Jeff talks about the upcoming Survivor: All Stars Finale and Live Reunion Show
Question: Can you say how Amber has played the game differently this time than in the Australian Outback?
Jeff Probst: During the game I don't talk to them about this stuff. But what I have sensed is happening is... I pulled for Amber from Day 1 when we started talking about the casting. The reason was, I thought she was a lamb the first time. Three years later, I knew that Amber had taken some hard knocks and had had some life experiences. I think the feeling was, what if she comes back as a bit of a player. That's exactly what she's doing. I don't know why she chose Rob to be in an alliance with. She was smart enough to let this guy whose personality is so out front, let him take the bullets. We'll find out on the live show but I think that early on in their alliance, they made a lot of the decisions together. Watching how much they interacted, then they would separate, seemed like they had this strategy going that Amber had to be a part of. Rob took a lot of heat, then Amber played the good cop and would come in and say, "is everybody ok". She put herself in a good position. If she can get deep into this show, and even if she loses Rob somewhere along the way, she's deep enough without the kind of animosity that I think Rob is experiencing. He has a much tougher sell. If they end up in the final 2 together, she could beat him because of all the bullets that he took trying to protect her. That whole thing of whether their relationship is real or not... in this game, a game that is a social game, that is going to be a big factor. That's one of things I'm curious about. If Rob really has fallen in love with this girl, that's when guys start making those fatal mistakes.
Question: Would you say her behavior is markedly different than in the Australian Outback?
Jeff Probst: She was much more careful about what she said. In the first season, she would just say anything. I remember when Jerri and Amber won a reward together, a food reward, I was watching them eat. Amber said, "wow vegetables, I never eat those, I usually only eat French Fries". Now I'm watching Amber out there, very cagey.
Question: This spot that I'm seeing on CBS, about the Finale, "A Surprise So Big, It Will Stun Everyone, We Guarantee It." Is this network sweeps promotion or does something big really happen?
Jeff Probst: There's a pretty good reveal on the live show. I don't write those promos but we are going to share something on that show that I think is certainly significant, completely unexpected and will have people talking.
Question: On the Final Hour or the reunion show?
Jeff Probst: Thinking...thinking... something in the reunion show.
Question: What was the hardest moment in the show. I was thinking Sue and Richard as being a difficult moment, how will that play on the reunion show?
Jeff Probst: It was definitely the darkest moment for me. I think we all realize what happened. It was this cacophony of people... Richard is not a mean person, he's a great villain on the show but Richard has a very rich heart. He was walking around naked from Day1, Season 1. Nobody said anything. We all have this image of Sue as being this really strong truck driver with a strong point of view. What we didn't realize about Sue is that she is very sensitive. I don't think Sue expected to have that kind of reaction. She was encouraging Richard, giving him a bad time. Then this incident happened and I think it shocked everybody. Richard had no idea it would affect Sue or he wouldn't have done it. Then we come to the challenge. I don't want to make an editorial comment that Richard was wrong. I also don't want to ignore the fact that Sue is upset... I say the words sorta inappropriate. When the whole thing is settled now and looking back all 3 of us realize our part. This is a game with the stakes of a million dollars. I don't want to interfere. Richard would never want to offend Sue. Sue didn't want to cost her tribe. Everybody feels much better about understanding what happened. Not putting a judgment on it but understanding how it happened.
Question: Who has surprised you with just how well they have played and who surprised you with just how bad they have played?
Jeff Probst: Cesternino surprised me with how unprepared he was for the judgments made about him early on. He entered into an alliance with one person, Boston Rob, got his throat cut and it was over. I was surprised that Rob did not come out much stronger with a different game plan. In fairness to Rob he had a target because he was a sharp player. A couple of people are playing well. Who truly surprised me.. I expected Shii Ann to do well. I'm impressed with how this outsider played, how she kept herself in the game from Day 1 every time she turned around she was an outsider whether it was cultural or tribe related. I think Shii Ann is the prototype for the type of player we like because she mixes it up. The other person to give a lot of credit to is Boston Rob. It's tough to come in and take the leadership role in a tribe or alliance. Determine who is going to get voted off. Do it with a girl tucked under your arm, daring anyone to kick you off. Some people don't see him as the underdog. I see him as the absolute underdog. The blue collar dude from Boston, 3 gold chains around his neck, finds the cutest girl, builds her a shelter. Then starts annihilating the enemy. That is romantic, kickass. In the jungle there's only room for one man. I really like Boston Rob. I haven't had a chance to find out the truth yet. I'm curious to ask Boston Rob how much input Amber had in the decisions.
