Dalton Ross
December 07, 2017 AT 12:01 AM EST

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: A lot of emotional reunions here at the loved ones challenge. Was there one in particular that hit you the hardest out there?
JEFF PROBST: Ah, man, that’s a tough question because each of them needed the love so much and I connected with every one of them in a different way. The loved ones moment in the show has really changed for me over the years. I really focus on the reaction of the players. From the moment they sense their loved ones are on the island their entire demeanor changes. Even the toughest of players begins to let their guard down.

In the early days I wasn’t always able to access my empathy for what players were going through, maybe because I was dealing with my own stuff just trying to make the show. But I have come to truly respect anybody who takes this game on because of the enormous toll it takes to weather the emotional highs and lows. So choosing my favorite moment would be like choosing a favorite kid. I always enjoy this episode because the players have earned it and they really cherish it.

For the first time you had the players and loved ones each picking marbles out of a bag, and they had to match colors to stay in the game to win a reward. Take us through the decision to have them do this and was it intentional to make it a contest of blind luck as opposed to skill?
This originated from a simple problem of too much story and not enough time in the episode. We only have 43 minutes in a one-hour episode. You have to carefully allocate where the time goes. We wanted to involve the loved ones but we didn’t want it to take as long as a full-on challenge because we wanted to have plenty of time for the actual love. So our challenge department came up with a simple game of chance. We were very happy with how it played and surprisingly it actually bonded all the players as they were “willing” their loved one to grab the right marble.

So many private conversations and side huddles and changing of votes going on at this Tribal Council. Take us through what you saw happening there.
Boy, that was nuts in the greatest way. So much going on that it’s hard to recap it beat by beat. What I remember thinking after it was over was, “This really is where the game is.” You cannot come into tribal with what you think is a “plan” and just expect it to always come through. You can’t even be certain the plan you’ve been told is the real plan. And if it is the real plan, it doesn’t mean someone in the alliance won’t get spooked by something they hear and change their mind. Or it could be a pretty legit plan except for that one player who feels they are on the bottom and makes a move to betray. Lauren never ever dreamed she would be going home because there wasn’t any reasonable scenario that would result in her being voted out. But it happened.

Lauren showed some strategic chops in putting together an alliance, but also made some blunders in telling everyone about her advantage and then giving away half of her immunity idol. How do you assess her gameplay and impact on this season?
I loved Lauren. She became an audience favorite about halfway into the game. I think a lot of people related to her struggle to be more “social” with the tribe. It’s not easy to just drop in and make friends. And she is so blunt and she is so beautifully authentic. I think Lauren would be a great returning player. She was on track to have a legit shot at winning. Second guessing mistakes is for people too afraid to make a move. I don’t think Lauren is second guessing too much. She had a game plan, she went for it, it didn’t work. Most don’t. But in order to be considered a true Survivor player, you have to have the guts to go for it in the first place.

Penultimate episode coming up next week. Tease it up for us, sir!
Oh boy. At the risk of sounding like hyperbole… next week is even better. This thing is on fire from here to the end. EVERYBODY is playing for the win.

Check out a deleted scene from last night’s episode above and make sure to read our full episode recap. Also make sure to rank all 34 Survivor winners, and for more Survivor scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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