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Survivor host Jeff Probst defends Game Changers casting

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For as long as Survivor has been bringing back returning players, fans have been questioning the worthiness of the players chosen to return. There was much head-scratching when Amber Brkich was selected to come back for Survivor: All-Stars… and then she proceeded to go out and win the game (with a little assist from Boston Rob).

But the second-guessing was automatically going to kick into high gear once Survivor bestowed the title of Game Changers on the latest group of 20 selected to return for season 34 (premiering March 8 on CBS). For some, like silky smooth strategic and social dynamo Cirie, pedal to the metal Tony, or ask-his-tribe-to-vote-him-out-so-he-could-dominate-at-Redemption-Island Ozzy, you could see it.

For some others… maybe not so much. Hali and Sierra from Worlds Apart may come in and dominate, but how are they game changers? (Hali even joked with us about how she had no idea why they brought her back and said, “I didn’t really think in the last game.”) And can Caleb be considered a game changer if he never even went to one Tribal Council? We put the question to the main man in charge, host and executive producer Jeff Probst, and asked him what he would say to those questioning the liberal application of the Game Changers moniker.

“It’s very similar the surprise I had when people wondered why Tai was on the Beauty tribe,” says Probst. “I honestly was shocked by how many people said, ‘You did that on purpose, right? You put one person wrong on each tribe. I got it.’ I thought, no, I honestly thought Tai was beautiful the minute I met him — spiritually. And people go, ‘No.’”

Robert Voets/CBS

As for some of the current cast, specifically? “Hali, to me, is the dark horse to win,” says Probst, perhaps sensing an Amber Pt. 2. “I think Hali has everything you need to win this game. I think she’s a great student of the game, really good with her words. Hali was labeled a No Collar and in some ways lived up to it. She didn’t pull the trigger in ways that I think she wishes she could, but she is absolutely a game changer and somebody that I think if she can get out of the gate and get past Sandra, and Cirie, and Varner — maybe some of the older school players — I think she will shock people with how she plays.”

What about the guy who never even went to Tribal Council? “Caleb? That one baffles me,” says the host. “How would you ever not say he’s a game changer? He was willing to risk dying to win. That’s a game changer. So if you’re going to live in a tunnel, like I know a lot of people who are tweeting me right now saying ‘You are a douche,’ well, then yeah, you’re right and I’m wrong again. But if you just take off the blinders that are holding you back in life, and they are, you could be so much more — I think you’ll see that all of these people have their own story.”

Probst went on to define what makes a Game Changer in his eyes. “This is about people who might have made a big bold move like Tony that says ‘Hey, everybody it was me,’ people who make really subtle moves like a Varner or maybe a Sandra, people who made moves that worked, or people who made moves that were a disaster. But it’s like Ciera Eastin said: ‘You’ve got to make moves in this game.’ And part of this is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy now. They are making moves and I think you’re going to see moves made in this game.”

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My take? It doesn’t really matter one way or the other. A title is a title. A marketing hook. Nothing more. If the title of Game Changers sounds cool and gets casual viewers to come back and check out the show (even if it is not entirely accurate), then great! But it has nothing really to do with what happens once folks actually get on the island. Heck, you could call it Studs vs. Duds if you want and it would still be the same game and same show (with the exception of all the confessional interviews of everyone complaining about being put on the “Duds” tribe).

Check out the video above to hear see Probst’s passionate defense of the cast for yourself and to hear more from the host about the inception of the Game Changers twist. For more Survivor scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss, and for exclusive Survivor images, follow me on Instagram @thedaltonross.