We asked host Jeff Probst about the show's COVID finale plan — and his "pretty damn impressive mullet."
SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Has the winner of Survivor 41 already been crowned? Due to COVID, the answer could very well be yes.

Back in 2000, executive producer Mark Burnett and CBS read the season 1 votes revealing Richard Hatch as the million-dollar winner over Kelly Wiglesworth during the final Tribal Council filming out in Borneo, as opposed to the reunion show filmed months later. But that was before they realized they had a national obsession on their hands, with an astounding 51.7 million people tuning in for the finale, turning the identity of the winner into one of the planet's biggest secrets.

Jeff Probst on 'Survivor 41'
| Credit: Robert Voets

Anticipating spoiler culture and the difficulty of keeping future winners under wraps, Survivor instituted a new policy starting with season 2, The Australian Outback, in which the final Tribal Council votes would be held and read at the start of the live reunion show back in the United States — sometimes close to a year later. The only slight deviation in that plan occurred on season 36, Ghost Island, when a tie between Wendell Holland and Domenick Abbate led host Jeff Probst to read the votes on location out in Fiji, revealing the tie and having third finalist Laurel Johnson cast her tiebreaker vote — a single vote that was then kept secret for 10 months and then divulged back in Los Angeles.

But could season 41 be different? The otherwise rousing season 40 finale, Winners at War, was marred by an anticlimactic virtual reading of the votes due to the pandemic, leading to an awkward cross-country Zoom-esque announcement that Tony Vlachos had become the franchise's second-ever two-time winner. While there was a perverse thrill in seeing Probst's garage, it is not an experience the show would like to repeat.

One thing the pandemic has taught us is that it is impossible to predict the future. On one hand, many live events — such as the in-person Emmy awards that aired Sunday night — have returned. On the other hand, who knows what variants might be making the rounds in a few months, possibly necessitating further lockdowns.

'Survivor 41' contestants Liana Wallace, Danny McCray, and Sydney Segal
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS (3)

With so much uncertainty, what did Survivor do when it came to the final Tribal Council votes revealing the winner of season 41 after they filmed in Fiji earlier this year?

"Yes, we faced our own dilemma when it came to deciding how to handle the final Tribal Council and the reveal of the winner," says Probst. "But this was more risk versus 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? What would you do? You'll have to watch to find out what decision we made."

Well, since he asked, we would do the final vote tally out in Fiji. The winner reveal is too important a moment to leave it up to chance and risk it being read remotely yet again. While producers will have had 19 months since the Winners at War finale by the end of Survivor 41 to figure out a less jarring remote reading of the votes should it come down to that, it still can't possibly come close to being as dramatic and as emotional as an in-person ceremony. So our best guess is that the winner has indeed already been crowned. In which case… CONGRATULATIONS!

But producers on season 41 are not the only ones facing a risky decision. The contestants themselves will have to make crucial choices throughout the season.

"Players will face a lot of risk-versus-reward dilemmas in Survivor 41," says Probst. "They will constantly be faced with decisions about what to do: play it safe or go for it? This goes back to the idea that the game is a monster. I think fans are going to have a lot of fun second-guessing players, which we all know is one of the best parts of watching Survivor."

As someone who has made a living off such second-guessing, I could not agree more. Another "best part"? Watching Probst's masterful hosting job. It's downright absurd that Probst no longer even gets nominated in the Outstanding Host for a Reality or Competition Program. No other host works in such insane conditions — extreme heat or rain or a freakin' cyclone — all without note cards, or an earpiece with producers feeding lines, or climate-controlled conditions, and without any do-overs. His ability to seamlessly navigate those obstacles is simply off the charts.

And watching Probst as we do, we couldn't help but notice a bit of a different look heading onto season 41. If it's going to be a bit hairy for the contestants, it seems it'll also be a bit hairy for the host.

"[My] hair is longer because like so many of us, I didn't get it cut during COVID," says Probst. " And as it grew, I was reminded how grateful I am to still have hair, so why not grow it! And then I decided to keep it. And on location, there was no way to cut it anyway, so by the end of Survivor 42, I have a pretty damn impressive mullet!"

We're here for it. Fans can catch his hair's epic two-season journey starting with the premiere of Survivor 41 on Sept. 22 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

To keep track of our daily pregame Survivor 41 coverage, check out EW's Survivor hub and follow Dalton Ross on Twitter. Watch Survivor on NetflixPrime Video, and Hulu.

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