The three-hour Survivor: San Juan del Sur finale/reunion extravaganza kicks off tonight at 8pm on CBS. Who are the contestants with the clearest path to victory? Is there anyone with no path to victory? And how big a role will Missy’s hurt foot play? We asked Jeff Probst for his thoughts on all of that and what to expect at the live reunion. Read on for intel and insight from the host.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The one thing I know about you, sir: You love big moves. Was that the biggest power move of the season we saw last week with Natalie blindsiding Jon?
JEFF PROBST: Yeah, I think so. She’s made a couple, but I think that was the big one. What I loved about it was how long she’s been planning it. A couple of people asked me on Twitter, “Well, if Natalie wanted Jon out so badly, why did she tell him to play his idol a couple of weeks ago?” But I think Natalie’s big plan is that you have to do each thing at the right time and you have to have certain numbers at a certain point in the game, and then there’s a point where you can get rid of your nemesis. I thought that was a big move.
Is there any scenario where Jaclyn wins this game?
Hmmmm, Jaclyn’s game is probably the toughest road, but it would depend on what happens in those last few days because there have been two things happening in the last few seasons. One is—with this season being an exception—we are putting a lot savvier players on. And as a result, the jury is voting for the people they think are playing the best game, so I do think its tough to win if you haven’t done some stuff. But momentum can sway people. If Jaclyn could dominate, win challenges, make a big move, she might be able to separate herself from Jon enough to say, “Look what I did on my own.” But I do think the favorites are Natalie and Keith.
Yeah, I wanted to ask you about Keith because I don’t know what to make about the jury’s take on him. On one hand, he performed very well in challenges, and he’s an older guy in the world of Survivor, which is even more impressive…
Keith and I are the same age, by the way.
You and I are both older guys for Survivor! Anyone north of 29 is an older guy for Survivor.
So he’s done well in challenges. He seems like a likeable guy. So he’s got that going for him, which is huge. But he also seemingly has no clue when it comes to other strategic aspects of the game. How does a jury typically respond to someone like that with those plusses and minuses if they make it to the end?
I think Keith’s story if he makes it to the finals would have to be, “Look, I came out here to play with my son. They wouldn’t even put me on this show otherwise. And I know I made some mistakes and I cost somebody over there like Jeremy or Josh.” And then he spits and says, “But I’m figuring this game out, and it’s like being a fireman and being in a situation there, and well, gosh darn it, I’m 53!” And that’s the case I would make: I’m Mr. Magoo. But you know what? Laugh all you want. Somehow I outlasted you guys. I started winning some challenges, and I’m here and there’s a pretty good story in Survivor in saying, “I didn’t know a damn thing. I made it to the end. And now I’m making the compelling speech that’s gonna knock out whoever else is sitting next to me.” So I could see it.
I could too.
And I can tell you that when we were out there, I could feel it. I could feel the Keith momentum starting a couple of weeks ago with people starting to go, “Oh my God. Is it possible that this guy could actually get to the end and win?”
Well, yeah. They keep calling him a threat and saying they need to get rid of him, so that’s the ultimate sign of respect. Now I wanted to ask you about Missy’s foot, because we saw she injured it and could not compete in the last immunity challenge. What about her foot in terms of challenges coming up?
Well, that’s a massive game-changer for her, because unless the challenge is standing there—which is could be; late in the game we often have smaller challenges that require more precision or patience, but we also almost always have at least one other very big challenge at the end—there’s no way. And that’s going to hurt her, because at the very least you don’t control your own destiny. You can’t win your way to the end. And when you can’t control your own destiny, it makes that final three speech tough. I don’t know what it would take for Missy to overcome that, unless she can find a way strategically to say, “I’m now playing a different game because I can’t rely on my foot.”
A little side note that you know about but I don’t know if everyone reads our Q&A on EW.com, but that challenge that she got injured on was created by this kid Austin Russell. He’s an amazing kid that we met through Make a Wish. He came to location and wanted to pitch a challenge that maybe he could get on the show. He pitched all the elements he wanted and it was good. So it’s this 13-year-old kid in Texas creating this little challenge that injures Missy. The whole thing was so beautiful to me because our show is so much about involving our audience and trying to listen to what they want, and here’s this kid who creates the challenge and then the woman breaks her ankle on it.
Okay, biggest question of the night: Will we be treated to the Rites of Passage tribute where the final four collect the torches of the people they voted out, or is that hitting the editing room floor again?
We didn’t even shoot it. We’re not planning on doing that anytime in the near future—unless we come upon a season where…I don’t know what it would be, but there might be some creative where we’re like, okay, that makes sense. But I like when you bring those things up because it’s the same with the main title sequence. If you’re a Survivor nut, you love these openings we used to do. They were 60 seconds long and they were a work of art. But as time moves, shows change and pace changes, and my feeling for the last couple of years has been: We have so much show, and to spend 60 seconds on an open every week doesn’t make sense.
You are always working and tinkering with the reunion aspect of the show. I like what you did last season by starting live and giving some live look-ins during the actual broadcast. Can we expect to see more of those?
Yes, we’re going to start live. So I’m going to be live at the top of the show to welcome everybody in. We’ll be having people send their questions to us through Twitter. And we’ll do a couple of pop-ins. I’ve got something that I hope translates well. The idea is to make it an evening together where we’re having fun. And my enthusiasm for Survivor is not forced or feigned. I’m still just super into the show and so I like the idea of being live the entire night because I think it adds a new energy.