SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Each week, host Jeff Probst will answer a few questions about the latest episode of Survivor: Island of the Idols. This week, he weighs in on Tom’s ouster, explains why there was no trip to Island of the Idols, and reveals he and producers were unaware of the Kellee and Dean connection outside the game.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why no visit to Island of the Idols this episode, and did Rob and Sandra get lonely out there with no guests?
JEFF PROBST: It’s a great question and one I think might be helpful to fans in understanding why some episodes might only have one challenge, or why one episode might not spend as much time on a tribe switch, things like that. Forgive me if this is too much detail. It really comes down to basic math. We have approximately 42 minutes each week. That’s it. This is different from the vast majority of shows that are on streaming services and do not have time limit restrictions. On those shows, one episode could be 42 minutes and the next one could be 61. It doesn’t matter. In our case, we simply cannot go longer because our show must finish by 9 p.m. so the next CBS show can start.

With that in mind, you start to assign a certain amount of time to the fixed elements that are in each episode: immunity challenges, Tribal Council, and this season we also have Island of the Idols, which has basically taken the place of a reward challenge. With those three elements alone, you have accounted for half of the show. The rest of the time is allocated to the reality that plays out on the beaches, which is really the heart of the show. So, when you throw in a tribe switch, you have to allow time not only for the actual switch, but also the new reality back at camp. And in this case, we also had a huge kickass Applebee’s reward. So, something had to go.

In this case, we gave Sandra and Rob a break! Truthfully, I know they missed us, but we just couldn’t fit anymore into the show. And I want to be really clear, we wish we could include everything — two challenges, reality, switches, Island of the Idols, Tribal Council, longer confessional, all of it! We would love to let our episodes fluctuate depending on what is happening in the game, but that’s not how it works. Our job is to make the creative decisions about each episode and hope the fans trust us that we have a plan. We continue to be grateful for our loyal viewers who seem to trust us, even when they might disagree with some of our decisions!

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

Dean mentioned that Kellee goes to business school with his longtime girlfriend. Were you all aware of that connection before they got out on the island, or did you all learn it once they joined up on the same tribe?
We had no idea about their connection. When we are in the casting phase of the show, we do extensive background checks, psychological profiles, thorough medical tests, and lots and lots of time just spent talking with each player about their life. I’m very impressed with the information we uncover. But occasionally an overlapping social connection happens and it’s on the players to figure out how to navigate it within the game. In this case, it appears that Dean and Kellee are trying to exploit it as an opportunity. But anytime you pair up, it can work against you, as it did last week with Dean’s other alliance member, Chelsea.

While Karishma may have questioned your commentary that she was holding back her team in the challenge, that certainly appeared to be the case in both competitions this episode. Yet her tribe decided to keep her anyway, opting to take out Tom, who I assume they believed was more likely to flip back to his old Lairo friends at the merge. What do you make of that decision, as well as the performance of your very first Canadian?
Nice job sneaking multiple questions within the same paragraph! The first thing I have to say is that we really like having Karishma on the show. We really enjoyed her in casting and knew she would add a compelling layer to the season. But when a challenge is happening, I have zero filters to what I say about any of the players. If I perceive someone being a workhorse, I’ll say as much. Conversely, if I perceive someone to be hurting the tribe, I’ll point that out as well. It doesn’t mean I’m right and it doesn’t account for things I might not know, like a tribe wanting to throw a challenge, or an individual player who might not have eaten for several days and simply has no energy. And most significantly of all, it does not give any weight to the truth that not every player can do every single thing required in a season of Survivor.

Survivor strips you bare. There is nowhere to hide. If you suck at swimming and a swimming challenge comes up, most likely you are going to suck at the challenge. That’s when you can count on the annoying part of my Survivor personality to point it out. I am the audience and I try to remain objective. The most fascinating part for me personally is that I am not like that in my regular life. I’m much more optimistic and encouraging. Survivor is its own thing.

As for why they kept Karishma, that is one of the most interesting layers to the show… tribe strength vs. alliance strength. Sometimes they line up, sometimes they don’t. And you saw that play out when they decided to keep Karishma and vote out Tom. Tom was a tribe member who worked hard at camp, gave 100 percent in challenges, and appeared to be a loyal alliance member. It’s a great example of why this game is so difficult to play, let alone win. You have to see the game from so many different points of view, you have to source out as much information as you can, you have to determine what is true and what isn’t, who has power and who doesn’t, who is valuable as an alliance member and who is a future threat, who might have an idol… the list is long.

That’s why you must… play the first time as though you’re playing for the second… you must… play to win… and you must… accept that 19 of the 20 will not win and odds are you are one of the 19. If you can get yourself to that place emotionally, where you will do anything to win, knowing the odds are stacked against you, it will free you up to do what is required for the person who ultimately does win.

Okay, sir. Tease us up for next week, and tease us up good!
This season is proving once again as a reminder that Survivor is always of the moment. When you put a group of people together on an island and force them to work together while voting each other out, amazing things happen. Next week we have a beautiful exchange between two players that impacts both of them in a significant way, and I think it will resonate with a lot of viewers.

Watch an exclusive deleted scene from the episode above. Also make sure to read our exit interview with Tom as well as our full episode recap, and 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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