Something very odd and vey wonderful happened during Wednesday night’s Survivor: Kaoh Rong reunion show. In the middle of the event, as host Jeff Probst was interviewing third place finisher Tai Trang, a voice started calling out from the audience. And then that voice starting rushing towards the stage. And then that voice start climbing on the stage. And that voice belonged to none other than pop superstar Sia.
Apparently, Sia is a massive Survivor fan and a massive fan of Tai and his love of animals. How massive? She announced form the stage she was giving Tai $50,000, and wanted to donate another $50,000 to the animal charity of his choosing. It was a wild, unpredictable, and emotional moment — the kind that makes live television so exciting. After getting host Jeff Probst to answer all our finale burning questions, and to share scoop on next season, I asked him to also share his experience with the celebrity stage-crasher, and he did so with a little help from a former Survivor champion. Enjoy.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Okay, I have to ask you about that Sia moment at the reunion show. You literally had a pop superstar bum-rushing the stage! Tell me about that. Also, how can she see through that wig?
JEFF PROBST: Oh man, this one may take some time for me to fully unpack. Here’s the short story. Sia and I are friends. We met through Survivor, specifically through John Cochran, whom Sia befriended the year he won. That’s another story entirely. But here’s the most salient fact regarding Sia: I honestly don’t think of Sia as a pop star, even though she is a global phenom. I know her as my friend who is so passionate about the rights of all humans and animals. Whether it’s LGBTF organizations or a random chicken on Survivor, Sia is someone who really cares deeply about equal rights and being a good person regardless your status in life. She’s a really kind soul who happens to write amazing music.
As a side note, Sia was over at the house watching an episode of Survivor this season and she randomly said, “Jeff, I have to tell you something. It makes me uncomfortable when you do the marooning and you have chickens racing around a boat frightened. People are chasing them and tossing them off the boat into the water. They didn’t ask to be there. I know they will get eaten and I understand that, but do you have to put them in such trauma?” It really struck me. So for our 33rd season you will see that the chickens are in cages at the marooning. That came from Sia challenging me to see things differently.
So back to Wednesday — I still have not watched it on TV so I truly do not really know what all went down. My recollection is hearing someone say something in the audience. But I often hear people shout things all the time, like “I love you Tai!” So it didn’t even register. But about the third time I heard “JEFF!” I turned and suddenly everything slowed down. I saw Sia putting on her wig. In retrospect, I now realize Sia was smart enough to know there would not be a camera on her yet because she was in the audience, so she had a moment to obscure her identity.
Then she started walking toward me and my mind started racing. All I was thinking at that moment was, We don’t have a camera on her, she doesn’t have a microphone. Then I think I went a bit into autopilot. Okay, this is happening, so just go with it and tell the story. I knew I needed to explain that Sia and I were friends and that this really was Sia. After that. I just let her take over. Once I heard her start talking about how inspired she was by Tai and his approach to life and all living things I started to understand the moment. This is the woman I know. Sia is the most “in the moment” person that I know. She just does what she feels and says what she means. Like it or not.
I don’t remember everything she said word for word, but I remember seeing Tai look at her in a way that I knew he connected with her. He was not “star struck.” It seemed to me as though Tai had simply found another human who felt like he did about the world and he was connecting. Then, another part of my mind was realizing, So wait, you are giving Tai $50K? Wow. That’s cool. Then she said, “And I want to donate another $50k to your charity.” That’s when I clicked in on the old “fan favorite” award we used to give. It was matching the $100k prize but in her own way.
Then the last part of the equation was the logistics of a live television show. I was staring at a red time clock, blinking down… second by second…as the time in the live show counted down. I knew we had Drew Carey waiting for me to come to him to talk about Survivor players being on a prime time special of The Price Is Right. I knew Survivor fans would be interested, but the storyteller in me was frantically trying to decide: What is the right move? Do I go to commercial off the great moment of human connection? Or do I take a 180 and go to Drew?
If you saw the show, I went to Drew and he was a true pro and just kept on with the show. A completely different aspect was shared with me by another friend who was there. Elan Lee (who you might know from creating the game Exploding Kittens) was sitting by Sia and he said, “What was crazy was watching the security guards initially start to move in on Sia because they didn’t know what was happening and they thought it was a random Survivor fan getting ready to rush the stage.” After the finale, I gave Cochran a ride home, because Cochran doesn’t drive, even though he won a million dollars and lives in L.A. That too, is another story. But we were downloading on the night and I asked him to send me an email on his take on everything from his point of view. (And side note, Dalton, this is what you covering our show on EW.com for 17 years buys you…. this kind of response. It is literally 1:30 a.m. and I am beat, but I am loyal to you because you have been loyal to us. Here is Cochran’s unedited response to the evening.)
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From John Cochran:
I think I understand why it’s difficult for you and me to fully put into perspective what happened. We’ve had the rare opportunity to get to know and love Sia as an animal-rescuing, Coca Cola-drinking, TV-obsessed friend, but make no mistake: She’s a freaking huge pop music superstar. And not only that: She’s one of the most mysterious, enigmatic performers in the world — a role she seemingly magically occupies the second she dons her famous fringed hat. So when Sia — face obscured, naturally — stormed the stage, it felt like an uncanny collision of private and public identities, making it all the more surreal for those of us who know her.
In that moment, Sia was a pop icon, a friend, a Survivor fan, and an animal advocate. It was a lot to process… but it was unquestionably awesome.
And beyond that, it was a testament to the enduring power and cultural relevance of Survivor. This is a show in its THIRTY-SECOND season that still somehow manages to surprise audiences (and hosts, as it turns out) and create water-cooler moments — even some involving international popstars. Sixteen years later, Survivor continues to be one of the best and most important shows on TV, and tonight’s finale proved why.
Okay, I hope that answers your questions. As for the inevitable fans who are mad that I didn’t talk to Cydney or others… blame Sia.
We will also have a separate Q&A where Jeff answers our finale burning questions, and another post where he shares scoop on NEXT season, but for now, 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 the final three.