Jeff Probst on the conversation that made Survivor: Winners at War happen
For years, I’ve been asking Survivor host Jeff Probst about doing an all-winners season, and for years, he was lukewarm at best on the prospect, explaining that he didn’t think they could get enough great winners back to make it work. Then, in 2018, he told Mara Reinstein of Us Weekly that, “We can’t do all winners. As a producer, I would never suggest it. I would say it’s not a good idea.”
So when the show then invited 20 champions back just a year later for a Winners at War season, the obvious question became: What changed? I asked Probst exactly that right as season 40 began filming, and the host and showrunner explained what changed his mind while revealing the man most responsible for making it happen.
“Here is the history of an all-winners season,” says Probst. “For the last maybe 10 years, several people have said, ‘I’ll never play again, because I know I can’t win. I’ve already won. I’ve already got a great track record.’ So I would just mentally note, ‘Oh, there’s another one who’s out. There’s another one who’s out.’ So anytime somebody would bring up an all-winners season, I would say, ‘Well, there’s a lot of great players who won’t play so we really don’t have that good a group.’ And it came up just last year and I said, ‘CBS wants to do it and I don’t think it’s a good idea.’ That was still how I felt.”
Cut to a few months later once Probst was back in Los Angeles after filming on season 38, Survivor: Edge of Extinction. “One day, I go to CBS, I sit in the office of the president of CBS, Kelly Kahl,” remembers Probst, “And he says, ‘You know, we let you do your thing, right? For 40, we really like an all-winners season. What do you think?’ And I said, ‘Well, the thing is, so many of the people we want won’t come back.’ And he said, ‘Well, have you asked them recently?’ And I said, ‘Nope. That’s a pretty good idea!’”
That started a flurry of phone calls, and when the calls started, Probst was surprised — and pleasantly so — by what he heard: “I went home and started calling people, and one by one they all said yes. So I’ve never been so happy to eat my words. I wrote down: ‘Producing 101. Always ask.’ I learned a lot of lessons because I had locked in on Parvati, Rob, Amber, Yul — all these people who were out there saying they would never go out there. That’s the only reason. It’s not that I didn’t want to do an all-winners season. I didn’t want to do an all-winners season without some of the truly great winners. And we have every single one of them.”
Of course, the higher guarantees — with each player promised a minimum of $25,000 for playing — may have helped in the effort to bring many of the legends back. Whatever the reason, Probst is thrilled that he was wrong about winners not wanting to return, and so are we.
To watch Probst talk about the origins of the all-winners season, watch the video at the top of the post. For more Survivor scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss, and for exclusive photos and videos from filming on season 40, follow Dalton on Instagram @thedaltonross.
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!"