Probst's reality check
By Eleanor Sprawson
April 27, 2005
Reality check ... Survivor host Jeff Probst THE tribe had spoken, and for the first time it was speaking directly to Survivor host Jeff Probst.
"That was the worst moment of my Survivor career," says Probst, speaking for the first time about how close he came to quitting the hit show last year.
The moment occurred during the All Stars series, when contestant Susan Hawk took offence at "disrespectful" motions fellow player Richard Hatch who was naked at the time - made to her during a challenge.
Hawk's anger was directed at Probst for failing to discipline Hatch and the host found himself standing on a beach being screamed at by the contestant, who was so upset she walked straight out of the show then and there. And Probst came close to doing the same thing.
"It took me a while to get over," he says. "I really felt very bad. I had a bad taste in my mouth about it ... and I wasn't even sure I could do the show anymore."
The 42-year-old, who has won an Emmy for his usually unflappable hosting of the king of reality shows, says he lost confidence in himself when, for the first time, he simply had no idea what to do.
"It's the one and only time that I can recall not knowing what the right move was," he says. "Everything that went through my head in terms of a response got thrown out as inappropriate or because it might hurt her feelings. So I was just standing there thinking 'shut up Jeff, shut up Jeff'.
"It gave me a bad taste about the whole show."
What eventually made him decide to go on with the show, now in its 10th series with Survivor: Palau, was the realisation that being caught off-guard and made to feel uncomfortable is very much a part of the show for its contestants.
"I realised probably it was good for me," he says. "Because it reminded me that this is real. Usually I'm protected because I'm the host.
And I wasn't protected, for the first time. And it doesn't feel good, to be lashed out at like that, especially on national television.
"It's tough, so I have more respect for what those guys go through now."
Another rocky moment that made Probst, who is also a screenwriter and filmmaker, rethink his commitment to Survivor was the infamous second finale of the All-Stars series, an extra show tacked on at the end of the series in which viewers could vote to award $US1 million to their favourite contestant.
In the past, the show has never had viewer interaction and the only prize has been the one voted on by players at the final tribal council.
"To be honest we (the producers) didn't have much to do with that second show. I mean I hosted it, but I didn't necessarily like the idea myself. I thought it was a little cheesy."
The great strength of the format, he believes, is in steering clear of things like audience participation and even interference by producers so that what viewers see, and indeed the whole storyline of the show, is determined by the interaction of the contestants.
"That's truly one of the things that still separates Survivor from most other reality shows," he says. "It's the organic nature of how people are eliminated. It is in the hands of the people on the show, period. There is no Donald Trump host-slash-producer involved with it. It's very pure.
"And we don't always like who they vote out - many times we realise that we're losing a potential star of the show. And that's hard, it's hard to sit back and let it go. But that's the show. And that show is right - that's the show we want to deliver."
Still, he feels the show he wants to deliver is becoming harder to make, partly because of its success.
In particular, members of the program's production crew are often the subjects of poaching raids by other shows.
"People are always trying to steal our crew members, you know. And (executive producer) Mark Burnett has to continue to try and keep these guys - and all he really has to offer is another island and more bugs.
"I'm pondering different scenarios, but I'm taking it as it comes. I have to do another year - I still have two more seasons on my Survivor contract, so ... I'll see what I feel like doing then," Probst says. http://www.entertainment.news.com.au/story/0,10221,15100841-10229,00.html