Survivor: Jeff Probst answers season finale burning questions
The host says the final Tribal Council discussion format is the ‘new norm’ and talks Sarah’s game, Cirie’s exit, and the big tiebreaker revelation.
Each week, host Jeff Probst has been answering a few questions about the most recent episode of Survivor: Game Changers. Here, he discusses the season finale and reunion show. Also, make sure to check out Probst’s comments on next season of Survivor, as well as our finale recap and interviews with Sarah, Brad, Tai, Aubry, and Cirie.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We always start these finale Q&A’s the same way — with you giving me your take on the winner. So how would you sum up Sarah’s game this season?
JEFF PROBST: I thought Sarah played a great game. I was really impressed with her on all levels. As she said, “I’m playing like a criminal.” And in a season of crazy gameplay, her best move was probably the subtle way she handled herself during the last decision Brad made — who to send to the jury and who to leave in the game. She played that like a con artist.
Brad tied the record for most individual immunity wins with five, but he also won the last four in a row. You’ve seen a lot of challenge beasts before: How does his performance under pressure in that department stack up? And, on the flip side, why did Brad’s social game seem to fall apart down the stretch?
There was a tribe challenge earlier in the season where the last leg was to throw sandbags at targets. Brad was the sandbag thrower, but his tribe was far, far behind. But I did notice that Culpepper was not panicking. Once his tribe caught up I realized why… he started tossing sandbags with incredible accuracy. All of us were taken aback at how adept he was at something that isn’t a real sport. After the challenge we all had the same realization — Culpepper is a true athlete. Truly gifted at all things physical.
Let’s go back to the first Tribal Council of the evening, where five out of six people ended up with immunity, meaning Cirie was voted out even though nobody actually voted for her. When you put all those idols and advantages into play earlier in the season, did you ever anticipate something like this happening?
Never. Ever. Never. We are always tracking how many advantages are in the game, for obvious reasons. You can’t have so many that the numbers no longer work. And with such crazy game play we never even considered that Tai would hold onto two idols and Troyzan would hold onto one idol and that they would both still be in play at the final six when the Legacy Advantage came back into play.
But more than even that craziness, we never dreamed Tai would play both of his. What a time to “make a move!” He was guaranteed final five and could have made so many different choices, but to his credit, Tai wanted to do something big. So he did. Then when Sarah revealed the Legacy Advantage, Troyzan wisely panicked and played his idol — again one episode earlier than I think he had planned. That’s when my head started spinning…. doing the math over and over to make sure it was right. Poor Cirie.
I had been feeling that the standard final Tribal Council Q&A format had gotten a bit stale lately, so I really like the fact that you tried something new with more of a debate-and-discuss open forum type set-up. Where did that idea come from and how do you think the experiment worked?
Yeah, I felt same way. It had become very frustrating for me to see people on the jury stand up and say “Why did you vote me out? Is it because I was better than you? It just wasn’t contributing anything valuable and it was bringing the show down. So I just started thinking of how we could make it more like a regular Tribal Council. Separating it into outwit, outplay, and outlast was when it really came together. Make no mistake, I was nervous. It was a big change to the format and that is not something we take lightly, but we always push the players to make big moves so we feel as though we have to hold ourselves to the same standard as producers. Survivor is an ever-evolving game. Yes, I think it worked very well and I’ve heard from a lot of fans that they liked it and the jury from Game Changers also liked it. And yes, this is the new norm.
Let’s jump to the Reunion show. You checked in with both Zeke and Jeff Varner about the outing incident, and it was nice to see them now both doing well. I did notice they did not interact with each other at all during that segment. Was that a decision on your part, a request by one or both of them, or just the way it played out?
I would never tell two people to not talk to each other. I don’t have any further insight into whether they discussed it or not. I think it’s probably just a natural thing given the situation.
I found it fascinating that you revealed the Survivor final vote tiebreaking procedure, when you said how if two people are tied with votes that the third person in the finals then jumps to the jury and acts as the tiebreaker vote. In the case of if Brad had brought Tai to the end instead of Sarah and that had resulted in a tie, then Troyzan would have cast the deciding vote (for Brad). Three questions for you about this: First off, would Troyzan have voted right then and there before coming back to the United States? Secondly, why decide to reveal this now? And finally, do you think this knowledge will impact anything in future seasons in the way people decide whom to bring to the end, or how they bring them there?
Yes, Troyzan would have voted then. It wouldn’t be fair to let him watch the entire season. The vote must happen within the context of the 39 days. I decided to reveal it because it just felt like a perfect storm. We had an emotional blow up between Culpepper and Tai. Culpepper was feeling extremely confident, so he decided he could bury Tai and still win the game by beating Sarah. So he made his decision based on emotion.
And we had Sarah, who knew this was a potential $1 million mistake and she played it beautifully by pretending to stay open to all options, knowing full well she was going to vote out Tai. So my intention was to show how difficult Survivor is to win by using the situation as example — Culpepper actually did play a game good enough to win the million dollars… but he made one bad decision. Just one. He brought Sarah and not Tai. And that one bad decision will haunt him forever.
But… I had a very difficult time telling that story because Culpepper was determined to block me at every turn! Look, I love the Culpeppers, but they are a force and when they are not in control of the situation, they try their best to get back in control. I told Culpepper after the show, I was trying to illustrate how strong a game you played but you really made it tough. We had a laugh about it. All in all, I was very happy with this season and I thought the entire group did a great job of raising the bar… once…. again.