Survivor: Jeff Probst on why Debbie picked the wrong advantage

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Each week host Jeff Probst will answer a few questions about the most recent episode of Survivor: Game Changers.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So much to get to this week, but let’s start with the first torch snuffing ever for Sandra. Even though she didn’t win this time, in some respects this was her most impressive and aggressive outing so far. What did you make of her this season and how did it feel to finally snuff that torch?
JEFF PROBST: I love how divided people are regarding their opinion of Sandra. There is no doubt Sandra is a villain, but I love watching her play. She is really quite good at maneuvering in this game. You gotta give her that. She never panics, even when her back is fully up against the wall. The coffee and sugar setup was genius. But I did have a lot of friends emailing me saying, “I hate the queen!” That’s the mark of a great villain. Sandra played aggressively, but I think you have to this season. Everybody is playing hard. Much harder than any other season and we’re still early on!

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Got a super geeky technical question for you. Sometimes on a tribe swap you all have each gender pick from a different batch or tray to ensure even gender splits, but other times — like this week — they all pick from the same one. What gives?
In this case, we knew the person left out would be going to Exile Island and we did not want to discriminate by having the odds being unfair to one gender so we made it random. But other times we like to keep the tribes fairly balanced in terms of pure strength so we often have the women draw separately from the men. It’s really form follows function. And in this case, integrity was the function.

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We’ll combine these two things into one item. Talk about the idea to bring back Exile Island — in luxury yacht form — as well as the decision to have John Cochran show up to offer one of the longest hugs ever as well as some sage advice.
The idea for Exile Island was really just a brainstorm moment of, “We haven’t used Exile in a while. We should bring it back.” That led to a joke that, “We need to get Cochran back too!” And then Chris Marchand, one of our challenge geniuses, said, “What if Cochran is a reward on Exile Island?” And that led to Exile Island becoming a positive and not a negative. Doing it on a badass boat with a giant food reward and then a surprise — Cochran. And then we said, “What if Cochran delivers some kind of an advantage menu to the exiled person?” It honestly came out that fast.

Then we had to call Cochran to see if he would do it.  He was really enthusiastic but there was a catch. He was writing for the Kevin James comedy Kevin Can Wait and the day we needed him was right in the middle of their busy writing period. He asked and was given permission to miss one day, which is pretty cool of them given how demanding the schedule is to deliver scripts. So Cochran literally flew out of New York in the early morning. He arrived in Los Angeles and took the midnight flight to Fiji. He landed. We took him straight to base camp, showed him the advantage menu choices, so he knew what he was delivering — and he was off.

Then he was put on a boat and sent out to surprise Debbie. He had no time to even think. He was with her for about an hour — 22 minutes of which was spent on the hug. He then interviewed Debbie about her game play and they dealt with the advantage menu. (Side note: Cochran is a great interviewer/producer. He really did an amazing job of getting what we needed. He could definitely produce on Survivor.)  We then got him off the boat, put him on the chopper, and flew him straight back to the airport so he could return back to L.A. and then onto New York all in the same day. Even crazier, he then went straight to the writers’ room and started working. NUTS!

BONUS QUESTION: Which advantage would you have taken — the fake idol kit, the extra vote, or the immunity challenge advantage — and why?
This is easy for me. The extra vote is really tricky to use. Yes, it’s very powerful but so far nobody has ever really used it in a way that had any positive impact. Because everybody is so cagey it’s tough to trust how anybody is actually going to vote, so it’s a big leap of faith. For that reason, I’m out. The challenge advantage is enticing but it doesn’t guarantee that I’ll win. For that reason, I’m out. But the fake idol is so much fun and offers so many ways to use it. I would absolutely use it to sabotage someone… like David did with Jay. Plus, this was a killer kit. It would have looked exactly like an idol. I was shocked and a bit bummed Debbie didn’t take it.

The huge threats keep on falling. What can you tease up for next week, sir!
One of the best things about the Survivor format is that it allows the show to remain culturally relevant no matter how long it’s been on… and I think it’s a fair statement to say that’s the case next week.

Check out an exclusive Survivor secret scene of Sandra the day after being voted out at the top of the post, as well as her pre-game interview above. Also, make sure to read Dalton’s recap, and for more Survivor scoopage, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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