SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Each week, Jeff Probst will answer a few questions about the latest episode of Survivor: Ghost Island. Here, he gives his take on the two-hour premiere.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You know how much I love it when you force the contestants into making a difficult decision so words cannot express how much I loved the opening twist with two tribe leaders having a ticking clock forcing them to decide whether to cry uncle in a challenge to preserve their fishing gear. It looked to me like Chris made the right choice and Laurel was closer to finishing than Desiree, but you obviously had a much better vantage point. Do you think Chris made the right decision to pull the lever? And is there anything you would have done differently from Chris and Brendan here in how they handled everything?
JEFF PROBST: I’m so glad you liked it. It was important that we set up the importance of making “decisions” straight out of the gate since that is one of the foundations of Survivor and especially of this season. I think the brilliance in the design of that challenge is that it invites this kind of Monday morning quarterbacking.

For me, the test wasn’t as much about who was the best puzzle-solver, but, as you point out, the ability of the two leaders to make a difficult decision. It’s classic risk vs. reward. Do you want to risk going home with very little in order to go home with a lot? Or do you play it safe and ensure you have the basics covered no matter what. There is no right answer. It all comes down to how you look at life. If I was in the leader spot, I might have played a bit safe like Chris just to be sure. But man, the temptation to step up and say, “Let me put my faith in my tribe member” is very alluring.

We saw Jacob at Ghost Island get a chance to play a game for an advantage — but with stakes. If he lost the game, he lost his vote at the next Tribal Council. Donathan then broke an urn on his visit and did not get a chance to play. Is this the way Ghost Island will work all season in that no idols will be simply given away or hidden, but that players will always have to risk something to obtain them? Because that is some evil genius I can get behind.
Yes. For those who get a chance to play, it will always require a risk. That’s what makes it so fun. We always saw the personality of Ghost Island as being just a bit playful, as though it was taunting you. And, as always, we wanted the audience to trust that like every other advantage or twist or format change it is already laid out. That’s why the row of urns is out there on day one. We know what urns hold an advantage opportunity in them but we don’t know who will end up going to Ghost Island and having the decision of whether to go for it. And as the game goes on, Ghost Island may become something people don’t fear but instead desire… because of the chance for a game-changing opportunity.

I went down and pulled the second, deeper underwater lever in a test-run of that second immunity challenge and that was not easy if you’re not a decent swimmer. Take me through what you saw with James not being able to do it, Donathan at first being scared to try, and then him getting down there and actually completing it. I bet you wanted to dive in the water and high five him right there!
That was an EPIC Survivor moment. You have James, one of the most fit guys of the season. A track star. Someone who has been in pressure situations before, and yet he was the one who panicked. The poor guy couldn’t even get a foot down in the water. It really was a moment where I think he lost his ability to compose himself and fear took over. And his tribemate… the only other option… is Donathan — the biggest “fish out of water” from the entire group of players. He’s hanging on for dear life as his tribemates are pleading with him to try. He was their only chance at a comeback. What impressed me about Donathan was how he overcame absolute terror to do something he did not want to do. That was a huge moment for him and one I think he will look back on for the rest of his life with pride. You know me well; those are the kind of moments that I live for.

Who impressed — and surprised — you most in the first six days out there?
Wow, you’ve never asked a question like that before. First six days… okay. Michael really stood out to me as a very confident young man. He’s 18 years old, pretending to be 23, and he is showing early that he has a great head on his shoulders. Really impressed. I think Stephanie, the single mom, is also showing she is there to play and play hard as evidenced by the great job she did on Jacob. And early on, Domenick is as good as we hoped he would be. But let me say… we are just getting started. There are some great people that we haven’t even heard from yet.

Let’s get into the first two people voted out. Gonzalez just never seemed to gel with her tribe out there. Ultimately, what do you think her biggest issue was that led to her being voted out?
I felt for Gonzalez. She came out to play. She just was a bit of an odd person out. But I really don’t think she did anything wrong. If she had started on another tribe, she might have been fine.

And then Jacob was all over the place — talking openly about idol hunting, talking a lot after the challenge, talking too much about what happened at Ghost Island. Was this a case of a super-fan who should have taken a breath and let the game and social dynamics develop a bit more before going into crisis mode?
Yes. 100 percent. He just went too big too fast. But I felt for Jacob because it was the superfan in him that was trying to please other superfans of the game. I saw that in him and I appreciated the effort, but ultimately it cost him.

Okay, six days down and 33 left to go. What can you say about next week’s episode?
The showdowns start early in Survivor: Ghost Island.

Check out two exclusive deleted scenes above as well as a video of Jeff Probst’s reaction immediately after the first Tribal Council. Also, make sure to read our full episode recap, exit interviews with Gonzalez and Jacob, and for more Survivor scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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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