'Survivor''s Jeff Probst: 'Heroes' Are Becoming 'Villains'
Copyright 2010 Monty Brinton / CBS
"Survivor" premiered its 20th season in February with an all-star cast for "Heroes vs. Villains," which stars some of the series' favorite players and some of the most reviled. But the "Hero" and "Villain" labels may turn out to be a misnomer as returning players are revealing sides to their personalities heretofore not seen. ET checks in with series host Jeff Probst to get his take on just what is happening on "Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains."
ET: Can you talk in general about how you see this season and how it is differs from other seasons?
Jeff Probst: I think the biggest difference is we have 20 of our most notorious people playing at the same time. The last time we did this was the All-Stars and that was six years ago. A lot has changed since then. On top of this being another All-Stars, we have added another layer: you are either a "Hero" or a "Villain," or you are not here. I think that was a pretty big difference right off the bat. I think what you are seeing this season is how much "Survivor" has evolved. In a way, this is a bit of a retrospective. You have people like Colby Donaldson back from season two, Tom Westman from season 10, and then you have Russell Hantz from season 19. You can really see how fast the game has become compared [to the beginning].
ET: After watching James Clement and Rupert Boneham … these are not the guys that I remember. Do you think the "Heroes" and "Villains" designation went out the window?
Jeff Probst: I think one of the interesting stories this year is: Can a "Hero" become a "Villain" and can a "Villain" become a "Hero." You are certainly seeing "Heroes" becoming "Villains." James has gone from the guy who won the Sprint Player of the Game a few years ago, because he was such a popular guy, to at the end of this season, he may be the most disliked. I don't know if that is indicative of the "Hero" title. I don't know if it is how people handle fame and popularity. Even Rupert -- everybody's favorite pirate -- is a little cocky for my taste.
ET: When Stephenie LaGrossa got voted out, she told me that the egos in the "Heroes" tribe were incredible.
Jeff Probst: I think when you call somebody a "Hero," I think there is a little swagger that seems to come with that. Suddenly, they are the cooler kids. And I felt the opposite with the "Villains." There was an attitude of: "Why are we the villains?" You could almost see the chip on their shoulder as if they were the unpopular ones and, therefore, had something to prove. And the "Heroes" are walking around saying, "We are the cool kids and we have nothing to prove." It is interesting how labels impact your attitude.
ET: When you were planning this, because these people had played the game before, did you sit down and say, "We need to add some special twists"?
Jeff Probst: No. We felt like our big twist for the season was that we were doing "Heroes vs. Villains." So we actually went backwards and decided that all the challenges would be challenges we had used in the past and kind of make it a retrospective, or a celebration, rather than use a new twist when we didn't need it.
ET: None of the players on the "Villains" got to see Russell Hantz's game before they filmed this season, so they didn't know all the tricks he played. Do you think that is to his advantage? And, do you think he is the biggest villain now?
Jeff Probst: In terms of the first part of the question, none of the "Heroes" or "Villains" had been able to watch Russell's season because it hadn't aired when we filmed this. There is an advantage and a disadvantage. Nobody knows how he played the game. Nobody knows exactly how aggressive he was in finding the Immunity Idols and things like that. The disadvantage is that nobody knows how he played the game and that makes him a big question mark. I think a lot of people are going into the game thinking: "We might just need to get rid of him because we don't know what he is and, therefore, we don't know what we can and cannot trust." All we said to them at the beginning of the season is: "Read into this. He is one of the five most notorious male villains who have ever played. That should tell you something about how he played in Samoa."
As far as the biggest villain, considering that Richard Hatch went on to become a felon and served time in federal prison, he may still hold the mantel of biggest villain, but in terms of just "Survivor," I don't think anybody is a bigger villain than Russell. Having said that, I think he should have won last season.
ET: What about Jonny Fairplay?
Jeff Probst: Jonny Fairplay is a punk. He had one moment and it was brilliant. He lied about his grandma dying and he played it beautifully. If you really look at his whole legacy, that is it. We brought him back to play on "Fans vs. Favorites" and he quit. Jonny Fairplay for me is not in the category of greatest villains. He is in the category of greatest quitters.
ET: Will we surprised by who wins this season? Also, there is a site that has posted who they say the winner is, how do you deal with those rumors?
Jeff Probst: The thing about the rumors is I have read rumors that are true and I have read rumors that are not true. And every year we are lucky to have both. There have been leaks going back to season one and it has not hurt the popularity of the show at all. Sometimes they are right; sometimes they are wrong. I think most people watch the show; they don't go looking for answers as to who won.
ET: How are you keeping it fresh for you?
Jeff Probst: I do different things to keep it fresh for me. The part of the show that I enjoy as much as anything is pre-production when we are casting, when we are setting our twists and deciding what creative is going to be. That is always a really big exercise for the brain. It is stimulating and exhausting. As far as production, just out there shooting, I find ways. A few years ago, I stopped talking as much at Tribal Council. I really invoke the interview technique of uncomfortable silence. It has yielded a whole different kind of Tribal Council. I am not in any rush. I will look you dead in the eyes until you talk and nine times out of 10, they do talk and usually that is when they say something they later regret. I can find ways to keep it interesting for me.
"Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains" airs tonight at 8 p.m. on CBS. http://www.etonline.com/news/2010/03/84587/index.html