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Survivor: Jeff Probst on the most emotional loved ones visit

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Each week, host Jeff Probst will answer a few questions about the most recent episode of Survivor: Game Changers. Also, make sure to check out an exclusive deleted scene from the episode above, read our full episode recap, and watch PEN Fan Forum: Survivor here or on the free PEOPLE/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN) app available on your Smart TV, mobile and web devices.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with the loved ones visit. Which player and loved one reunion hit you the hardest?
JEFF PROBST: Well, now that I am a parent, I connect to these loved one visits on a very different level, especially any of the parent/child relationships. I notice how the kid falls into the arms of the parent with such trust, like they just want the parent to tuck them under their arm and whisk them away. And often I see it in their faces too — it’s as if they are softening and letting go of the enormous stress that has engulfed them for the past 30+ days.

The other factor at play for me is that from a show point of view, I am their biggest fan. I root for every single person out here. I always encourage them to dig and to fight and to push harder than they’ve pushed before. I am always in awe of what they go through to make it one day after another. So when they make it deep enough into the show to receive love, I want it for them so badly. I am so happy they finally get a moment of trust and the chance to share this experience with someone who loves them unconditionally. So I definitely have a lot of emotion coursing thru my body.

But you asked for which one hit me the hardest, and that would be Michaela and her mom. The way Michaela talked about her mom and how she was just grateful that for one moment her mom didn’t have to worry about what something cost or who was paying for it. That really hit me and gave me more insight into Michaela and their relationship. But I feel like just mentioning Michaela really does leave out a lot of other amazing moments, like Cirie and her adorable son. I was near tears for most of them; fortunately, I have a say in the edit booth and can cut away before the teardrops fall!

BONUS QUESTION! Speaking of the loved ones, I really dig it when the folks from back home actually have to compete in the challenge, but we haven’t seen a lot of that lately. Why the move away from having the loved ones compete?
Most of the decisions to remove things from the show come from a simple problem of time. The game has gotten so sophisticated with strategy that it dominates most episodes. I love seeing them compete too, but I also love seeing them hug, and I love seeing them in camp making fire and arguing over who is going home, and I love them looking for idols or other advantages and I love crazy Tribals where people stand up and fight for their life in the game…. I love it all, and that’s the problem!

Sierra tells Sarah about the Legacy Advantage, thereby giving Sarah incentive to vote her out to get it for herself (which she did). I know forming bonds is super important out there, but is there any scenario in which you would tell someone something like that? What do you make of Sierra’s move there?
This kind of decision is always criticized by at least half of the audience and I understand the feeling — why would you share that with someone? But having watched people play this game for a long time, it’s a very consistent move and the reasoning is almost always the same — to develop trust.  I’ve long ago come to accept that if humans do the same behavior over and over, it’s not a fluke and they’re not weird — it’s in our nature. So in this game, if you find yourself close to the end but on the wrong side of the numbers, and you need to convince someone to keep you in the game — what can you offer them?

If all you offer is your “word,” that may not do it, but if you have something more valuable that you can use as currency, then you have to use it. You have to survive every Tribal Council. So if you are in trouble at one particular moment in the game, you MUST do what it takes to survive that moment. Then you deal with the next day. So yes, Sierra’s move backfired. But she made the move. I will say it until you guys vote me off the show: You can’t play this game without making moves. When they work, you’re a genius and when they don’t, you’re usually blindsided — that’s the game.

Could I see myself doing that? One hundred percent, but I would probably attach a threat to it. I’d be more likely to say, “Here’s my advantage. If I am voted out tonight, I am giving it to your enemy. If I make it through tonight, then I will give it to you.” I’d want to whet their appetite and then make them do the work to make sure I’m safe. I’m not saying that would have had any more success than Sierra’s approach, that’s just more my instinct. I tend to push and go all in.

I would put Sierra in the category of player that didn’t do a whole lot her first time out — and the other contestants seemed to have the same impression of her when we spoke before the season started. Yet, once things got rolling, we heard her name come up a lot this season in terms of someone people wanted out, which is a sign of respect and shows that she definitely was seen as someone in a position of power. What did you make of her second time playing?
Sierra earned her spot on Game Changers. A lot of people tilted their head when they saw her on the ship on day one. But our thought with Sierra was that she played from a place of caution the first time and we saw that caution evaporating in her first season, but it came too late. So we followed our gut that she might pick up where she left off, and she did. I was very impressed with how she played and that she took control and played aggressively. She played a very solid game and should be proud.

We’ve got the penultimate episode coming up next week. What can you tell us?
I’ve said the same thing for several weeks and I’m saying it again — we called the season Game Changers, then we put people on the show we felt were ready to live up to the designation. Each week has offered game-changing moments. We have two fun episodes left and they do not disappoint!

Watch PEN Fan Forum: Survivor, on the new PEOPLE/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN) here, or download the free app on your Smart TV, mobile and web devices.

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