SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Each week, Jeff Probst will answer a few questions about the latest episode of Survivor: Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s begin the same way we begin every finale discussion, by assessing the new winner. Give us your thoughts on freshly minted champion Ben and the job he did this season.
JEFF PROBST: Well, based on the reaction of the audience watching the show live at CBS, people love Ben! I was really impressed with everybody in the final five. They all played different games and all had a shot to win it. There is no denying Ben earned his way to the final. He wasn’t very successful at challenges, but he made up for it by searching for idols all day, all night. His back was against the wall for so many Tribal Councils and yet he always found a way to keep himself in the game. I think that kind of momentum plays a part in the jury vote. They weigh so many different elements. Ben came across as a complete person. He was not without faults, but his unrelenting ferocity impressed. I really enjoyed having Ben on the show. I hope he’d consider playing again.

That was one of my favorite final Survivor challenges ever. Go ahead and try to pretend you were not thanking the Survivor gods when you saw Ben place an upside-down U, because you had to know that made for a truly indelible moment.
That challenge has to go down as one of the top 10 of all time. It was created by a new amazing challenge designer and thoroughly tested for a couple of months to make sure it was fair and to make sure someone could actually finish! When Ben had that upside-down U, I think I looked four times just to make sure that I was seeing what I thought I was. Yes, those are the moments that make a season memorable. And as heartbreaking as it is to see someone so close… you bet it’s a “thank you, Survivor gods” moment.

Million Dollar Night
Credit: CBS

This is a massive format change you did here at the final four in terms of having the winner of the last immunity challenge (Chrissy) bring one person (Ryan) to the end and having the others (Devon and Ben) battle it out in a fire-making competition. When and why did you all decide to forgo the usual final four vote, and is this something that is indeed here to stay, like you said during the live show?
This idea came about to solve a problem that has bothered me for years. If someone plays a great game and gets to the final four, it has always bothered me that the other three can simply say, “We can’t beat him, so let’s all just vote him out.” So this year we decided to make a change. If you get to final four, you are guaranteed a shot to earn your way to the end. And if you are the one to win the final four challenge, you are in charge of who you take and who you force to fight for it in a fire-making showdown. And of course, it goes without saying, we got lucky with a huge million dollar showdown between Ben and Devon. It was electric. And yes, that will be a new format change and will appear in next season, Survivor: Ghost Island.

I went on at length in my recap about how juries in general seem to be more impressed by immunity idols than immunity necklaces, and my theory is that it is because idols make for much better theater. The jury members don’t see everything that goes into winning the challenges because they are not there, but the idols happen right in front of them in very dramatic fashion so make more of an impact. Do you think there is something to that?
It’s an interesting argument. We usually talk about the challenge during Tribal so that the jury has an idea of what went down, but it could be that the visual moment at Tribal just leaves a bigger impression. I think this season the reason the jury was so impressed with Ben and his idols is that he was finding them despite everybody knowing he was looking for them. I mean, he really was fighting everybody left in the game and I think the jury rewarded that on some level.

My favorite moment of the live show was when you brought out Ben’s old Marine buddies. Tell me how that came together.
That’s just one of those magical moments. One of our producers was talking to Ben’s wife and she mentioned a few of Ben’s buddies and how close they all were. We reached out to them and it was clear they were touched by Ben’s bravery in sharing his story and that they really wanted to say thank you and connect in person. So we flew them out and they did the rest. It was a beautiful moment and I agree it was one of the highlights of the entire night.

Episode Recaps

SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

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!"

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