Survivor: Jeff Probst on 'the most frightened I've been in all my time' on the show
Each week, host Jeff Probst will answer a few questions about the latest episode of Survivor: Kaôh Rōng.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Okay, a lot to get to with this triple threat medical situation. I guess start off by walking us through the chaos as contestants started dropping like flies and you all were having to figure out to handle multiple medical emergencies.
JEFF PROBST: When something unusual happens on Survivor, I’m experiencing it simultaneously from three different but complementary points of view: Executive producer, host, and audience. Depending on the situation, one will rule over the other. Debbie went down first. Anytime someone goes down it’s concerning and it was clearly a very hot day so from a host point of view I made the call to bring in medical and have them check on her. It was made easier because her tribe had already finished so there wasn’t anything at stake for them. Had she gone down while her tribe was still battling, I probably would have stopped the challenge until we could ascertain her condition. Once we knew Debbie was not in any kind of life threatening danger and the doctors assured me that they had it under control and she would be fine, I felt comfortable turning my attention back to the challenge.
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As it became apparent the other two tribes were having trouble finding the bags in the sand, the executive producer in me began to think about options. What would we do if they simply couldn’t find the bags? How would we end this challenge? While this is happening inside my head, I know that our other executive producer Matt Van Wagenen and supervising producer John Kirhoffer (in charge of challenges) are also thinking through potential options for a worst case scenario. We have a very proactive team and everybody is always trying to anticipate possible problems and solutions.
Fortunately, both tribes ended up finding all their bags and the challenge continued. At this point I really didn’t have any concerns. Even though Debbie was still being tended to, I knew she was not in danger and I knew we had a good challenge with some great drama and everything was going fine.
It was just moments after the challenge ended that things really took a turn. Caleb and Cydney both dropped within a minute of each other. Having three people down within one challenge was unprecedented and it quickly became clear that this was a very serious situation. At that point, the executive producer part of me takes over and the only priority is everybody’s wellbeing.
I know how prepared you all for medical situations, and have seen your team in action, but never have you experienced something like this in which you basically told everyone in the crew — no matter what their job — to pitch in and help any way they could. Talk a bit about what was going on around you while you and the doctors were dealing with the downed players.
I think if you asked every person on our crew, they would all have a different story to tell. From my vantage point, I could tell within about 10 seconds of Dr. Joe looking at Caleb that this was serious and there really wasn’t any forethought given to calling on every crew member to help out. It was a very spontaneous decision. What was remarkable was how effortless it all came together. Suddenly there were coolers full of water bottles right next to Dr. Joe and his team. Umbrellas to provide shade. The chopper was put on alert. Even our director David Dryden was holding a huge chunk of ice on Caleb’s chest while still directing our cameras. Everybody on our team is prepared for emergencies like this and they went into action immediately.
As for our medical department, I could write for hours and still not say enough good things about Dr. Joe Rowles and his team. It takes a situation like this to truly see what someone is made of and the kind of leader they are in times of crisis. Dr. Joe was incredibly focused. It was truly astounding how calm the entire medical team was as they quickly determined what was wrong with both Caleb and Cydney and took immediate action.
While Cydney was certainly in bad shape, she was not in a life-threatening situation. So, with her tribemate Jason providing comfort one half of the medical team tended to her. Dr. Joe turned his attention to Caleb, who was much more serious. Nick was right there, holding Caleb’s legs up as Dr. Joe ran some quick tests. It wasn’t too long before Dr. Joe gave me a look and I knew Caleb was being pulled from the game and they started working to bring his body temperature down as fast as possible.
Caleb was not aware what was happening and it wouldn’t have mattered as he would have no say in a time like that. Medical always rules in terms of a contestants health. As you saw, our medical team did an incredible job of quickly restoring Caleb’s vitals back to good levels so that he could be immediately transported to the nearest hospital.
It wasn’t until Caleb was safely in the air and the Survivors had headed back to camp, that all of us on the crew were able to take in everything that had just happened. I was so proud of every single crew member and the way we all came together. My proudest moment in 32 seasons. That may sound odd, but it truly was bonding through crisis.
