ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We have a lot of loved ones talk to get to, so let’s start with the reunions themselves. I ask you this question every single season: Which loved ones reunion this time around moved you the most and why?
JEFF PROBST: I was once again really touched to see all the different family members. This has become such an iconic moment in the show and carries so much weight because of the lack of trust within the game. So, when you have someone you are certain cares about you, travel all the way to Fiji to support you while you play this silly game, it’s incredibly powerful to the player. I share emotion with each visit because it touches something different inside me. Sibling relationships remind me of my brothers, any parent relationship gets to me both as a son and as a parent, and spouses obviously connect me to my wife. My toughest job is not tearing up. I was better this year!
Also, in addition to the love, it really helps the audience better understand each player when you see one of the most important people in their life and how the two of them interact. Even though players almost always know it’s coming, it still resonates so deeply and I can’t imagine taking this out of the show.
I’ve been advocating for you all to let the loved ones participate in a challenge again for years and you all finally did it, going back to the Heroes vs. Villains classic where Colby berated his brother Reed. What made you all finally get the relatives back in the challenge?
You. All you. We actually have something called “The Dalton Board.” It sits across from John Kirhoffer, on the wall behind Chris Marchand’s desk so that John can refer to it anytime he needs inspiration. Some of the more important things written on the board are, in no particular order: “Medallion of Power is a terrible idea, I really suggest you don’t do it.” “Adding a third person to the finale is one of the worst format changes in show history.” “When are you gonna let the loved ones compete!??” “You must do another crazy entrance before the series ends!” “What about underwater puzzles?” And scribbled in the corner, “Never forget, a day without sun is like… night.” (We’re not sure if you said that last one or if it just sounded like something you would say. Either way we give you credit. So that was really it.)
I think it was actually Karen, our dream team coordinator who came in and said, “You know he’s right…” It was a statement, not a question. “About the loved ones. Dalton. He’s right. It’s a huge missed opportunity. It’s smart producing. They need to compete.” And something about the way Karen said it, it just hit us. “Damnit, she’s right. Dalton’s right.” And that was all it took. John started drawing furiously on his desktop. Not computer, his actual desk. The top of it. He used a sharpie because he knew inspiration was coming fast. It was as if he was seeing the entire thing before his eyes and he didn’t want to miss any of it.
When he was finished drawing, he was pretty proud. We all raced over to look. Everyone was quiet for a moment. Finally, it was A.B., the third member of the challenge producing team, who said… “Um… I think you just drew a challenge that already exists. In fact, it’s the one we did the last time we had loved ones compete.” We all stood quiet for another uncomfortable moment. Finally, John stood up, flipped his entire desk over and said “You think I don’t know that!? I was testing to see if YOU knew it!” We’ve since recovered, John is fine, and as you saw the challenge worked out really well. So, the long story is that it was your idea that put it back in the show and for that we say, thank you.
Another thing I’ve advocated for a long time is for players to not win the loved ones challenge because it almost always leaves bruised feelings among those who do not get picked to go along on it. And that appears to be at least partly what happened here as both Victoria and Lauren mentioned Ron’s choices of whom he selected as one of the reasons they moved to get him out. If you were a player in the game, how would you quantify the risk vs reward of winning this one?
You can’t intellectualize this one. In most cases, after thirty days in the jungle, sleeping on bamboo, enduring the rain, being lied to constantly, and never able to trust a single thing you hear…. you finally see another human that you are certain you can trust… you’d do anything you can to spend more time with them. If you were going to bet, bet on this outcome every time because there is such a strong desire to experience as much as you can with your loved one, despite the risk, which as you note, is very high. There’s definitely a case to be made for what Wendell did in Ghost Island. Work your hardest to win so that you can be in charge and then give up your family visit to someone else. But that too comes with risk. People see that as a ploy for a jury vote. There’s no easy answer.
I’m sure there will be lots of talk about Ron’s move to give Rick his expired advantage menu. What do you make of the move? Is there strategic value to it in hopefully making him feel safe so he scrambles less and looks for idols less, or is it needlessly embarrassing a potential future jury member while also making you look unnecessarily mean in the eyes of the jury? What say you?
Ron is a really aggressive and fun player to watch this season. I like the move. I think you have to know your audience, meaning both the recipient (Devens) and the rest of the jury. If you sense that Devens respects gameplay, then it’s ultimately a good move. If you sense he’s a delicate little flower then maybe not. Same with jury. For the last few years, we’ve had juries that reward game play even when it’s vicious. I get the feeling that is the case with this group. You have to be willing to murder people and trust that they will respect you when they come back from the dead to cast their million dollar vote.
Okay, penultimate episode coming up next week. What can you tell us?
A perfect set up to our finale. It’s a fun and funny episode and game play is full tilt!