Survivor host Jeff Probst weighs in on Jamal and Jack's racial incident
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 a teaching moment between Jamal and Jack, Elaine’s exuberance at Island of the Idols, and one of the most brutal ways to get voted out of the game.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s talk about this situation between Jack and Jamal where Jack referenced a durag. Pretty interesting stuff on both sides here as Jamal felt comfortable enough to explain to Jack why that was wrong, while Jack also was open enough to hear what Jamal was saying and not get defensive about it. We’ve seen racial strife on the show before, and I still remember when you had to defuse a conflict between Phillip and Steve in Nicaragua. How nice was it to watch Jamal and Jack use this incident as a learning tool, and something that may ultimately bring these alliance partners even closer together?
JEFF PROBST: There is so much going on in this scene between Jack and Jamal. As you mentioned, for this kind of beautiful connection to happen, both sides have to be open to it. Jack was so clearly earnest in his desire to both apologize for offending Jamal and also learn from the situation. And Jamal’s response was so powerful. He was a teacher, he was a friend, and above all else he was a healer. It says so much about both men. Jack is a young guy, but he handled himself with such maturity and openness. And Jamal continues to be an empathetic and rational voice despite being on the wrong side of the numbers week after week. His thoughtful explanation made it easy for all of us to understand the importance of the conversation. I rank that up there with one of the most compelling moments we’ve ever had on the show. A moment that in the hands of two other people could have led to more strife or an argument or hurt feelings, but in the hands of Jamal and Jack became a real teaching moment.
Elaine gets sent to Island of the Idols after her tribe picked her to sit out the reward challenge, and she then accepts Boston Rob’s challenge WITHOUT EVEN KNOWING WHAT IT WAS! You gotta love the moxie, but what do you make of her not even weighing her options there or finding out what the test was?
That is exactly what I would expect from Elaine! She really does seem to just dive into situations head first! It was so exhilarating to see her say yes with absolutely no idea what was to come. It’s easy to back-seat-drive any and every decision on Survivor, but if you step back and really just break down the game, you MUST say yes to opportunities because they are so rare! To say no because you’re afraid of losing your vote (I realize she didn’t know that in this case) is a very safe way to play the game. Yes, of course it can backfire, but the game is designed to force you to make very fast decisions that come with consequences. And when the audience sees a player lean into the game like that, it makes you root for them even more.
As a follow-up to that, with the exception of a slight hesitation by Kellee, every contestant has jumped right in and accepted the test at Island of the Idols. How much of that do you think is because they are sitting right next to Sandra and Rob? Psychologically, do you think that plays a part in terms of an inherent desire to make them happy?
Yes, I think that’s a huge influence, and one that we anticipated. It’s totally understandable. If you’re a Survivor fan and you find yourself in the snug on Island of the Idols sitting next to two of the biggest stars of Survivor, you want that moment. You want that experience. You want to play the game with them. Kellee wanted it too, Kellee is just very measured. It’s one of her greatest strengths. She observes before making a move. But ultimately even Kellee said yes. And it says a lot about Rob and Sandra and how good they were at making players feel welcome… and luring them into the test.
I’ve been happy to hear from fans that they’re enjoying Rob and Sandra and the twist, because we weren’t sure how they would respond to the idea. I remember seeing the statues for the first time. It was a few days before shooting. The art department had just finished ferrying them across the ocean and erecting them on the Island of the Idols. It was the end of a very big undertaking for our art team, and it signaled that we were ready to begin the game. A small group of us got on a boat and as we approached the island, I saw these incredible bookends of Rob and Sandra jutting out of the sand. It blew my mind. The scale of achievement by our art department was truly stunning. So we got off the boat and as I walked up to these 20-ft.-by-20-ft. statues, I was struck by another powerful feeling — “Oh man, I hope this works…” The truth of all of our ideas is they are just that… ideas! We never know how a twist or a theme is going to play out. But our job is to get it right, or at least go down swinging in a big way. So getting positive feedback from fans on the street has been nice.
Where does getting voted out by only one vote when you weren’t even allowed to vote to save yourself — as happened to Jason here — rank on the list of toughest ways to leave the game?
I think you hit it on the head — “you’re not allowed to try to save yourself.” You are robbed of the one move you are typically guaranteed — a vote. It’s brutal. And typically, if they’re stealing your vote, it’s an indicator that you’re also the one they are trying to vote out. Survivor has grown so much and become so much more complicated that I think we often forget that these players are also living in the jungle on very little food in difficult weather conditions with people they don’t know and might not even enjoy being around. I felt for Jason because he’s a very sharp player. We’ve lost some great strategic minds early this season.
We’re about halfway through the season now. What can you tell us about next week’s episode?
I don’t want to tease too much, but I think when the episode is over, fans will once again have that feeling that Survivor is one of the very few shows that remains current and always of the moment. And because it is always of the moment, it can lead to some surprising and often inspiring conversations.
Watch an exclusive deleted scene from the episode above. Also make sure to read our full episode recap, and exit interview with Jason Linden. And for more Survivor scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.
Strangers starve themselves on an island for our amusement in the hopes of winning a million dollars, as host Jeff Probst implores them to "DIG DEEP!"