And a note worth making: Later in the day as we were doing our debriefing, our safety and security team reminded me that despite being in the middle of a jungle in the middle of an ocean, that Caleb was in the air on a chopper with a doctor at his side within twenty two minutes of collapsing. And, he was being tended to in a hospital not long after that. My point in sharing this is that it would be very hard to get that same kind of fast response in most cities in the United States. We go to great lengths and expense to be prepared for a situation like this and it’s rewarding to see it pay off.
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You’ve had a bunch of really scary scenarios over the years with contestants losing consciousness. How does the Caleb situation compare to other ones like Russell Swan?
This is at the top of the list. This was the most frightened I’ve been in all my time on Survivor. Three people down at once and one of them in very serious condition. There was no color in Caleb’s face and very little response from him for quite a while. Even for the first few moments after they put the oxygen mask on, Caleb didn’t respond. Then, out of nowhere, he took a breath and suddenly the color returned, his face filled out again and in a matter of seconds he was back. It was very powerful to witness. I don’t imagine Caleb has any idea what he went through and watching the episode was probably very emotional for him and his family.
You guys always want to push contestants, but never this far. Obviously the natural question after seeing three players drop is: Was this particular challenge in these particular conditions just too much? What was your internal review like in terms of discussing after whether the digging portion of this challenge was simply too extreme in that heat with already dehydrated contestants?
I wish it was as simple as saying, “We pushed too far,” because that would be easy to fix. The truth is, we’ve done that kind of a challenge many times on Survivor and from a physical point of view, it’s actually one of the least demanding. Our assessment, upon reflection, was that it was a perfect storm of events — Mother Nature at her absolute hottest combined with a group of players pushing themselves as hard as they could.
I think it’s also interesting that in one of his first interviews Caleb said something to the effect of, “Nobody will ever outlast me in anything.” If you go back and watch that challenge again, you’ll see that it was only a moment after sinking the last ball that Caleb collapsed. He kept his promise. Nobody was going to outlast him in anything. He went until he couldn’t go anymore. We’ve been seeing this more and more in recent seasons and players strive to go further in the game. It happened with Joe last season when he passed out during a challenge after lasting an hour longer than even our longest test. You have to remember that Survivor has very few rules. The players decide the tone of the game, the speed at which it is played, the moral code, and the amount of effort they choose to put forth. This is their game and I think last night showed that every single player out there wants this and is willing to push themselves as far as possible to get it.
Okay, let’s sneak one non-medical question in here, which has to do with Alecia. You told her at Tribal, “I think you’re going to be voted out tonight. I don’t think there’s any chance they’re voting anybody else out.” I’m not sure I’ve ever heard you tell someone that before, but it was plainly obvious. What’s your take on her and the guys in her tribe? Scot and Jason said Alecia always made it about Alecia, but they also certainly seemed very dismissive and disrespectful of her. Are there any heroes or villains in this scenario?
This is a complicated one for me. I’ll do my best to explain my point of view. Alecia is a self-described “tough chick.” She grew up in the world of boxing with her dad. She’s been around a lot of tough talk and as a result she doesn’t back down from anybody. So in one sense, Alecia does make it about her because she stands up for herself at all times. On the other hand, I think Jason says a lot by refusing to call her by her name, opting instead for “Blondie.” I’m sure Jason would say he was just having fun and he might have been, but the result is the audience now sees Scot and Jason, at least for the time being, as bullies. And this is not from me asking people, I just know what the audience is going to think in this case. After all the life threatening drama they went through only a few hours before, to return to camp and lay into her like that was really fascinating.
As for me calling out Alecia at Tribal, to do anything less would be disingenuous. I can’t recall a tribe where three people were so dead set on voting someone out. The real truth is they wanted to vote her out right after the challenge, but Alecia wouldn’t agree to it, so we went to Tribal. But please remember, that me merely saying something doesn’t make it true and it certainly doesn’t mean something couldn’t happen at Tribal to change things. It had already happened once in this very tribe when Jenny got caught making a big move. But I had to say what I knew the audience was thinking, which was, “How are you going to get of this?” Turns out, she wasn’t.
Okay, tease us up for next week, sir.
I think given all the drama, it’s time to switch things up!
Check out an exclusive deleted scene from the episode above. Also make sure to read Dalton’s full episode recap. For more Survivor scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss, and check back soon for our exit interviews with Caleb and Alecia.
Strangers starve themselves on an island for our amusement in the hopes of winning a million dollars, as host Jeff Probst implores them to "DIG DEEP!"