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September 13, 2018 at 11:30 AM EDT

When Survivor: David vs. Goliath premieres Sept. 26 on CBS, one of the 20 faces may look a little familiar. That’s because Mike White, who appears in (and wrote) School of Rock, Chuck and Buck, and Enlightened is one of the contestants vying for the million-dollar prize. Of course, White is also no stranger to CBS reality shows as he competed twice on The Amazing Race with his dad, Mel. (But he won’t be appearing on Big Brother anytime soon.)

But White had an even closer connection to Survivor through its host, Jeff Probst. During the San Juan del Sur season, I asked Probst in one of our weekly Q&As why they made a last-minute switch to get rid of the Redemption Island twist for that season and bring back Exile Island instead. He credited the move to a recommendation from a dinner guest at his house — Mike White. Here’s what Probst said then in 2014:

Yes, I am glad that we decided to change it up — and in a weird way I owe thanks to Mike White. Mike is a big Survivor fan, a former contestant on Amazing Race and a tremendous writer/director/actor/storyteller. He was over at our house for dinner just a couple of weeks before we started shooting. I confided in him about the basic creative for the Blood vs. Water season and when I mentioned Redemption Island coming back he had a very lackluster response — ‘Oh, you’re doing Redemption again?’ The words hit me like a stray, leftover Medallion of Power right between the eyes. We had debated Redemption Island during our Survivor creative meetings and for some reason hearing him say it at that moment tipped the scale.” 

With that story in mind, I asked White recently what the dynamic was between host and player when he got out on the island since they had a friendship outside of the game, but the writer/actor shrugged off any implication that the two were particularly tight and that their Hollywood dinner parties would impact play during the season. “Well, the truth is I have met Jeff socially over the years” says White. “But it’s kind of like… I don’t want to insult him, but it’s not like we are close friends. I’m a super fan, like the way a super fan would come up to him.”

In fact, White says that’s exactly how he acted around the host out on the island. “In the moment when you’re on the beach, it’s like Jeff Probst! In those moments, he looms as this figurehead deity. So like all the other contestants, you want Jeff to like you. You want to come through for Jeff and I was exactly the same. I was like, ‘I want Jeff to be happy that I’m on the show. I want to be a good contestant.’”

Robert Voets/CBS

As for that Redemption Island twist he kiboshed back in season 29, White is proud in having played a role in its demise. “I take the credit,” he says. “I’ve never been a fan of Redemption Island. That’s just me. I love the show. I’ll watch the worst season of the show and it is still the best season of TV for me. It’s the ritual killing aspect of Survivor where the stakes at the end are that someone’s dead. The idea that they can come back to life just feels like it takes that away. I think there’s a primal, ritualistic, killing thing that is part of the pleasure of the game, and I think that that kind of undermined it.”

There is, however, one thing about it he can get behind, the focus on human anger and misery: “The one part I do like about Redemption Island or Exile Island is that there’s one less obstacle course. I like when you’re just with the people as they’re stewing in their juices and plotting each other’s demise. That’s my favorite part of the game — not necessarily the twist.”

You would think that for someone as accomplished as White, appearing on a reality show in its 37th season would not be the biggest of deals, but you would be wrong. “I’ve lived certain dreams I’ve had in my career and in life in general,” says White.  “But I have to say — and honestly, this sounds so dorky — but when I was on the island and I was there, and I saw Jeff and the other contestants, I was like, whatever I’ve done in my career or life that allowed me to be here and do this, I did it right. I really felt like it was like, okay, this is it. I was so giddy with just being able to be a real participant in it.”

You can see that participation for yourself when Survivor: David vs. Goliath premieres Sept. 26 on CBS. To watch Jeff Probst share three reasons to watch the season, check out the video at the top of the post. And for more Survivor scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

Jeff Probst leads adventurous in the ultimate (and original) reality series.
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