‘Survivor’ Host Jeff Probst on ‘Ghost Island,’ Tilting the Game Toward Providers, and More

“Survivor: Ghost Island” (CBS)

QUICK NOTE: The good folks at XFINITY sent me deep into the Fijian wilderness to bring you an exclusive look at “Survivor: Ghost Island.” While I was there I conducted interviews with “Survivor” host Jeff Probst and the entire cast. I also captured exclusive photos and other behind-the-scenes tidbits. So, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@gordonholmes) for up-to-the-minute updates.

Gordon Holmes: “Host Island?” Really? Seems a little arrogant.
Jeff Probst: No, actually it’s “Ghost Island.” The “G” keeps getting rubbed off by the rain…which is not a bad idea…
Holmes: What would “Host Island” be?
Probst: It would be me, and I’d be lording over guys like Phil Keoghan and Ryan Seacrest, and Tom Bergeron and Cameron Mathison and those guys.
Holmes: Is this like a circle of hell where you’re punishing them?
Probst: Yes!
Holmes: You’re making them compete for your affection?
Probst: No…I don’t want their affection. That offers nothing to me.
Holmes: Sure.
Probst: But lording over them as if they’re in host hell brings an enormous sense of joy. And I will share the credit with you. Because it was your idea.
Holmes: That’s very generous of you to share the credit for my idea.
Probst: (Laughs)

Holmes: Alright, what’s the deal with this “Ghost Island?”
Probst: If you think of Ghost Island as a theme, it’s the graveyard for every bad decision that’s ever been made on the show. Somebody misplays an idol or an advantage or gets voted out with an idol? That bad decision has been haunted and lives on Ghost Island.
Holmes: With all the callbacks to “Survivor” history, this feels like a love letter to hardcore fans.
Probst: I think that’s a really good way to put it. But, I don’t know if there’s a difference between fans, super fans, or hardcore fans.
Holmes: Yeah, but I’ve seen every episode of this jawn and I can’t go to Ghost Island and tell you which snuffer went with which season.
Probst: Definitely, but we make the show for the fans. All of them. I’d love to have millions of new fans, but if you’re not into “Survivor,” you either don’t like it or have never given it a chance, and you’re probably not going to start today.
Holmes: And if you’re not into “Survivor,” you’re probably a horrible person.
Probst: And you should be on “Host Island” with all the other hosts.
Holmes: This is really coming together.
Probst: It is!
Holmes: Do the themes usually come together in three minutes?
Probst: No. But, I’ll tell you the origin of Ghost Island, we had the name for six or seven years…and that was it. It just sounded cool. Every year we’d try to crack the creative and it never happened. One day I took out all the creative we had on Ghost Island, six years worth. And I thought none of it was any good. I took a couple of sheets of blank paper and I went to my local Coffee Bean and I told my wife I wasn’t coming home until this was cracked. And then I stumbled onto this idea of relics. Misplayed idols. And then this visual of giant totems looming over you both taunting and haunting you with a sense of humor…and that was it. Then we brought in our creative team and everyone starts contributing.

Holmes: So what are the rules surrounding this thing. How does one get sent there? What happens once they’re there?
Probst: Every idol or advantage will be a relic from a previous season. You will be holding an idol that someone last season or ten years ago held and misplayed. The question is; is it hexed? Are you destined to be doomed or can you reverse the curse? Every week, someone will be sent to Ghost Island in various ways. You will live in a shelter, and hanging from the shelter are all of the snuffers from previous seasons. A reminder that your doom is one bad decision away. There are also all of these sacred sites that have other pieces of memorabilia. And every so often, you might be enticed to play a game of chance. Ghost Island has a personality. It’s kind of lippy. It’s going to mess with you and taunt you. But, if you’re up to the task, you could walk away with an advantage. But, it’ll make you wager something.

Holmes: I understand you’re not talking about what cursed items will be on the island. (NOTE: Our friends at EW.com have a full list of all of the items that were released after this interview.)
Probst: Correct.
Holmes: Can I guess?
Probst: You can, but I won’t comment either way.
Holmes: The opponent’s target that Stephen Fishbach hit?
Probst: (Laughs) That’s awesome.
Holmes: Eric’s immunity necklace?
Probst: One of the greatest of all time! Wouldn’t that be great if it was here?!
Holmes: Quite a poker face you’ve got there. A full season DVD set of “Survivor: Nicaragua?”
Probst: (Laughs) Some people liked it! I used to say that about “Survivor: Africa” People thought I was crazy. Then I realized I didn’t like it because I visually didn’t like it. To me…it should be like this. There’s water and all these elements. And the other thing I realized was that what I like, other people might not like. I loved White Collar/Blue Collar/No Collar. And I remember waking up the morning after the finale and reading a review that called it a “so-so season.” I was like, “Oh God, why do I read this (expletive deleted)?”
Holmes: That’s some good advice for you. Never ever, ever read comments. Ever. On anything.
Probst: Ever.

Holmes: We’re giving them less food. Why?
Probst: Our philosophy on the show is that we have to stay ahead of it. We might leave some money on the table by jumping to the next idea. But we never want to get caught shortchanged. It’s been bothering me for the last few years that it’s been easy to get rid of a provider like an Ozzy or a Malcolm or a Culpepper because they have enough. It seems like a flaw. If you’re that comfortable, let’s make it tougher. So, we’re cutting the rice in half. It may not sound like much, but the amount of rice they have is based on our medical team saying this is the minimum amount of calories a human being needs to survive. So, they don’t get much. They get half a cup of rice, now they get half that. We gave them a big fishing kit out of the gate. They used to have to earn it in a reward. Nope, you’ve got it cause you need it. And the note attached to the rice says, “If you have to ask me for more, it will cost you.”

