Jeff Probst on the Evolution of “Survivor” and the Show’s Enduring Appeal

If you take a bunch of strangers, put them on a remote island with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and make them coexist while voting someone out every episode, all in pursuit of $1 million, it doesn’t really matter what type of people you’re putting onscreen. There’s definitely certain archetypes that the fans like, though. In recent years, there’s been a clamoring for more hot-and-steamy romance, and Probst tells me that there is a couple on the upcoming season, though they never cast with matchmaking in mind. The other beauty of the show—especially, and critically, in this current moment—is that there are no writers.

“I’m not putting on a show, which is why there’s no writers, and there never have been,” Probst expresses. “I don’t need anyone to write for me. I just watch and react in real time. You might not like the way I talk or how I comment during a challenge. But I hope that when you watch me, you do believe that I’m authentic, because it is me.” Obviously, with a show of this nature, Probst is always being asked what’s real and what’s staged. In his words, “It’s the most real experience you can have. Ask any player. There is zero help, never ever.”

That means zero, including all of one’s normal bathroom needs. “The smell is real. It’s kind of a combination of a campfire and a gym locker that hasn’t been opened in a decade,” he says. “It’s a very unique, rank smell.” The bamboo toothpick has become a common invention to stave off dental issues, and in lieu of toilets, well, just look around. “The aqua dump is very popular,” Probst says. “They have areas and code names for it. Their bathroom is whatever they can figure out in the jungle. It’s typically digging a hole or something like that. One of the things my mom used to always ask me was, You’re telling me they don’t get cleaned up before Tribal [Council]? They look really good! I’d say, ‘Mom, that’s just firelight. It’s flattering!’”

Fame, now a comfortable jacket for him, has come slowly for Probst. Unlike, say, movie stars, who can have one big release that changes their life overnight, he’s been operating at a slow simmer since 2000. He still has the luxury of being able to walk around mostly unbothered. He generally takes a backseat to the contestants, the true engine of the show. His only real moments on camera come when the contestants are either getting their asses kicked in a challenge or on the verge of being voted out. His signature line at the end of each episode—the tribe has spoken—has taken on a life of its own, but for the most part, he’s just chilling in tropical locales watching everything unfold like the rest of us.

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