Question: Of those remaining, is there someone who is just asleep at the wheel?
Jeff Probst: I hate to say it but I really worry about Rupert. Either he's playing a really cagey game, even cagier than Big Tom, or he's unaware of how dicey the game is getting at this point. The scary thing about keeping Rupert around is that he is so well liked. Even in this game of all stars where everyone is so catty. Rupert is still well liked. He hasn't hurt anyone's feelings, hasn't double-crossed anyone. He has worked hard and provided. I don't think Rupert sees what a threat that makes him. He thinks that because he's a nice guy he should win. He's going to have to wake up. The good news, he seems close to Jenna. Jenna has a vested interest in Rupert going far. Jenna may be the one to say listen buddy this is how we play the game. Jenna knows what time it is. Jenna Lewis as irritating and annoying as she can be out there is playing this game to win, period. She will cut anybody from here on out.
Question: There was talk before All Stars began back in Jan that you might see this show return to the 30 million viewer level. That hasn't happened. What are your thoughts about the ratings, has the show performed to where you thought it would?
Jeff Probst: I'm the wrong person to ask. I never thought we would hit 30 million again. I thought we might see a little bit of an increase. I thought our ratings would stay the same, we haven't deviated since season 3. 3-8 hovered at 20 million. Ratings won't dip for season 9. Our audience is in it for the long haul. People that stop me always say, "I never miss an episode, please don't stop making them". There's not this casual viewer, if you're in, you're in. It's disappointing how much energy is put into ratings when you're on the creative side.
Question: Was Mark Burnett able to be as involved in All Stars as he was in the past? Was he more involved in The Apprentice. Did that have any impact in the storytelling or editing of All Stars?
Jeff Probst: From day one Mark told us that his goal was to build this team so the show could run itself. That's what he's done. Storytelling doesn't dip at all whether Burnett is there or not. He's taught us how to do that storytelling. We are an extension of him... not that we are a cult. The people that run The Apprentice, Casino, The Restaurant, The Contender, they all came from the Survivor family. It spawned this way of storytelling that is bigger than Mark himself. We all get it. He has definitely groomed us. If Mark were still out there after 8 seasons on a daily basis, micro-managing, we have a major problem. Is he on location as much as he was the first season? No. He's a frickin empire. He's not out there all the time, he doesn't have to be. He's a cell phone call away. We know how Mark thinks. Now it's how I think. If Mark is not on location he will defer to us. I'm the last ass-kisser. I will tell you exactly what I think. I talked to Burnett yesterday, I was reminded the guy gets it, he fucking gets storytelling. That's why The Apprentice works and why The Contender will probably be big. Burnett is behind them. The only problem we have is keeping the talent pool up with each show he steals more people from the original Survivor team.
Question: Can you not say fucking. We can't print it in the paper. Is it fair to say that the people left are going to get big prizes, like 6 figures?
Jeff Probst: The money did go up. I don't have the exact numbers. I think it was a million for the winner, $250,000 for the runner up then $175,000 and then maybe 115, then maybe dropped into 85. I'll have those numbers on the Live Show. You started hearing people saying at Tribal Council or in interviews that there is a significant amount of money. It made a big difference in the end. The end is pretty personal. Probably the most honest and emotional Final Tribal that we've had since the very first season. Because they were friends and there's a lot of hurt feelings when this thing is over.
Question: Will it be more fun for you to get back to the rookies?