Holmes: What’s the balance between “this is your game, go play it” vs. “we’re giving you less rice to make providers more valuable?”
Probst: That’s a great question. I don’t think there’s a black or white answer. It’s completely arbitrary. It comes down to making a decision. We have a final four twist that we’re doing that we did last season, changing the game up. It’s no different from when we switched tribes for the first time in the third season or in the eleventh season where we had the first immunity idol. That goes back to what I was saying about you have to stay ahead of it. I say to CBS all the time, “’Survivor’ is not going to limp into oblivion. We’re going to go down in a ball a fire.” We’re going to continue to take big swings. It’s super risky to give them less food and for them to know if I have to come, I’m coming for the shelter.
Holmes: Will this effect food rewards?
Probst: What do you mean?
Holmes: It’ll be things like a barbecue…a giant feast?
Probst: Yeah. But the thing about the food reward is they’re deceiving. Sure, you’re full that night and I’ve talked to the doctor a lot about this, it doesn’t carry you far. Once that protein source is gone, your body goes back to eating fat or muscle.

Gordon Holmes: One of the things that I saw at camp was kind of an accountability chart. What was the reasoning behind that?
Jeff Probst: One of the ideas this season is that I wanted to see if we could get a little more society into the game. By that, meaning responsibility and accountability. That’s one of the reasons we cut the rice in half was the force them to go fishing. Then, the idea was, “What would happen if we put a responsibility chart up?” Would they play checkers on it or would they actually think, “That’s a good idea. Who has gotten coconuts lately? Because I’ve been getting fire.” In a perfect world, day 39 rolls around and that chart comes up and somebody says, “Did you check it? Because I tended the fire every day. I built the shelter.” It becomes an element of gameplay.
Holmes: Did you include gold star stickers?
Probst: Unfortunately, no.

Holmes: Cirie was voted out of “Game Changers” due to the advantage-ageddon. Malcolm was voted out by another community. Both of these seem to go counter to the idea that your tribe is coming together to make a choice for the betterment of the society.
Probst: Well, the game has surpassed the idea of a society getting rid of its weakest member. The game is now paramount. The idea that you’re safe because of an alliance or an idol is foolhardy. What was great about the Cirie moment, unfortunately for Cirie, the poster for “Game Changers” was that moment. My wish was, “Please let them make big moves.” We’re charting as the game’s going; how many idols, who has an advantage…and nobody is playing them. And then the night of the Tribal we think, “What’s the worst-case scenario?” And we thought it was Tai playing both idols. But, we never thought he’d do it. He’ll save one for the next day. So when he did we all lost it. That was the gift of that season. It was the game-changing moment.

Holmes: I played a game with your contestants…
Probst: Yes! How hard do you work on coming up with these?
Holmes: Not hard at all.
Probst: (Laughs)
Holmes: This is a dumb party game.
Probst: We do dumb party games every day and believe me; it is not easy.
Holmes: Alright, we’re going to play the “Survivor” version of “Would You Rather.” I give you the situation, you tell me what and why.
Probst: (Laughs) OK.
Holmes: Align with a Hillary supporter or a Trump supporter?
Probst: Dang…this is tricky. I’m looking at the end…I’m going to align with a Hillary supporter. I’m tempted to go Trump because I might be able to predict what’s going to happen. But I’m worried that my predictions would end up costing me.
Holmes: Steal a vote or eliminate a juror?
Probst: Eliminate a juror. I think if we did that more often it would come into play. In “Game Changers” it could have had an impact. And with our new Tribal format, the jury evaluation is really different now and you have a shot to win the game even if someone didn’t understand how you played because you can explain it. So, if I was sure you were with someone else, I’d take you out. That’s a two-vote swing.
Holmes: Endurance challenge or word puzzle?
Probst: Oh, endurance.
Holmes: Would you rather align with a racist or a sexist?
Probst: Sexist…boy…one’s barely worse than the other.
Holmes: There’s something to be said for getting to the end with someone and being able to say “Hey jury, this (expletive deleted) is really racist.”
Probst: That’s a really good question. I’d rather be with a sexist because I think I could make a super good argument about why they were a massive (expletive deleted.)
Holmes: Voted out first or before final Tribal?
Probst: Before final Tribal.
Holmes: Align with an adulterer or a tax cheat?
Probst: You asked these to all the players?
Holmes: Yup.
Probst: That’s great. I’ll align with the tax cheat because I feel like I know that guy. An adulterer is a personal thing. A tax cheat is a country thing. If you’re going to cheat on your taxes, then you’re cheating on your country and that affects me. I need people in my alliance that I’ll have no trouble cutting loose.
Holmes: Would you rather lose the family challenge or win and have to decide which players get to go with?
Probst: I’m going to win, then give up my spot. I’ll someway come out a hero and tell my wife, “I know you just want to go home anyway.”
Holmes: She’s been to Fiji. Would you rather be caught stealing food or hunting for an idol?
Probst: Hunting for an idol, that you can recover from at final Tribal. Stealing food is rough to get over.
Holmes: Would you rather align with a “Survivor” superfan or someone who doesn’t watch the show?
Probst: I don’t want to even talk to someone who doesn’t watch the show.
Holmes: Agreed. Dance challenge or karaoke challenge?
Probst: Karaoke! Preferably the Stones or maybe…Dave Matthews.

Any Questions? Drop me a line on Twitter: @gordonholmes

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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