SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Survivor: Edge of Extinction is officially in the books. Which means it’s time to turn our attention to the next installment in the long-running franchise. Survivor: Island of the Idols (premiering this fall on CBS) will see the return of two legends of the game: two-time winner Sandra Diaz-Twine and Redemption Island champ Boston Rob Mariano. Except this time they will be mentoring rather playing the game, offering game and survival advice to players sent to them throughout the season.

Host Jeff Probst already dropped some intel on season 39, and while on location in Fiji for the filming of season 40 (which will air in early 2020), we spoke to executive producer Matt Van Wagenen to get his take on what to expect this fall.

Preview of the upcoming 39th Season, "Survivor: Island of the Idols" (screen grab) CR: CBS
Credit: CBS

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: At the end of the Edge of Extinction finale, you all showed the promo for Island of the Idols. And you announced that you’re bringing back Boston Rob and Sandra Diaz-Twine — not as players, but as mentors. Just walk us through the origin of this idea to bring them back in a new capacity that we haven’t seen before.
MATT VAN WAGENEN: This idea has morphed a million times. Jeff may have a different recollection of it, but I do remember one time we were walking back from a challenge while shooting over a year ago. We were walking back from a challenge, and he’s like, “What if we had something with some returning players, and we had, like, a Mount Rushmore?” And we started talking. And that was just the idea of faces on a mountain, I think was how things started. He had it cooking in his mind for a while.

We threw out a lot of different names, and really when you talk about people who represent Survivor, I mean, Sandra, the only two-time winner. And Rob, who is one of the greatest players of all time. It’s not just their résumés, but it’s also their personalities that we thought would work for this. I think there was a brief discussion whether they’d be involved in the gameplay, but we put the kibosh on that pretty early. You know, it’s interesting, we spitball ideas for months. And there are so many different versions of these things, and we carve it down until we actually get the idea. And that’s what was fun about this one. To go from this crazy idea from over a year ago to walking out on the beach, seeing those giant heads…

They’re terrifying!
They are amazing. I remember the first time walking up, and they weren’t quite done, and you see them from a couple miles away; there are just these heads, and as you get closer, you can’t believe they’re real. And I think we have an idea and a twist that is actually a lot of fun. That’s the thing, I love fun seasons. And this one’s fun.

Does the cast reflect that too? Sometimes as a cast you’ll just have sort of a tone, like these people are all super gamers. Or these people are a little more clueless, and that’s fun because they mess up. What’s the feel of this cast?
It is fun. I think as we’ve progressed in all the seasons, we definitely have gone more towards playing with fans. Like, hardcore fans. And, in this case, of all the people we’re talking about there are maybe one or two “recruits.” Which, for us, you know, that’s a great ratio. I like that. And truthfully, the two people we brought on were people who dove in, who are competitive people. who knew the game. I mean, you call them recruits, but they all knew the game — just maybe weren’t super fans like the others. And they were quick studies, and really put all their effort into it. So the diversity in this cast is amazing — the stories, the character types. It’s really what makes it interesting is different types of people coming together. And this is that situation. And it’s people who really care about the game, who love the game, and there are some amazing personalities. I was really happy with this group.

And what about Boston Rob and Sandra? Was it weird for them at first? It must be hard for those two to not be playing a game because they’re so competitive.
I don’t think so. They really just embraced their role. We talked about this with them months ago, so they had some time to really think about it. And even in our discussions about the creative, and what we were going to be doing, we had conversations with them. We wanted them to feel comfortable with the idea, so that we weren’t forcing something on them. We wanted them to be a part of the process a little bit too, so that they could embrace it. And truthfully, they embraced it, and were more at ease than I thought they ever would be.

For more Survivor scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Strangers starve themselves on an island for our amusement in the hopes of winning $1 million, as host Jeff Probst implores them to "Dig deep!"

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