SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

For Survivor host Jeff Probst, the inspiration for the new Island of the Idols twist came from a very simple desire: getting show legends Sandra Diaz Twine and Boston Rob Mariano back on the island. “The germ of the idea came simply from how do you make them say yes?” says Probst. “You make them gods.” (Well, that would certainly explain the ginormous statues of the former winners that serve as an entranceway to the actual Island of the Idols.)

“The idea for this came from the question of how do we get somebody like Boston Rob to come back again when he’s said repeatedly that ‘I’ll never play again,’” says Probst. “So the idea was born of: What if you weren’t a player? What if you were a teacher? And he said yes.”

Once Rob was on board, Probst then had to secure another partner-in-grime. “Sandra seemed like the perfect bookend because these are two experts in the game, they’re fun to watch, and they’ve got just enough villain and devil in them that they’re a teacher you should be wary of,” explains the host. “And that was the basic premise, that we would bring back two players to teach a new group of players how to play Survivor.”

But the Island of the Idols concept is not so simple. (Is anything simple on Survivor?) Because the two icons are not merely dispensing advice. Any new players that happen to visit the island will also be tempted with a challenge. “We give them the opportunity to test what they’ve learned by going up against Rob or Sandra,” Probst explains. “And the twist is, yes, it’s a bootcamp. But it’s a Survivor bootcamp. ‘So never forget, I’m Boston Rob and that’s Sandra, and you just fell into a trap.’ That was kind of the big idea. So the way it works is, the first person to visit Island of the Idols gets taught something about gameplay. It could be about making fire or it could be a strategy thing. And then Rob and Sandra give them a chance to test what they’ve learned.”

SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols
Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

Should they pass the test, they will be awarded some sort of advantage in the game. But should they fail, they will lose something that could lead to their undoing. Says Probst: “For the person who is foolish enough to take the test and fail, they say, ‘Here’s your other life lesson, you should have never gone up against me. I’m the one who just showed you that. I’m an expert. And now you’re in trouble. Here’s how you recover.’ And if somebody says, “I’m no fool, I don’t want to go up against you,” [Rob and Sandra] were given the freedom, their own decision, to raise the stakes. So we gave them a cushion and said, you can go from here to here with the advantage. Whatever you want.”

Essentially, it’s a form of Survivor haggling and betting all rolled into one. “So Sandra could lean in and say, ‘What if we make an idol good for three Tribal Councils?’” says Probst. “Now you’re interested. And then the player might say yes. And they might still lose. And Rob might say ‘Why did you change your mind simply because the advantage got bigger? Your odds didn’t.’ So that’s the basic premise.”

Will the newbies take the bait? And will any of them topple Rob and Sandra? We’ll have to wait until season 39 kicks off Sept. 25 on CBS to find out. But to watch Probst break down the new twist and how it works, check out the video at the top of the post. And for more Survivor scoop all season long, follow me 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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