SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Survivor: Winners at War is not just a collection of the finest talent the show has ever assembled — pitting 20 champions against each other for a record $2 million prize. It’s also a landmark 40th season anniversary of the franchise. So there are plenty of reasons to celebrate. And that’s exactly what the host and players did at the very start of the season.

Just minutes after the 20 winners arrived on a sand-spit to begin the game, Jeff Probst unveiled a bottle of champagne and 21 glasses, then popped the bubbly — serving them all, and toasting the season. It was a very cool moment to honor the legacy of both the players and the show itself. But as Probst tells EW, the entire idea was originally attached to a nefarious twist.

“Here’s what’s interesting about how ideas evolve, is the champagne was originally in there as a misdirect,” reveals Probst. “We were going to toast them and celebrate them and then lead them into this devilish idea. Well, the idea we had, we got rid off. We didn’t like it. But then we fell in love with this champagne thing and thought, instead of making it as a devilish thing let’s actually just take a moment and honor 40 seasons and 20 winners and genuinely mean it. And so it stayed in the creative.”

But the fact that some players automatically started looking for another layer to the gesture pleased the host to no end. “So yes, it was really cool to be on a sand spit in Fiji, popping a bottle of champagne, the wind blowing it everywhere, it’s falling into the glasses, there’s just enough to go around,” recalls Probst. “And then as I’m handing it out, they are all looking for the twist. Like, no matter what it was still going to be a question of was it real or not. You see Parvati going, “I don’t trust you.” That really tickled me because I’m being genuine but the game is so unpredictable you can’t trust it. That’s beautiful.”

Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

Considering the history of the cast and the show itself, the toast plays well without any sadistic underside. “To your point, the toast was genuine,” Probst says. “I just wanted to say that it doesn’t go unnoticed that some of you left your lives again, left children at home, risked not having a job when you get back, to come celebrate something that you are a part of and that we’re a part of. And even though it’s going to be tough, you belong here and we’re glad you’re here, and now let’s get to business.”

And what was the host’s immediate takeaway from the marooning — which also includes the players being divided up into tribes, Probst explaining the introduction of fire tokens, and the return of Edge of Extinction, and an immediate physical immunity challenge? “The immediate takeaway was relief and exhilaration,” says Probst. “Because we’ve been planning this marooning for months, trying to figure out: What is the right way to start this season? And we’ve had many ideas, and we’ve gone down many roads. And some of the pieces stayed in, like the toast with champagne, and some left. And then about two weeks ago, it all just came together, and we kinda went “I think we got episode 1. This is what we should do.” And that was a really cool moment. So to see it play out, beat after beat after beat and finish with this battle was exhilarating. And then when it was over, was relief.”

Of course, that is just the beginning. To watch Probst talk all about the marooning and the big champagne toast, enjoy the video at the top of the post. Follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss for more Survivor articles, and for exclusive season 40 photos and video, follow me on Instagram @thedaltonross.

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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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