Jeff Probst on Survivor's first immediate winner reveal in 21 years
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There have been two big mysteries since Survivor 41 was first announced: Who would win the game? And when (and where) would they win it?
Due to the COVID outbreak in 2020, there was no way to gather the season 40 Survivor: Winners at War cast for a reunion show and the votes were read from Jeff Probst's garage to the finalists over video conferencing. So when it was announced that the show was resuming filming last spring for season 41 back in Fiji, one couldn't help but wonder if Survivor would once again hold the votes (as has been the custom ever since season 1, with the exception of the Ghost Island season, in which there was a tie so the original jury votes were read on location and then the tiebreaker vote and winner was revealed months later) and hope to have a live reading and reunion back in Los Angeles, or take the safer route and read them out on location.
When we asked Probst about this before the season began, the host was coy. "Ah, such a great question!" he said then. "Yes, we faced our own dilemma when it came to deciding how to handle the final Tribal Council and the reveal of the winner. But this was more risk vs. risk! Should we risk it and do what we always do in the hopes we can do a live finale back in the states? Or do we risk it and announce the winner in the jungles of Fiji and hope the secret stays a secret? Hmm… What would you do? You'll have to watch to find out what decision we made."
But with the season 41 finale now a day away, Probst is ready to confirm that the show did, in fact, read the votes and reveal the winner on location at the final Tribal Council last May. Not only that, but he tells EW all about what it was like when it happened, and then what happened next. Read on for the full scoop on that and other thoughts from the host on Wednesday's finale.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Deshawn. Erika. Heather. Ricard. Xander. Who's in the best and toughest position heading into the final 5?
JEFF PROBST: We have five players left and five completely different games being played. There is still a fair amount of game in these last few days along with some big decisions to be made. I'm not sure you can win the game in the last few days but I do think you can lose it. Players sometimes get tentative, change what they're doing or overthink things. That is what keeps it so interesting. You can't just casually stroll into the final three. Someone has to step up and claim it.
Which jury member would have been the hardest to beat had they made it all the way to the end?
We have a jury filled with fantastic players. There's a reason they were voted out! And every single one of them could tell you right now, in detail and with great flourish how and why they would have won Survivor 41 if only they had not been blindsided at Tribal. I try to remind players that not winning does not mean they're not a great player. It can feel that way because every player envisions their path to victory and they're often disappointed if they fall short.
All you can do on Survivor is make what you think is your best move in the moment. If you're right, you survive; if you're wrong, you're out. Liana's Knowledge Is Power is a great example. You can say she misplayed it, but the other way to frame it is that she made what she thought was her best move. The move was wrong, but the game play was right.
Why send these poor bastards to a whole new island to start over right as they get to the final homestretch?
A big part of the game design for Survivor 41 was to do our best to make 26 days feel like 39 days. So, we stripped away their food, pulled way back on the rewards, gave them only meager tools and then created as much danger and uncertainty as we could.
The last twist was forcing the final five to start over again, knowing they were already on fumes. We wanted them to feel that they got their money's worth! And as you'll hear in the Survivor After Show, there isn't a single player who didn't feel 26 days was plenty!
What was it like going back to a full on-location vote and winner reveal, which you have not done since all the way back in season 1?
It was a really fun moment for me. After the last jury member voted, I looked over at the final three and then over to the jury and said, "I'll go get the votes." I knew that as I walked away, they were all naturally assuming we were going to do the finale back in Los Angeles months from now. Just like always.
I got back to my little booth in the jungle where I check the votes and the first thing I did was look at the votes to see who had won! It was a cool moment, because normally I don't look at the final votes at all. So I savored it, appreciating that Survivor 41 had a winner and that I was about to walk back out and declare a winner in front of the players for the first time in over 20 years. I put the votes in order and then headed back to the players.
I could barely contain my smile as I sat the urn down and said, "Guess what…?!" Their reactions were fantastic. Huge smiles. Everybody was excited. And then without any fanfare, I read the votes. It was so quiet. We're used to the live finale where thousands of fans and family members are screaming with each vote read. Not this time. It was very fun and very dramatic in large part due to its simplicity.
And then, immediately following the reading of the votes, we blew their minds again by announcing we were going to do something brand new called the Survivor After Show. And for the next hour, we ate pizza, drank champagne and had a fun, candid conversation with the final three and the jury about the entire season. They were still in game-mode so the conversation was raw and pure. I really enjoyed it and I think fans will too.
I have to say, the highlight of Survivor 41 for me has been the players. I had such excitement and joy every day I saw them. I hope they felt that from me. I was genuinely enthused to see them and watch them play. We spent a lot of time putting this group together and they really delivered. Of course, it was difficult, that is part of the design. Survivor is built to push players far beyond their comfort zone. That includes physically, intellectually, and emotionally. Otherwise, it's not worth it.
We don't design the game to trick players, we design the game to test players. It's their response to the conditions of the game that we love watching! I know the players were shocked at the intensity of the new game design and that was our intention. This was a complete rebirth and we wanted them to be completely off-balance and uncertain from the opening minutes to the final moments. And remember, when we shot Survivor 42, those players had not seen anything of Survivor 41, so we had the same goal with them.
The Survivor 41 finale airs Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.
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