Survivor host Jeff Probst explains why idols are not at Tribal Council
Each week, host Jeff Probst will answer a few questions about the latest episode of Survivor: Winners at War. Here, he weighs in on Adam trying to obliterate his podium, why they don’t put idols at Tribal Council, Sarah’s (strategic?) sacrifice, the power of silence, and what’s coming up next.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Soooooooo, Adam tried to destroy your podium. Let’s just start there. How far would you have let that lunatic go in terms of trying to rip that fleur-de-lis off when he thought it was an immunity idol hidden at Tribal Council in plain sight?
JEFF PROBST: I love Adam’s enthusiasm. He has an admirable quality in his ability to not self-judge. He does what he thinks he needs to do in the moment, whether it’s lie, cry, or try to grab what he thinks is an immunity idol from the podium at Tribal! I’m not sure how far I would have let him go. It’s like so many Survivor moments, you just go with the flow and see where it leads. But your question speaks to why we have never put an idol at Tribal Council. For the fear of players destroying Tribal Council! So, in that sense, I would not have let him start to tear down Tribal Council.
The players’ suspicion started in the first moments of this season, when I toasted them with a bottle of Cheurlin Champagne. The toast was genuine, but they were all suspect that there was more to what was in their glass… a clue to an idol or maybe just arsenic. This has continued every day, and especially in the Tribal voting area. It’s never happened like this before, and I don’t think it is a coincidence that it took 20 winners for us to reach this level of investigation. To be very clear, we have never hidden an idol or any advantage at Tribal because we don’t want players destroying the set. I don’t see that changing. If there was ever anything to be found at Tribal, it would be very obvious to the players.
Sarah made what she claims was a selfless human decision in giving up her Chinese takeout reward feast to Nick, since he was blindsided on his birthday the day before. But in Survivor, it doesn’t matter what your true intention is, it just matters how it is perceived and received. What did you think — from a strategic perspective — of Sarah’s move? If you were playing and had a similar instinct to do something nice like that, would you hold back just because of the potential ripples it may cause?
It’s hard to know what any of us would do in the moment. Every player is trying to balance maintaining a calm, thoughtful approach to the game against their in-the-moment instincts. Both approaches can work, and both can backfire. You can overthink things, and you can make regrettable rash decisions. My hunch is that Sarah thoughtfully debated this in her head many times, and then when she won, her in-the-moment instincts took over and she went for it.
I don’t think a single player bought it for a single second. And, as you say, that is all that matters. Intention is meaningless. Perception rules. But you can’t armchair-quarterback those decisions. Well, actually you can armchair-quarterback, and it’s quite fun. In fact, I guess I’m doing my version of it right now. But my point is that those are the kind of risky decisions that winners make. One hundred percent. People who win this game make moves and take chances.
You and I have debated this for years, but I’ve never wavered. Today more than ever, you cannot win this game without showing the jury you came to play and you took big swings. The other winners may dock Sarah for making what they consider a first-time-player mistake, but generally speaking, big-time players respect other players who make moves.
Some of my favorite moments this season have just been absolute silence. There was a great scene earlier this season after Sele lost a challenge and the camera just lingered on the dejected players as they all sat there without a sound. And then this week we saw Adam asking for intel at Tribal and being met with cold, hard silence. As producers, where so much is happening to the point where you are struggling each and every week to get as much of it in as possible, how do you decide when to sacrifice precious seconds to just allow a mood to build?
This is a great example of what happens when all the members on any team trust all the members on the team. Our producing and editing teams know they have carte blanche to experiment and explore ideas in the editing bays. The idea to forego a player telling what they were feeling and instead let their faces show us what they were feeling was brilliant. It said everything, and it allows the audience to put their own feelings on top of it while they watch.
I love how much you notice about how we’re telling our stories. We could go back to so many great sequences on Survivor and trace their roots to a crazy idea an editor or producer had while cutting a scene. Same with our big-picture creative ideas for twists or advantages or themes. It doesn’t mean every idea makes it into the show. We still have a process for how we make Survivor. But to be an all-star on our production team, you have to have the same mind set as a player — take risks. Great things come when you do.
And that trust extends to every department on our show. Trust. It’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it? Kinda like how you trust me to always give you the right information in our weekly Q&A. And usually I do. In fact, I’d say 99.999 percent of the time I do. Really, I do. Last week, eh, not so much. Call me quarantine stir-crazy, but I said that the idols on the Edge of Extinction are now dead. That is wrong. Dead wrong, El Probesto. They still have another “Get Back In The Game Challenge,” and if they get back in the game, their idol still works. Send me to Extinction, I deserve it.
We’re starting to see a lot of scrambling and paranoia. What can you tease up for next week?
The GREATEST LOVED ONES OF ALL TIME. Grab your tissues.
Enjoy an exclusive deleted scene from this week’s episode above, and make sure to check out our full episode recap as well as who the winners picked as the best player to never win. And for more behind the scenes Survivor scoop, photos, and videos, follow Dalton on both Twitter and Instagram.