'Survivor' host Jeff Probst on Rodney's big birthday drama
Each week, Jeff Probst will answer a few questions about the latest episode of Survivor: Worlds Apart. Also make sure to click here for my exclusive Q&A with Probst about the big “Second Chance” twist for next season and hear from the eligible Second Chance contestants themselves.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What do you think: Did Rodney make too big a deal about nobody giving up their reward to him on his birthday?
JEFF PROBST: One of the things I’m constantly presented with as the host of the show is, when I’m on the show or when I’m answering your questions each week, I’m answering from the point of view of Survivor, not Jeff Probst. And I’ve been feeling it very much with all of the comments against women. Between Rodney, Will and Dan, there’s been a lot of stuff going on. My job on Survivor is not to condone or condemn. My job is to solicit information: “How does that make you feel? Do you want to apologize? What do you think? Could that hurt you in the vote?” Personally, I have a different feeling.
So, in the answer to your question on Rodney, I would say from a show point of view, I think Rodney is losing his mind and I get why. It’s incredibly difficult to be deprived at this level—especially in Rodney’s case when he’s used to a lot of calories, and used to getting his way. He sort of does things on his own time, his own way with who he wants when he wants—that’s why he’s in the job he’s in. And while he’s a hardworking guy, he’s got a little bit of that No Collar attitude, like, “Yeah, maybe, maybe not.”
So I think for Rodney, it is about his birthday. His birthday is clearly important. I think he feels let down by these people who aren’t taking care of him, and has maybe lost track of the fact that they’re all in this game too. They’re all being deprived as well. They all want to eat too, and maybe they don’t want to bring him—maybe he’s not in their alliance, any number of reasons. He just doesn’t have that awareness right now, and I would chalk that up to the amount of days that he’s been on the show. I don’t know if Rodney’s birthday was on the second day of shooting if he would’ve been as offended.
But personally, when I watch it, I think, “What are you talking about?! It’s just another day! I mean, I know it’s your birthday, but dude, we’re in a million dollar game—you should have not done it if your birthday was so damn important!” So I can see both sides of it, but I think that one of the reasons that Rodney is so compelling is whether he’s saying that women should be held to a higher standard, or whether he’s saying this is a bunch of BS that nobody’s helping me out on my birthday, it’s compelling to watch. And then as a viewer you have to decide: Do you like it or not? Do you despise him or laugh at him? Are you in on the joke? Is Rodney just a funny guy with good impressions? Whatever [is] your opinion is your opinion.
We have seen so many schoolyard pick ‘ems this season, except we never actually see them take place. Explain the process of how they work in terms of choosing captains and deciding who picks first, because it has been a while since we saw one and people always ask me about it. Does it ever yield any drama?
I think in the past, we’ve shown them a few times. But they just eat up so much time because imagine watching this, and it’s interesting, but then you have to decide what you want to give up. I explain the challenge, I say we’re going to do a schoolyard pick, I walk over with a bag of rocks. Somebody picks yellow, somebody picks blue—you’re the two captains, take a spot over here. We do shoot it. We shoot everything just in case something bizarre happens. But now you have the two captains, now they have to rock-paper-scissor. “Who’s going to pick? All right, you go first. Okay you’ve got that person. All right, let them get to the mat. Now you go. All right, now you go again. Okay, now it’s your turn. And you pick again and now you pick again. You’ve got one pick left, who do you want? And that leaves you with you.”
And then you do a little Q&A, “How does it feel to be picked last?” or “How does it feel to not be picked at all?” if it’s uneven numbers. So when you’re in the edit bay and you’re looking at what you have to cut from the episode, there’s almost always more interesting reality or a more dramatic challenge, or a more interesting argument at Tribal Council than what is ultimately a bunch of shoe leather that I can explain quickly by just saying “here’s who they picked.” And you can read between the lines: that’s who they wanted. So that’s why we don’t show it.
I like to pretend that I have no heart and no soul, but even I get mushy when you guys do these rewards when you deliver supplies to a local orphanage or something. We know this is big for the contestants and a once in a lifetime experience for some of them, but how important is it for you all in production to give back to these communities that host you?
The whole thing about giving back is big for us, because what we never talk about is that Survivor brings in a lot of money for these communities—millions of dollars in actual dollars that are spent in the community. Plus, the hiring of local labor. Plus, the teaching of skills—a lot of times we’ll go into communities and people will come in and work with us as locals, and they will learn trades through our art department or different vocations. So on top of that, anything we can leave behind—in Guatemala we built a school, and in Africa I think we did the same thing. Or, in a case like this, going and really loading up a truck. And there’s often more stuff that you don’t even see because it’s simply too much.
