By Dalton Ross
January 09, 2015 at 12:00 PM EST
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When Survivor reached its landmark 20th season in 2010, the CBS reality show staged an epic Heroes vs. Villains season featuring 20 former all-star players. The network also invited every single contestant that had ever played to a massive 10-year anniversary party to mark the occasion. It was a huge blow-out affair both on screen and off. Which is what makes the show’s decidedly more reserved approach towards honoring season number 30 and year number 15 so curious.

Instead of stacking the season 30 cast with familiar faces from the past, Survivor will instead be airing its third consecutive season of all newbies for Survivor: Worlds Apart (which premieres Feb. 25). The concept, as host Jeff Probst explained to us last month, will pit one tribe of white collar types against a tribe of blue collar folks and a third tribe of “no collar” free spirits. Okay, could be interesting. But it still left many who follow the show (like yours truly) surprised that producers did not go bigger to mark the historic occasion.

So why didn’t they? Jeff Probst tells us that bringing back popular players was indeed originally in consideration. But then, a conversation with Grand Poobah Mark Burnett changed all that. “Leading up to 30, we spent almost a year talking about whether we should do some sort of all-star season with returning players,” says Probst. “And that seemed to be the conventional wisdom. A lot of people were expecting us to do that. But Mark and I were talking on the phone one day and Mark said something so simple. Mark said, ‘Just keep in mind, Jeff—it is our 30th season, but it is also just our 30th season.’ And that really struck me, and from that moment on I realized, yeah, this is not the end of Survivor. It just happens to be a big number. Let’s just do a great season.”

So will season 30 be great? Who knows? We have yet to even meet the cast. As for the old school all-newbie approach, it has had mixed results over the past two cycles. Survivor: Cagayan (season 28) was one of the program’s best installments ever, but the cast for Survivor: San Juan del Sur (season 29) underwhelmed. However, Probst says that Worlds Apart (which filmed last summer in Nicaragua) will not disappoint. “Person for person and pound for pound, I will say that this is the best group of people I think we’ve ever had,” Probst told us in December. “Just based on my experience, this was one of my favorite seasons of all time.” If he’s right, the gamble to go with all new players for the anniversary season will have proven to be a good one.

For more Survivor scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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