SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Every week, Jeff Probst answers a few questions about Survivor: Island of the Idols. Here, he offers his thoughts on the season finale as well as the big Sia giveaway.

SURVIVOR: Island of Idols
Credit: CBS

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Okay, we do this every time. Sum up the game of our latest winner in Tommy and why he ultimately won the million dollars?
JEFF PROBST: He had insight. It seemed to me that Tommy played a very nuanced game of appearing completely trustworthy while not appearing to be too big of a threat. That made people feel as though they could form alliances and share information with him. Plus, he was savvy enough to know when to use his information and with how much force. When he got to the final five, he knew that the biggest threat in the game, to whom he had promised his loyalty, had an idol. He also knew that one of his closest allies had a nullifier. So, he betrayed Janet and took one huge step closer to the million dollars with that one move. Imagine just one of those elements not being there… it could be a totally different result. That could be the title of his season — The Player Who Knew Too Much.

Dean made a compelling case at final Tribal in terms of having to play with his back against the wall and scoring idols and advantages and individual immunity wins. Why do you think his pitch ultimately came up short?
I’m only guessing but my hunch is it was based more around his social game and the lack of deep relationships than it was gameplay. Dean made a strong case in the outplay portion of the game. It was a late run, but very impressive. But if you haven’t gotten the memo by now… Survivor is about relationships. Dean just did not form enough of them. And you saw that throughout the season. Juries are very fair, and they seem open to considering a late run of big-time moves, but only if you have the social foundation for it to all rest upon.

The jury never seemed to give Noura any serious consideration, even though she won three individual challenges, including the final one. What do you think their take on her was and how soon can you get her back on the island?
Ah, Noura! It is her kookiness that makes her so authentic. She is the real deal. She was consistent in her silliness, her long-winded answers, and her unpredictability. I think she really grew on the audience, to your point of “how fast can we have her back!” But in terms of getting votes, she just wasn’t seen as a legit player. Survivor is unique in that the decision of whether someone played a good game is ultimately decided by the other players. And that is often a reflection of the game the jury played. I think you mirror others off of your own sense of what is “good gameplay.” I think Noura very much feels she played a strong game and earned her way into the final, but the jury saw it differently.

Eleven of the past 14 winners — including the last five — have been men. What do you think has led to this recent gender imbalance in terms of winners?
I did not realize that. Wow. I have zero idea. I need to pay more attention! I wonder if you merely pointing it out will impact the future. I’m serious. Sometimes, that is all it takes.

Finally, pop superstar Sia awarded Jamal $15,000, and then also gave Elaine and Janet $100,000 each. How exactly does Sia decide whom to give money to and at what amounts? Does she just give the names and figures, or do you all have your own two-person Tribal Council where you all sort it all out?

First off, let’s just applaud Sia for her generosity. She awarded a total of $215,000 last night. That’s a ton of money. And you could feel the emotion that it brought out in Jamal, Elaine, and Janet. It was very powerful.

To your question of how it works, the producer of the Sia Award is… Sia! It started with an inspired moment where she was sitting in the audience and spontaneously texted me during a commercial break, saying: “I want to give some money to a player! Right now, during the reunion.” It has continued every season.

I can say this with absolute certainty, it comes directly from her heart. I think it’s part of a big-picture philosophy where Sia shares her good fortune with others through random acts of generosity. Sia is leading her own personal crusade of kindness. As for the amount of money, this may be the most interesting part: Sia not only gifts the money, she also offers free tax advice!

Sia has already paid tax on the money she earned, so she wants the player to receive all of her gift, without paying any tax. And she will go to great lengths to ensure that happens. $15,000 is the maximum amount you can gift to someone tax-free. So, in the case of Janet and Elaine, both of whom were gifted $100,000, that is obviously over the limit, so they would have to pay a steep tax.

Not so fast, Sia takes the gift one step further by suggesting to the player that they divide the $100,000 amongst family members so that no single person gets more than $15,000, thus avoiding tax. And this is not some crazy tax loophole. This is perfectly legal.

So, let’s just review. You have a global, iconic, singer-songwriter, one-name popstar who not only gives you money, but then advises you on the best tax strategy! And the best part for me is that I get to be the messenger of the good news!!

Also make sure to read our episode recap, and finale interviews with winner Tommy Sheehan, Dean Kowalski, Noura Salman, Lauren Beck, Janet Carbin, and Kellee Kim, and scoop on next season from Jeff Probst. And for more Survivor intel, 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 a million dollars, as host Jeff Probst implores them to "DIG DEEP!"

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