Jeff Probst: Definitely. All Stars was a fun experiment. I would vote never to do it again. If I had any say. I think the game is better played by strangers. The benefit to having an All Star season is that you have 18 of your greatest characters who will always give you gold and are hilarious to watch. The downside is you've already seen them once. That's the flip flop. You can get away with it once in awhile. Ratings reflect that people watched this season, they didn't go anywhere. After watching the All Stars play it maybe we'll get back to a unique approach rather than emulate people. Figure out who you are and don't come out here and try to emulate other people.
Question: What percentage of your job is a host and what is an addiction. The way you talk it sounds almost as if you care more about this game and how it's played and who wins rather than getting paid.
Jeff Probst: I only know one way to approach some thing and that's full tilt boogie. I'm in. I'm a big part of this creative team. I have something invested in it, pride. The fascinating part is human nature and that's why I enjoy it so much. I love watching where people draw their line in the sand. My ethical line might be a foot left of yours. Those 12 inches are going to be wonderful to watch play out.
Question: Have you actually seen a level of play that you would get from a group labeled "All Stars"?
Jeff Probst: It's really just bringing back your favorite people to play again. It's a social game where you take people and put them in a situation and say you're going to have to live together. One of you is going to get a million dollars. Every 3 days you're going to vote someone out. Whoever is left standing wins. It's all about politics. Richard Hatch and Cesternino talk about "I'm the greatest player". There's so much luck, so much involved in who ends up on your tribe. The better question is: Did you get the level of entertainment that you expected from these 18. The answer is yeah. These are just real people. Between Boston Rob and Big Tom, all the other people, there is some pretty funny moments. They absolutely delivered, even the people that quit on us early
Question: Survivor is still a strong ratings performer. There's a lot less buzz surrounding the show. I think The Apprentice is the reason for that. Do you sense that The Apprentice has eclipsed Survivor as the top dog reality show? That show created a lot more buzz than Survivor this season.
Jeff Probst: As far as has it eclipsed it as the top reality show, you'd have to check in 8 seasons from now and see if the show is still on the air. What I have observed... Survivor came on, it was brand new, everybody was talking about it. American Idol comes on everybody is talking about it. Survivor is still on air. The Apprentice comes out and it's a new thing, American Idol is still around. The Apprentice is a new thing and on the cover of Entertainment Weekly. When you look at the ratings, Survivor hasn't gone anywhere. It's hard to find something to talk about on a show that's been on for 8 seasons, that's new. Is American Idol going to go away because it's not on the cover? Donald Trump was on every magazine cover. Two seasons from now there will probably be a new show, it will probably be a Mark Burnett show. That will take over. Your observation is correct but the conclusion is wrong that Survivor is less interesting. The new kid on the block always gets the press but it has to have longevity.
Question: Did the show live up to the hype?
Jeff Probst: The thing about Survivor is, it's a show that is controlled by the participants in it. This isn't The Apprentice where we can help keep someone in the show because Donald Trump is making the call. The participants themselves make the call. We turn this show, a 20 million dollar budget, over to 16 people we don't know and we cross our fingers. My feeling is that "here's this season of Survivor, what do you think"? I've had some people come up and say All Stars is the best season ever and others say they are ready for new people.
Question: You mentioned longevity. Here you've got a show where your cast changes every year, the location changes. What's the common thread that makes it stay around?
Jeff Probst: The common thread is the structure. The concept always makes it intriguing. 16 strangers, abandoned, forced to form their own society, voting someone out every 3 days, as a kicker, the last 7 voted out come back to decide which one of the final 2 gets the money. It's a really complicated social game. How do you navigate that. How do you vote off people that you were living with and how do you vote them off in a way that allows them to come back and want to vote for you to give you a million dollars? I honestly think that Survivor could play for a long, long time. And the variations you could do on it...are less important, whether it's men vs women or cool people vs nerdy people or African American vs whites or international. Any of those things are fun to look at but it's that foundation that makes Survivor work.
Question: In terms of the finale, what preparation do you have to do? Do you go back and watch the tapes?
