Britten, and Zach Jensen for coming up with the challenge, and our amazing art department led by Zach and Dax Pointon for executing the build! That was a very risky new challenge that was workshopped early on to make sure they would have it ready when its slot in the schedule came up. I was really proud of those guys for pulling it off!

Finale time is almost upon us! Tease us up for the three-hour finale/reunion extravaganza!

One of our best. Huge story turns. Great competition. Emotion. Should be a great reunion as well! Obviously, I love this season. Hate to see it come to an end. If anybody has questions they want to have asked at the reunion show, hit me up at @JeffProbst on Twitter. Thanks, D Ross!

Want more Survivor? Then check out Jeff Probst guest-starring on CBS’ Life in Pieces on Thursday night when one of the characters tries out for the reality show. 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.