Survivor host Jeff Probst reveals what we didn't see at the merge
Each week, host Jeff Probst will answer a few questions about the latest episode of Survivor: Edge of Extinction.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start off with you telling us everything you saw at this big reveal when you brought out the Edge of Extinction folks. What did you sense from the players still in the game when they learned what was happening? And then take us through the reactions of the Extinction folks when they didn’t make it back in, and then were told that they could indeed head back to Extinction Island for another shot. Give us your on-the-scene report!
JEFF PROBST: Well, the first reaction was from the players in the game: absolute shock. They did not expect it at all. It’s so hard to pull off any kind of a twist this long into the show, I think they enjoyed it. For the players returning from Edge of Extinction, the stakes were very high. They were extremely focused, with a very clear intention of getting back in the game. None of them had any idea there would be another shot, so this felt very do-or-die to each of them.
I was also pleasantly surprised at how welcoming the current players were to the idea of one of them getting back into the game. We didn’t have time to include it in the episode, but I actually asked the question, “Who feels this is an unfair twist and they should not get a second shot?” To a person, they all liked the idea and felt that “If they’ve been surviving like we have, then more power to them.” Another sign of the modern-day Survivor player. They know they can vote them straight out again if they want, and I think on some level, the idea of a second chance is appealing to all players. Everybody wants to play. And would we even remember Reem if not for Extinction?! Now she’s a star!
When the challenge ended, you had one very happy player in Rick Devens and you had a group of absolutely devastated players who felt their time in the game was over. After enduring a vote out and then days on Extinction, you could see the energy leaving their body as they came to terms with the idea that the game was finally over. That moment was very emotional. It’s frustrating to be limited in time with our episodes because we had to cut so much beautiful emotion from each of them.
Then… the reveal that Extinction would begin again. Wow. That moment was even more powerful than the previous moment. They lost their minds. I have to share that it was very satisfying from a producing standpoint because we always believed that the kind of people who want to be on Survivor would readily embrace something as daunting as Extinction. But until you see it play out, you never know. It confirmed for me that Survivor fans and players are truly seeking a giant adventure where they can be tested in ways you can’t replicate in a normal day-to-day existence.
We talked right as the season started about whether anyone would quit at Edge of Extinction, and your hope was that they would not. Yet after having a chance to continue there after not getting back in at the merge, Keith and Wendy both raised the sail and left the game. Did that surprise or disappoint you that they chose to quit?
It didn’t surprise me, but only because we could sense that Keith was struggling during his first stay at Extinction. He’s very young, and I was impressed that he stayed the duration of the first round. When offered the chance to go back, I think he got caught up in the emotion of the other players. But once he returned, both he and Wendy began to debate the likelihood of lasting the rest of the game and their odds of getting back into game at all. It’s a little of that idea “If I had known how bad it was gonna be, I wouldn’t have done it.” Well, now they knew how bad it was gonna be, and it just didn’t seem as appealing a second time. But they can both say they went to Extinction and they did it, and hopefully that’s something that will stay with them for a long time.
You all do not pull off any big format change lightly, always talking through all the pros and cons. Take us through the discussions you all had about having everyone — as long as they don’t quit — be a part of the jury, no matter when they got voted out. Were you all concerned about having someone like Reem (who was voted out on day 3) voting on the million-dollar winner even though she has been out of tribe beach action for so long? Also, do you even have enough jury seating?!
The idea for Edge of Extinction came in a bit of a flurry. It presented itself incredibly fast and arrived pretty much fully formed. All the elements — the desolation of Extinction, the secret nature of it, the two shots to get back in, and the possibility of everyone being on the jury — was just part of the package that the creative winds sent our way. We tend to look at these kind of ideas as gifts rather than risks.
Of course, we have a healthy awareness that fear is always looming. The fear that we’re wrong, that we’ll destroy the franchise, and that this will be the season the fans stop watching. But you can’t be inspired by creative and equally afraid of that creative. I’ve said it to you many times, we would rather burn out than fade away. Extinction was very exciting to every department of our team because it challenged us in so many new ways. It was an entirely new world to figure out creatively, aesthetically, and from a cinematic point of view. But it’s also a completely separate game happening with another tribe living on another beach, and that involves every single department of our 400-plus crew. We all just went for it!
And now for the short answer to your question… no, we weren’t concerned about the jury! As for the jury seating… we have this little team called the Survivor art department, and they can literally do anything. And we have more big ideas in store!
Fascinating that all three returning players still in the game were main targets of the first post-merge vote. What does that say about their spot in the game at this point, and what do you think about Kama taking out one of their own in Joe?
It’s a great question, and I have no idea. Returning players always seem to be in trouble, and yet they often find a way to hang in there. I do think there is a sense this season that the new players feel “This is our time. Those returnees have already had their time.” And if that’s the case, then it doesn’t bode well for any of the returning players. As for Joe, I can’t help but feel for him. He is such a good-hearted guy and so dominant in so many ways… and those qualities make him a giant threat. Which is yet another reason the Extinction twist is so appealing. Second chance stories are exciting. Especially when it’s a fan favorite!
Okay, strong merge episode here, sir. What can you tell us about the follow-up next week?
Check out an exclusive deleted scene from the episode at the top of the post, and also make sure to read our full recap as well as merge interview with Kelley Wentworth. Plus, for more Survivor scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.