SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Each week, host Jeff Probst will answer a few questions about the latest episode of Survivor: Winners at War. Here, he shares his take on Cops ‘R’ Us, people stepping out of a challenge for food, Kim’s return performance, the Edge of Extinction race for coconuts, and what’s coming up next.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: There are a lot of fascinating relationships this season, but Sarah and Tony have to take the cake. Even though Sarah sometimes looks like she wants to murder Tony — as we saw here in the aftermath of the Sophie vote — they always seem to come back together. Could you ever trust Tony as an alliance partner after some of the stuff he has pulled on votes in Cagayan and again here?

JEFF PROBST: I love the Tony/Sarah partnership. It should be a new CBS comedy. You can hear the promo: “You won’t believe the shenanigans these two wackadoodles get up to in this week’s hilarious new episode of Cops R Us! Immediately following Survivor. This Wednesday on CBS.”

I think it’s the fact that they do continue to trust each other that makes the partnership so fun to watch. It feels real. I believe them when they argue and I believe them when they come back together. I can imagine them working together as police offers in the exact same way they strategize on Survivor. It’s a push-pull relationship, but when push threatens to turn to shove they always seem to come together and unite. There is clearly so much trust and love for each other.

As for me, at this point, I would trust Tony more than Sarah! Yes, Tony is a handful and Sarah does a great job with him. But Sarah is just as powerful a player, and just as good at lying as anybody who has ever played. I think if both of them plead their absolute loyalty to each — and I had to pick which one would ultimately be true to the other — it would be a razor-thin call, but I think Tony would ultimately fall on the sword and be loyal to Sarah and Sarah would take out Tony. That is intended to be more of a compliment to Sarah than a dig. She brings that out of people. Even her competitors root for her. I think that’s the mark of a great player. And this season has a lot of them.

Credit: CBS

You sent the Edge of Extinction group out on a challenge to carry back 20 coconuts from the other side of the island, with the first six folks to finish getting two Fire Tokens. I’m sure you all had your guesses in terms of who would make the cut, so who surprised you either in terms of making the top six, or not making it?

These “effort tasks” as we labeled them, have really illuminated how far Survivor players will go to win this game. That Edge of Extinction challenge was BRUTAL. And yet you saw everybody giving everything they had to finish. Rob getting injured was definitely a surprise. That fall really took a toll on him. It doesn’t look like much, but he banged it pretty hard. Getting injured on Survivor is much worse than getting injured at home. At home, you take some Advil, you ice, you elevate, you eat, you sleep, you call your doctor, you ice some more, you elevate some more, you watch TV, you get physical therapy, the list of ways you can address it are numerous.

On Survivor, you do nothing. And on the Edge, it’s so much worse because you are so completely depleted. There is so little gas in the tank when you wake up and you still have to find a way to get through each day. Then you find out you have to gather 20 coconuts and it seems almost…impossible. Just damn near totally impossible to do. But everybody else starts, so you start. And that is how it goes every day.

Nobody surprised me. There is no way to handicap this kind of a task. I feel it is my duty to keep reminding everybody that these are 20 winners. They are the best of the best. So, when you measure one against the other it’s very misleading. They have all proven they can dominate the game. Now you have 20 dominating players going against each other, so you are really thin slicing. I remain so impressed with this group. I am running out of hyperbole. They’ve given us the greatest season we could ever ask for and that’s exactly what we saw on the Edge. Total effort by everybody.

You had Kim, Michele, and Nick all stepping down to take food in the immunity challenge, even though they were all close to winning immunity. How much did that surprise you in an all-winners season, especially with Kim and Michele later saying they regretted the decision?

I think this is a really interesting question given what I just said about them all being winners and pushing themselves as hard as they can. There’s a crazy mind game that goes on during an endurance challenge, at least that’s been my observation. The challenge begins and immediately players start to internally assess their chances. How long can I last? How much pain can I endure? If I lose, who else do I need to lose? Who do I want to win? Damn this is hurting more than I thought. I can’t let anyone know I want to stop. But I might stop. How long has it been? Jeff, come on, tell us…how long have we been up there? Two minutes?!! Whaaat! I’m gonna stop. Nope, gonna go a bit longer. 

They are constantly assessing the situation, checking the competition, looking for any way to relieve the pain. When you add the possibility of a food temptation, you now have another variable. Unless I think I have a great shot at winning, I might be better to try and fuel myself so I can at least get something of value out of this challenge. It’s like trying to time when to sell a losing stock? Or what offer to take on a house that isn’t drawing many visitors? How do I get the most value out of this situation?

And in this case, there is a ticking clock. If you don’t say yes very fast, the food will disappear. So you only have a few seconds to make your decision. I know they said they regretted it later, but I think they are being a bit hard on themselves. You make decisions in this game in the moment. When they work, you’re happy, when they don’t, you second guess. It’s no different for me as a host or producer. You can second guess forever. One thing I have worked on in the last many years is the idea of “always moving forward.” You make a decision and you immediately start moving in that direction. Own the decision, commit to it and move forward. I didn’t question their decision.

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Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

All roads led to Kim the first time she played in One World as she was at the social and strategic center of the game in what I still consider to be the most dominant winning performance ever. This time, it looked like she was always a bit on the outside looking in. What did you make of her game this season as she had to work hard all the way from day 1 just to stay alive?

Survivor is hard. That’s what I say. Kim was not off her game, she wasn’t outclassed, she didn’t play poorly. Survivor is hard. If you win one time, you are in the Hall of Fame. That’s how hard it is to play Survivor. Kim started in a hole in episode 1 because of some silly poker tournament that nobody ever thought would matter. But everything matters in Survivor. Survivor is hard. She never quit. She kept trying to turn the game. Her instincts were spot on. She knew when she was being told lies and she tried to maneuver, it just didn’t come together.

It must be so incredibly frustrating to not be able to control your own fate. Kim has always been a favorite, dating back to when we first met her in casting. She has this rare combination of a bright light of positive energy that makes you want to engage with her — and the tenacity of a tiger that will eat your young if you leave them unprotected. When you think of those two qualities together, it’s very powerful because she can seduce you into letting your guard down and then she will devour you. The fact that it didn’t happen this time only speaks to one thing — Survivor is hard. But the Edge offers hope for everybody. One person will get back in.

We’ve got five more hours of Survivor in the next two weeks. What can you say about next week’s week penultimate episode?

Ah, that makes me sad. I don’t want this season to end. Next week is a giant episode. Two hours. We rarely do two-hour episodes, but there was so much story happening we had to expand on the fly. And the finale is going to be nearly three hours. These players all deserve such giant praise. They played at a level that may never be repeated. Every single second of every single day. Whether in the game trying to stay alive or on the Edge trying to get back in the game. It was relentless. Keep your seatbelts fastened. This ride is not over.

Enjoy an exclusive deleted scene from this week’s episode above, and make sure to check out our full episode recap as well as Jeff Probst talking about whether the show will make it to season 50. And for more behind the scenes Survivor scoop, photos, and videos, follow Dalton on both Twitter and Instagram.

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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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