Each week, Jeff Probst has been answering a few questions about the latest episode of Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X. Here, he answers burning questions from the finale and reunion show.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I always ask you after every finale to assess the winner’s game. So take us through what struck you about Adam as a player and why he won in such dominant fashion with the jury over Ken and Hannah?
JEFF PROBST: This is a tricky season and that’s part of the reason that it vaults to the top as one of my personal favorite seasons of all time. The gameplay has never been better than this season. The personal stories of growth never more rewarding. Adam’s journey combines both of those elements: gameplay and emotion. Adam’s story is very unique. He had a driving force more urgent than probably anyone else who has ever played. It’s hard to compute what that does to someone in terms of giving them an energetic boost at times when other players might start to falter.
Adam played a very aggressive game and it paid off. He got to the end and when he did he had a pretty decent resume. He found idols, he won a challenge, he was involved in key votes. He had a legit argument. He also put himself against the two perfect people to beat. Ken had frustrated his tribemates and had not earned enough respect to overcome that. Hannah was seen as less secure and consistent in her voting performance and regardless if it was an accurate assessment, I think that hurt her.
Had Adam gone up against David or Bret or Jay he might not have won. So you have to give him a lot of credit for forcing the votes the way he did. He earned the title, no question. The elephant in the room is the question about his mom. Did his story have any impact on the jury when it came to their vote? I don’t know the answer, I only have an observation from sitting through the final Tribal Council. My feeling is Adam got votes based mostly on gameplay and I think the proof in that is that he got all 10 votes. Not one person voted for Hannah or Ken. It’s a pretty dominant victory.
I have to give you a what-if scenario that you are going to absolutely hate, but from everything you saw, what if Bret, Dave, and Jay are in the final three and you are on the jury? How do you vote?
It’s a fun question — let me start with this…. During the live reunion show, I intended to ask the following question, but ran out of time: “If David had made it to the end, does he win?” And I know from polling the jury pre-show that it was unanimous. So we can safely conclude that David would have won against Hannah, Ken, and Adam. But Bret and Jay… now it gets complicated. That would have been a crazy-tough decision. Three completely different games played by three very different guys.
Plus, you would have to factor in how they voted the other players out — did they betray? Were they loyal? So that one is tough to predict given the gameplay is unknown. So just based on your question…. if, as an observer only, which is to say “I did not play, I do not know the nuances of what went on,” I was given a vote… who would I give it to? Man! Okay here’s my thought process: Bret is a super likable guy. I instantly bonded with him because he just “gets to it.” He doesn’t have a lot of small talk. I like that. And I LOVE that he came out because I know that people all over the world will watch this and some of them will be moved to do the same thing. Bret played the moment down last night but that’s pretty powerful.
Jay is one of the most likable guys we’ve ever had on the show. I still remember meeting him for the first time and knowing he would be a favorite. People may not know this but we almost put him on in Cambodia for Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty but we didn’t really have the right spot for him. So we asked him to come to Cambodia as an alternate, knowing it was super unlikely he would get to play. It’s a huge ask. He said yes instantly and was such a team player. So it made me very happy when we decided on the Millennial theme — Jay was literally the first person on the list. And to see him kill it out there was fun. I think Jay connects to a lot of different ages because his spirit is that of a true Millennial but his mature attitude to losing is that of a well-matured Gen Xer.
That brings us to David. I still remember when he walked in the door for casting. It was late in the process and I wanted him on the show within about twenty seconds. He was so honest with his insecurities and yet so eager to put himself to a true test by taking on something as ass kicking as Survivor. That’s all you can ask of someone on Survivor — let us watch you battle your fears. And what you saw this season was the audience didn’t mock those who shared their insecurities, they rooted for them. I believe we root for the underdog because we see ourselves in them. All of us have fears and insecurities. Seeing someone like David own those fears and then fight through them was very compelling. My vote: DAVID. In all caps.
I kind of love when you throw fake immunity idols in the fire, but how could you do that to David’s work of art? Is that the best looking fake idol you’ve seen and can you admit to getting a bit giddy when people hand you fake idols? Because we get giddy watching it.
Oh man, I hate throwing fake idols in the fire but that’s why it’s so powerful — because you are screaming at the TV, “Don’t burn it!” But if you don’t burn the fake idol, then I feel you are diminishing the power of the real idol. Survivor is an all-in game. David made the best fake idol of all time and it worked! He lured Jay in so beautifully and it served its purpose. Now it’s useless — in the fire it goes.
Absolutely insane ending to the last immunity challenge. Here’s something I always wondered: How is the time-keeping done on challenges? For instance, when you did the five-minute tiebreaker between Ken and Hannah, who is keeping time on that and how do you do the actual 10-second countdown? Then also take me through what it was like seeing Ken get that bowl down on the very last second.
First off, I agree. That is a challenge for the Survivor Hall of Fame. Even watching it again last night, I couldn’t move from my seat. Awesome. As for timings, they are very precise. We do them on every challenge. Our challenge team designates one person to be the official timer. The last few years it’s been Chris Marchand. He starts the clock when I say “Go” and he keeps the time. He uses basic hand signals to let me know how long we’ve been going. So if we’re doing an endurance challenge, I know that we are 15 minutes in, 20 minutes, 32 minutes, etc.
In situations like last night where it’s a locked-in amount of time, it becomes even more critical. So we have very specific hand signals when we get down to one minute, then 30 seconds, then 15, then 10, and at five seconds I count it out myself. What you saw was really how close it was. Ken had it nailed! He was so confident in how long it would take him to get to the top and he didn’t want to put it up there any sooner than necessary for fear of the wind knocking it over. He timed it perfectly.
Okay, this has to BY FAR be the most emotional Survivor win and most emotional reunion show ever. Talk to me about being up on that reunion stage and hearing Adam talk about getting home to tell his mom about his victory right before she passed away.
It’s hard to top what Adam shared last night. It was the most personal story anyone has ever gone through on Survivor. I believe him when he said he felt the connection to his mom while he was living on the beach. I know how important the Loved Ones visit was to him so he could get an update from his brother. And the most powerful element — I fully believe that knowing her son was out there playing their favorite game gave Adam’s mom energy and kept her going. And I think the proof in that idea is that she held on for Adam to get home so she could say goodbye. I saw a lot of people in the audience who were very moved by the story and I am grateful that we were able to have a hand in sharing it with our audience.
Thanks for another fun year of Survivor, thanks for all the love. See ya in March, D Ross!
Check out an exclusive deleted scene from the Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X finale above. Also make sure to read Dalton’s full episode recap as well as Probst’s intel on NEXT season. Don’t miss our interviews with Adam, Hannah, David, Bret, and Jay. And for all the Survivor scoop you can handle, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.