Jeff Probst: I watch during the season. I jot notes about what stood out to me. What was impactful and how we ended up with these final 4 or 5. This season one of the things we are going to talk about is damaged friendships. How friendship impacted this game. You could do a two hour reunion show, a 10 minute reunion show. This is going to be a fun reunion show, it will have a little emotion to it but is going to be very memorable, that is almost guaranteed.
Question: Are Rob and Amber still together as a couple?
Jeff Probst: As best I know they are. Technically they are not supposed to be together or talk or email. Anybody that believes that really happens is naive. I think they are for real. I'm going to find out on the Live show. The game isn't over til the votes are revealed. I'm wondering more about Amber than Rob, was somebody being played. We'll find out when the whole show is over.
Question: Could this game be played the way it originally was conceived where you dump them on the island and let them live by their wits. During the course of the show they get food and the all star group you gave them fire or they would have died of dehydration.
Jeff Probst: It was never conceived to not give them anything. The first season, they did not realize there would be rewards and they started eating rat. We saw that [on All Stars]. We were about 16 hours away from having to intervene. We set out to kick their ass. They got cocky, "we're the All Stars". On day 4 we knew what the challenge would be. We figured we'd give them a lame reward of blankets and tease them with fire. We were 90% sure that whoever won, their own selfish needs would outweigh the feeling of wanting to penalize the other tribe and they would take the fire.
Question: What would have happened if the one group would not have taken the fire?
Jeff Probst: We had a Plan B. We always have a back-up. A tie-breaker. We always think "what if", "what if". This season proved you can't dump 16 people out without anything.
Question: How much has evolved that now you know just how long you can push them before you go in with little assistance.
Jeff Probst: It's evolved a fair amount. We have a medical team, our head doctor told us how many hours we could go without water. He monitors them and checks in on them at challenges. We have learned it's not the physical, it's the mental. The toughest days are the first 7,8,9, we have people that want to quit.
Question: The All Stars were people who had experience. Were you surprised they couldn't get it together or was it an impossible situation for them to create fire.
Jeff Probst: It was an impossible situation. The truth is, we knew that. We have local guides at each location, our experts at what is poisonous, all of those things. They told us, the condition of the wood out here, the climate, they aren't going to get fire, not without flint and steel. We knew they were not going to get fire. Which made Richard Hatch's comment so funny. He couldn't have started fire. You weren't going to get fire but they didn't know that so they tried. With the All Stars, I called every person, we had it narrowed down to about 30, I told them, "if you are selected, you better come with a skill and if you have to ask what that means you probably aren't an All Star". They went out and learned how to fish, how to build a shelter. They were prepared to build fire but had no idea it was fruitless.
Question: The shelters were not working well. Only one or two people could fish.
Jeff Probst: Not everybody came in knowing how to do everything. If you saw the shelter Rob built for Chapera, it was phenomenal. You would go up and shake that thing and it wouldn't budge. Mogo Mogo may not have looked so good, but they were pretty inventive. The tribe that screwed up was Rupert, the most ill conceived shelter in the history of island experience anywhere, to build an underground shelter on a beach. Rupert will never live that one down. I think part of it is you watch the show and you expect action hero type of events, these are just real people who apply themselves in different way. Colby went and spent 4 days in the wilderness with a guide. Colby was as well-versed as anybody. But you get out here and the wood is too wet. You have 7 other people and you just can't dictate.
Question: How did Boston Rob make it this far, how did he become a king.
Jeff Probst: I don't know. The one thing I want to talk about at the Live show is did he have alliances with everybody. Did everybody think he was their ticket to the final 2. Either they are living in fear of him or everybody things "I'm his true partner". That could be the only reason. It's been a long time since anybody had the cajones to stand up and say "I'm going to dictate this game and I'm going to do it with this girl under my arm and nobody is going to stop me". We're down to the last few people, Big Tom, Rupert, Jenna have got to be thinking... who's it going to be. We typically have one last immunity challenge, you could win it, nobody could stop you from then on out. 5 and 4 those are critical. 5 is really critical because it's an odd number. That's when people have to make a move to stop this guy. Personally I'm pulling for him. I like how he's played. http://www.survivorfever.net/jp_all_stars_conference.html