Jeff Probst on one of his favorite Survivor moments ever
Each week host Jeff Probst will answer a few questions about the most recent episode of Survivor: Game Changers. Also, make sure to check out an exclusive deleted scene from the episode above, read our full episode recap, and follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’ve been around Cirie for four seasons now. Give us on your on-the-scene take about what went down when she was struggling to get on the platform in the reward challenge, and then what happened after the challenge was over and her tribe’s reaction in helping her to finish up her leg anyway.
JEFF PROBST: Survivor continues to surprise me with its cultural relevance and its ability to inspire. That moment with Cirie is my favorite moment of the season and one of my favorite moments in my entire time on Survivor because of what it represents. Cirie is a very bright woman, great at strategic manipulation, incredibly likable, and from all accounts an amazing mother and wife. But Cirie is not a world class athlete. She was struggling in the water, clinging onto the side of a platform that she simply could not climb onto. As it became apparent that the challenge was going to be won by the other group, the more interesting story became Cirie’s struggle.
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It wasn’t about whether or not she could get up on the platform, it was about continuing to fulfill her original promise from 12 years ago — “let me get up off this couch, go play Survivor, and see what I am capable of achieving.” Here we were with another opportunity for Cirie to do just that in front of her tribemates and millions of Survivor fans. But Cirie wasn’t in any position to consider this idea because she was literally clinging to the side of a platform, in the middle of the ocean, exhausted and slipping more by the minute.
The easy move was for me to declare the winners of the challenge and call in our safety divers to help Cirie out of the water. But Survivor isn’t about what’s easy. Survivor is about pushing the boundaries and this was simply too strong of an opportunity to let slip past. So I made the decision for Cirie. By turning to her and offering to stay here until she finished, even though it had no bearing on the outcome, Cirie faced a giant decision. Do I give up or push myself? And Cirie didn’t hesitate, she dug in and found another gear. Make no mistake, she was still just as afraid and just as exhausted, but whatever drives Cirie took over and there would be no turning back.
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Officer Sarah was the first to swim out and offer encouragement, and that was a move that was unprovoked. It was just human to human. Then the rest of the tribe swam out. And then… the power of the human spirit took over. In this case, it was Cirie — doing it for her kids, doing it to inspire others, and ultimately doing it for herself. Consciously or not, she was further exploring her central question: “What am I capable of achieving?” It was beautiful to witness. I won’t soon forget it.
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And from a production point of view, I have to acknowledge how good our director/supervising producer David Dryden was in that moment. He made a pivot so quickly and got our camera team focused on the new “story” so fast that we got every single shot you would ever want. And the head of our audio team, Rian Engelen was equally on point. Gathering audio when players are in and out of the water is next to impossible for many shows, but not Survivor. Rian and his team got it all. Those two elements — picture and sound — are a big reason why that moment was so moving. You were there with Cirie through it all. It’s really quite brilliant what was achieved that day… on all levels. And it speaks to the same theme — what are ANY of us capable of when we actually push ourselves just a bit out of our comfort zone? Cirie is one of the greatest gifts Survivor has ever received.
You all talk out every new twist and what the possibilities are before you put it into play. How likely did you think it was that whomever was not picked for the reward challenge and had to sit on the bench would discover the secret advantage? And how likely did you think it was that someone who actually played in the challenge would end up retrieving it, as Sarah did?
Uh… that would be 100 percent and zero percent. We thought it was a really interesting idea that the person deemed the weakest (we never dreamed it would be Michaela) would end up benefitting from not being chosen. What we didn’t anticipate was that person having a reaction that blinded them to the opportunity sitting at their feet. It was fascinating and so true to her nature. Michaela’s single biggest obstacle is her inability to control her temper and remain calm. It cost her big time. And on the flip side, Sarah’s move also speaks to human behavior. Police officers must be aware at all times, it is often a matter of their life and death. So Sarah’s reaction was equally true to her nature. Her 360 awareness of her situation paid off.
I was riveted watching it play out. And you could literally see her plan coming together. First, she spotted it… then looked around at how she would pull it off… then took off her shoe. What?!! Amazing! Within seconds she had figured out it was an advantage, that she would swim over to it and hide it… in her shoe. Incredible gameplay for sure and some might also say “instant karma.” The woman who went out to support a fellow human was rewarded. The woman who sat on the bench and complained lost out.
Interesting debate at Tribal Council as some people like Troyzan said that if you have a final six deal, the smart thing is to just stay put and get to six because then anything can happen once you get there since the deck will reshuffle at that point, while others like Michaela argued that if you are in that six and don’t like where you stand, you need to make a move now while you still have others that can help you make it. They actually both have a point and there’s logic to each of those arguments. How do you see that debate and on which side do you fall?
I’m a broken record on this question and until human nature changes, my philosophy will remain intact. You play every day as though it might be your last. You trust because you must but never fully. You have no “best friends” ever. You must be willing to slay your alliance member if you determine they are an obstacle to you getting to the end and winning. A solid six alliance works for me if I am No. 1. It might work if I am No. 2. It does not work if I am No. 3 or lower because there are too many moves that could impact me. How do you know if you’re No. 1 or No. 2? You don’t. Which brings me back to never trust fully.
I would always ask myself why is that person saying that or doing this? Then I’d play out the various ways it might impact me. Then I would make a decision and begin to build toward it. And on top of that, you have to be able to mask your truth one moment and pretend to be presenting your truth in the next moment. You have to know how to stall when you are caught off guard — without anyone noticing, you have to know when to let someone else “win” even though it’s a win for you as well, and you absolutely have to know how to sway someone when they are about to do something that isn’t in your plan.
It’s exhausting and near impossible. That’s why the best players use Tribal to move their game. They use my questions offensively. They don’t sit on their hands and say “it’s just strategy, Jeff” — the good players use their answers to my questions to deliver a message to someone, or throw another player off their game, create uncertainty, make someone feel comfortable who shouldn’t or any number of other subtle but powerful moves. And I say all of this with absolute certainty that I would never be good enough at any of it to ever win Survivor.
Hook us up with a tease for next week, mister!
We invited these guys back because we believed they would play. They haven’t disappointed yet and next week your question about when to stay loyal and when to break away comes into play.