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 weighs in that brutal Edge of Extinction task, an amazing challenge comeback, and the vote-out of another legend.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Okay, we need to talk about this Fire Token challenge at Edge of Extinction. What can you tell us about this brutal task and medical being called in to check on Ethan?

JEFF PROBST: The effort task epitomizes what we hoped to accomplish with the Edge of Extinction this season. The purpose of the Edge is to push players as far as they can go to see how badly they want a shot to get back in the game. With the addition of Fire Tokens and a supply and demand situation, we wanted to ensure that everybody on the Edge would have opportunities to earn tokens. So, we created something called effort tasks. The idea behind an effort task is that if you’re not great at puzzles or solving riddles, but you’re willing to work hard, you can still earn.

This effort task was Herculean in terms of the amount of effort it took to accomplish. One single trip to the top of the Edge will wind the most fit Survivor player. Then you have to walk back down. Then you have to do it again and again and again. Twenty times. We knew it would take them all day but we didn’t know if anyone would finish, let alone all four. It’s one of the most dramatic sequences we’ve ever done on the show. I was blown away by the effort of all four players. I can’t stress how difficult that task was and they’re not eating anything other than a handful of rice every day.

The medical moment with Ethan was unexpected and as so often happens on Survivor turned into a truly inspirational moment. Ethan came back to play again because he wanted to show you can recover and thrive even after cancer. I am certain he didn’t anticipate it being this hard, but what you saw was the heart of a lion. Ethan has so much in his emotional tank that it allowed him to finish something that was physically punishing. And the other three accompanying him for his final trip was one of the most beautiful moments in our history.

If you want to take a journey into the producing weeds…

From a producing standpoint, this is a great example of what it takes to make a moment like that happen. First, it required quite a bit of prep by our challenge and art teams to walk the route and time it so we could estimate how long it might take and how many logs we should use. We knew we were in for a shoot that would span several hours and long distances. Our camera teams devised a very clear plan that resulted in incredible camera coverage both on the ground and with drones. The audio teams took us inside Natalie’s labored breathing and Ethan’s quiet personal moment where he worked to find the energy to continue. The medical visit on the side of the mountain while the others walk past continuing on their journey was handled perfectly. Every single moment was wonderfully produced.

And then when it came time to put it together, the editor, Andy Castor, had to figure out how to structure this very long sequence. It featured four players and 80 trips up and down Extinction, but it needed to feel like one complete moment. It looks obvious now that it’s done, but it was a very complicated structure of scenes. Then we add the music. David Vanacore, our composer put beautiful music to the entire sequence. We also brought in James Burnett (son of Mark Burnett) — who is also a composer and music producer. He found a beautiful singer to add a powerful angel voice that represented hope. We laid that over the top of the score. I’m clearly very proud of the Survivor team for pulling off something that was extremely complex.

Credit: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment

Boston Rob got absolutely smoked a few weeks ago on a puzzle, but he and Michele brought Sele back from the dead in this week’s immunity challenge. Seeing this in real time, just how big was that comeback?

That comeback was huge. It’s hard to really explain how long it took Adam to get that final key. It was forever. I had already started thinking about the questions I was going to ask Sele after another loss. BLOW OUT bad. But just when you think it’s over… the Survivor magic starts to happen. Adam does not quit. He was relentless climbing back to the top, walking out onto the beam and trying one more time. When he finally got it, my thought was, “Well, at least it won’t be a total blowout, they’ll at least get to the puzzle.” I had no idea of the comeback that was about to happen. And they needed it. Another loss would have been brutal. The obvious takeaway from that challenge is the same thing we say nearly every week. It ain’t over until it’s over. You must keep fighting. Survivor is not a science. Weird things happen. You never know how it’s going to end until it ends, so until it ends, keep pushing.

“It was too easy. I should have seen it coming,” said Tyson while being booted by the tribe, making him the third person to be voted out because of either an in or out of game relationship to Boston Rob. And yet he gave his Fire Token to Nick, whom he was trying to vote-off. What did you make of his ouster and his bequeathing?

I think my answer will be pretty similar to other questions relating to a player being voted out this season. Tyson is a massive threat. He’s very smart, very charming and very athletically gifted. You could argue he should have been voted out even earlier. The most potent line of the episode is “It was too easy.” The hardest part of a blindside has to be when a player reflects back and starts to see their mistakes. It’s so easy in hindsight. But when you’re playing at this level, it is extremely tough to correctly read every player and every situation. As for the bequeathing of his token to Nick, I don’t know many players, other than Tyson, who would make that move. It clearly shows he is thinking long term and feels he might have an ally in Nick and it also highlights his goofy sense of humor. It was a pretty funny moment.

Looks like it’s buff-dropping time! What can you say about next week’s episode?

At the continued risk of overhyping… another one-of-a-kind episode with so many moments you can’t believe it’s only one hour.

Enjoy an exclusive deleted scene from this week’s episode above starring Tyson the octopus slayer, and make sure to check out our full episode recap. You can also hear from Ethan Zohn about both his brutal blindside as well as his big medical scare. 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 $1 million, as host Jeff Probst implores them to "Dig deep!"

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