It’s important to us because it’s symbolic. We’re coming here…we stay here for a long time. Our earliest team that gets here is the same team that leaves at the end, and they’re here six months. So that’s really getting to know people, and it is a way for us to say we really appreciate you hosting us and letting us come in and basically take over. And then there’s also the “adventure of a lifetime” element. You want the participants who have given up so much of their life—you do want them to have memories. Whether it’s watching turtles lay eggs, which is truly once in a lifetime, or whether it’s being the sponsor that gets to come in and deliver bikes and basketballs. I remember Woo with the basketball—just amazing with that reward. And I think for a lot of people, that was when they fell in love with Woo 100 percent because they saw his truth—he’s a really good person who was giving.
So it reveals story, it can turn relationships—sometimes an alliance will be formed because it’s such a bonding moment. So it’s just a win, win, win all the way around. And I remember last season when we did a baseball little league team, the excitement in the art department when Jordan Ferrer had all of the supplies and I walked into the office area and it was packed—filled with cleats and gloves and helmets and bats and baseballs. It was like Christmas, and you could see the excitement in our guys’ faces of being the guys that get to coordinate all this. It’s definitely cool. It always touches me because it’s real. There’s no staging, these aren’t actors, we aren’t paying these kids to pretend to be who they are. They’re just kids, and they don’t know what’s coming. And then this truck rolls up and we let them loose and all of the sudden they’re being consumed with toys and love and attention. Very fun.
You and I spoke last week about in our Q&A about some of the really harsh comments made by men like Will and Dan towards Shirin, and you referenced them again earlier. Looking ahead, I have to imagine this is going to be a reunion with…I don’t know if fireworks is the right word, but I have to assume we’re going to get a lot of discussion about what we saw out there and how people have been sitting with those comments eight months later.
Yeah, I think you can’t avoid it. And I haven’t talked to any of those guys since we left the show, so I’m really curious what they’re feeling. I have no idea if there are apologies coming or if they’re going to jump over and punch me out. I really have no idea. I only know that it’s been a while since we’ve seen this kind of a response, and if I were watching, I would feel the same way—there’s been quite a bit said and done. And then some hard to understand opportunities to recover that have been passed up, so I’m really curious once it’s all said and done to say, “Where’d it come from? What was it like to watch it? What are you feeling now? Have you had to defend it? Have you been getting support for it?” All kinds of things.
And I don’t really know what questions I want to ask until we sit down. I’m certainly not in attack mode, I’m just curious. But I will not have to be the host anymore. I don’t have to sit behind the wall of not being personal, or don’t editorialize. I can be as personal as I want because when I’m hosting the reunion show, I have an opinion. Now I’m just a guy. The show is over, there’s no million dollars at stake. So now I can ask questions the way I want, and I’m really curious to see how it goes.
Okay, tease next week’s penultimate episode for us.
Mike has no option as we’ve left him, other than to break something open or continue to win. The game, I guess it’s maybe not any different than any season in that you start to feel—not paranoia, but the tightening of a body. Mike has the advantage of being able to play loose because he has nothing to lose. But the people who feel they have something to lose—this alliance—you start to feel this pressure of, “What are we going to do? Is it going to be me? It can’t be me, I know you don’t want it to be you, but I don’t want it to be me.” It’s like when a football team starts playing defensively, and they sit back on their heels rather than playing offensively. That’s the only advantage I think Mike has, is, “Hey man, I’ve got nothing to lose…I can say and do whatever I want to any of you because all of you want to vote me out.”
The game has changed dramatically over the last five years, and we’ve never had this many seasons in a row where you didn’t know what was going to happen. You just don’t know. You can’t predict right now. You can’t. You don’t know because there’s too many variables, and people play too hard, and they’ll change their minds at the last minute. And that’s something that will be interesting in Second Chancers: if you have somebody from season 28, or 29 or 30—they just played this game. They’re ready. And you go back to Kelly Wiglesworth in season 1—the game was a walk then. You were skipping. People now have cleats on. They’re sprinting. It’s a completely different energy.
To watch an exclusive deleted scene from last night’s episode, with Rodney discussing how he would be celebrating his birthday back home, just click on the video player below. Also make sure to read Dalton’s full ‘Survivor: Worlds Apart’ recap, as well as his Q&A with Probst about the big twist for NEXT season. And also check out our Second Chance gallery featuring exclusive intel on each of the 32 contestants vying to be selected for the ‘second chance’ season. For more Survivor scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.