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 on Tony Vlachos taking control of the game, Sophie’s ouster, Tyson’s take on losing the game, a big move from last week, and what’s coming up next.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: In this one episode, Tony found an immunity idol, got three different people to give him Fire Tokens when he was hit with the Extortion Advantage, won his second straight immunity challenge, completely flipped the vote by breaking people off from different alliances to take out Sophie and, in the preview for next week, was seen up in the trees in a SPY NEST! I’ve talked enough about how much I love Tony Vlachos. Now it’s your turn. GO!

JEFF PROBST: Okay, yes, we love Tony!! But…let’s start with how we approach our episodes from an editing standpoint as it will give some context to how we end up with an episode that features one player so prominently. We always start at the end and work backwards. We start with who is voted out, then we identify the players responsible for the vote out, then we look at the impact the immunity challenge may have had, etc. We continue this process all the way back to the tribes returning to camp from the previous Tribal and how the fallout of that vote may impact the next vote. That’s our process.

When we laid this episode out, there was simply no getting around the fact that Tony drove the entire episode. He was instrumental at every stage, and as a result he got a lot of screen time and a lot of interviews. I say this because we really want our audience and the players to understand, it’s not about favorites, it’s about which actions are directly related to the vote. We always do our best to spread the wealth in terms of interviews as well as who is featured from one episode to the next. But, ultimately, all of that must be secondary to us telling the most authentic and most entertaining version of what happened.

This season has been like no other. The amount of material we have to work with is enormous. We have 20 great storytellers and 20 great players. We’ve never had it this good. We have had 11 straight incredible episodes and yet we still have an abundance of amazing material we had to leave out due to time.

Okay, back to Tony. It really was quite a display of so many different layers of game play. He hustled to find an idol, he persuaded to get Fire Tokens, which made the Extortion disadvantage powerless, which in turn allowed him the opportunity to compete in — and win — the immunity challenge, and then he used his big picture awareness to maneuver relationships where he needed them to go to drive the vote! If you’re a fan of this game, you have to acknowledge that it was a pretty dominant three days of Survivor.

But just let me say this one more time… never forget that every single player in the game and on The Edge are playing just as hard. Everybody has their own style. Some are flashy, some are quiet. Sometimes you have had to lay back and take your foot off the gas, and other times, like when you get an Extortion Advantage played against you, you have to get really creative, really fast and go for broke.

Credit: CBS

After being voted off and arriving at the Edge of Extinction, Sophie said she went into this season always thinking of herself as a bottom tier winner. I’ve always thought Sophie to be incredibly smart and incredibly underestimated. What did you see from her out there this season?

I am in total agreement with your assessment. I have always thought Sophie was vastly underrated and that it would work to her advantage this season because there are so many shiny players who call attention to themselves. She is one of my favorite winners because of her stealth mode. She has an incredible ability to seemingly disappear even though she’s standing right in front of you, listening to every word you are saying. She is very competitive in challenges and she rarely plays from an emotional standpoint.

Her self-assessment is a surprise to me, and, I would bet, to most fans. I don’t think she is seen that way at all. As far as this season, I feel like we are seeing an even more mature Sophie. And more playful! It’s one of the really fun parts of Survivor for me, is that I get to watch these people grow and change over the years. Getting voted out with an idol has got to be painful, but I do think the great players understand that you must risk to win, and sometimes when you risk, you lose. Sophie should not be underestimated on The Edge.

Tyson said something pretty fascinating at the Edge of Extinction that really struck me. This is a season of all winners, but he provided a window into what happens to some people who don’t win, telling Wendell that, “Some mentalities can handle it, and some can’t. It can ruin people’s lives to lose the game. There are a lot of people that go home and struggle with it for years.” In terms of the psychology of losing, have you noticed over the years that it is a bit easier for someone who has already won the game to get voted out because at least they have that win under their belt, or are they almost more jarred by the experience because they have been used to things going their way in the game?

Great question. I definitely don’t think that getting voted out is any easier after you have already won the game. In fact, I would guess it’s exponentially more difficult because of the fact you’ve already won. To go an entire season and never get voted out is like playing a perfect game. When you do that the first time you play, you fully expect you will do it again. You can’t imagine the other because you’ve never experienced it. It’s kinda like the episode of Seinfeld, where there is only one-first class airline ticket and Jerry argues he should be the one to get it because he’s the only one who has ever flown in first class, therefore he’s the only one who will know what he’s missing.

I thought Tyson’s words were quite powerful because they speak to the enormous emotional toll this game can have on a player. I’ve been saying it a lot this season – these players are letting us watch them in their most vulnerable states. There is nowhere to hide. This game is enormously difficult. Almost indescribably hard. The physical challenges are beyond demanding, you can’t trust anyone, your cognitive functions are challenged. It depletes a person on every measurable level. And then if you lose on top of it, you might second guess yourself for years.

With every passing season, I gain more respect for those who have played. I have learned so much from them about the courage to live a life on your own terms and not someone else’s. When someone agrees to play Survivor, it tells me they are yearning for an adventure and they are confident enough in themselves to take it on, with no idea where it will lead or what they will learn about themselves.

I got so caught up in the Loved Ones visit last week I forgot to run a quick procedural question by you which has been asked by many fans since over social media, and that question is this: Had Sarah, in fact, gone before Jeremy last week and used her vote steal to take Jeremy’s vote, and Jeremy had then used his Safety Without Power advantage — which means he lost his vote — what would have happened? Since Sarah had used hers first and now possessed his vote, would that vote still have been live, or would his advantage then have made that second vote of Sarah’s null and void?

It's a great question, I am so glad you asked. In the case of advantages being played at Tribal, it does not matter who goes first. So if Sarah had gone first and stolen Jeremy’s vote, and then Jeremy used his Safety Without Power and left Tribal, I would have gone back to Sarah and said, “Well, you can’t steal Jeremy’s vote, so now whose vote do you want to steal?”

The reason is that Jeremy’s advantage is not intended to nullify another advantage. So it would not be fair to Sarah. Now, looking ahead, if advantages get more specific in terms of when they must be played, or if they can be nullified by another advantage, etc… then you might have a situation where one advantage can impact another.

Again…A SPY NEST!!!! What else can you tell us about next week’s episode?

I wish we could just play it tonight. It’s that good. I can’t believe that I’m the person who gets to sit across from these players every night! They are absolutely killing it. Game-play at a level we have never seen in 20 years. We are in the middle of what will probably forever be known as The G.S.O.S.O.A.T.

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’s look at how they are planning to do the remote reunion. 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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