'Survivor' host Jeff Probst dishes about CBS's upcoming 'Survivor: Palau'
By Reality TV World staff, 02/12/2005
As he does before most Survivor seasons, Survivor host Jeff Probst met with the media on Thursday afternoon, teasing Reality TV World about Survivor: Palau's upcoming season and sharing some previously undisclosed details about the highly publicized "dramatic" new changes that viewers can expect to see in the upcoming tenth edition of the long-running CBS reality show.
According to Probst, Survivor: Palau's unusual beginning, touted by CBS as changing the game "in a dramatic way," had one main goal -- to keep the reality competition from becoming predictable.
Unlike most previous Survivor editions, Palau will begin without the contestants being divided into tribes, nor will they be given maps to their camps and water sources or provisions of any kind. Noting that other Survivor seasons had already deprived Survivor contestants of food and supplies, Probst explained this season's opening took aim at the mental part of the game.
"We've [already] done the physical part where we give them nothing, we started that in All-Stars, but what we haven't done is giving them no information," Probst told Reality TV World. "Almost always we give them we give them a little bit and say 'Here's the lay of the land, here's Tribe A and here's Tribe B, here's a map of the water, here's this.'" "This time I literally show up and say, 'There's your beach, have a good time.'"
"What we want to do in each season is find one way to tweak the show that keeps them off balance. We're not looking for a major restructuring, we're just looking to tilt them a little bit," said Probst, explaining the ideas behind the change.
According to Probst, the unusual beginning -- in which the twenty castaways were dumped on a beach that contained no indication of tribal breakdowns, only a generic Survivor: Palau flag -- accomplished what the producers wanted. "By not giving them any information... what that did is they get on the beach this first day and they don't know [if they are one tribe, two tribes, etc.] and now they're wondering, do we start making alliances now, or will that maybe bite me in the ass, should I just not say anything at this point."
The opening also sets a tone for the whole season, forcing castaways to constantly re-examine their game strategies in light of the season's unpredictable nature. "There's no clue that there's even one tribe established. That doesn't sound like a whole lot but it pays off and it pays off in the first few days then it pays off on Day 23 or Day 33 because now what you put in their head is it's a slightly different game." Added Probst, "you can assume there's gonna be a merge, go for it, plan for it, but if you're counting on it you're a fool."
Survivor: Palau will also feature many new challenges -- and according to Probst, they'll be very physical. Said Probst: "In terms of challenges, these are the most physical and original challenges that we've had in a quite a while. This is the first time we've actually just opened the show back up again and said 'let's just air it out and go for it.'" The "go for it" attitude also appears to apply to the contestants as well, with Probst stating that one of the early challenges will also feature a "major catfight" between two female castaways.
Taking advantage of the region's crystal clear waters, many of the challenges will also be water-based. "We're in the most beautiful water that we've ever had in terms of visibility," said Probst. "The visibility was so good that we decided to pull out a lot of challenges we'd been sitting on and you know anytime you create stuff underwater, it just adds such a physical component."
The challenges' physical nature will also become a factor during the show's Tribal Councils, combining with the unpredictable nature of the season to force the castaways to decide whether it still makes sense to pounce on those players who would eventually become strong individual challenge threats.
"The first three or four episodes we have some of the most physical challenges I think we've ever had in terms of just endurance," said Probst. "The first few days the question is will they keep strong people or will they do what they've done in the past and try and gut their own tribe?" "The message that they are going to find out is if you want to vote off your strong simply because they are strong, go ahead, but odds are you'll be back at Tribal Council more often and not, and that means sooner or later it will be your turn."
As has been well publicized, two of the twenty castaways will not even make it to the show's first challenge, becoming eliminated from the game when the contestants are divided into tribes. "It's a brutal, brutal beginning to this season. It's the most brutal of social encounters you know its very similar to the same feeling as when you're not picked on a school yard or you know a basketball game or when you're the first guy laid off," said Probst. "Without question, Survivor is a social game and that is put to the test right away."
While coy as always, Probst did share one cryptic detail about the upcoming season -- that it would feature more "firsts" than "we've ever had." "More things happen for the first time this season than have ever happened before," he laughed.
"I'd make my little notes and things and I'd think 'Wow that's never happened before... wow, that's never happened before... that's never happened before.'" "Some of them are twists, some of them are things that happened organically in reality, and some are the things that happened as the result of challenges, but there are more things that you've never seen before this season."
"Comparing it to [last season's] Vanuatu, it's not that it's more interesting it's just a lot more happens -- just a lot of stuff happens," Probst elaborated to Reality TV World. "Whether it's at camp or whether it's at Tribal [Council] or whether it's at challenges, it just seemed like there were constantly sort of interesting little nuances happening."
Palau's role as a World Ware II battleground will also play a prominent role in Survivor: Palau's season, however Survivor's producers were careful to neither exploit the theme nor turn the competition into an updated version of Survivor producer Mark Burnett's 2001 USA Network Combat Missions reality series.
Explained Probst: "You can not go to Palau and not see the remnants of World War II because they're everywhere, you don't have to look. We didn't have to do a ton of set dressings. There are 400 foot ships 60 feet down... 30 feet down in the water. There are zero planes (which were the Japanese fighter planes) that are crashed into beaches where we have challenges."
But despite all the destruction, the producers were careful to prevent the presence of what Probst termed a "living monument to World War II" from turning the competition into a somber experience, saying instead that the wreckage contributed another perspective to the competition. "[Survivor] does alter your perspective a little bit because you kinda forget how much you love your family and how important your friends are and you go away for 40 days," explained Probst. "I think what this backdrop gave you was a little more perspective that 'Hey, you know what, I wanna win, but its just a game.'"
"We were very sensitive to that -- super sensitive to not exploiting it." "We didn't make challenges that were about war," added Probst, noting that while the show's analogies aren't strong, the Tribal Council set will feature a huge machine gun and explosive ordinance.
According to Probst, a subtle theme of "choice" -- and consequence -- will also run through the season's challenges. "You may never even pick up on it but it started filtering in and we started making that an element of some challenges or for some situations or some decisions." "'Let's every time we can, let's them make a choice,' -- and it ends up having an impact."
Survivor viewers also shouldn't tune in expecting to see an a castaway group similar to last season's Vanuatu cast. "Vanuatu was the most normal group of people, in my opinion, that we've [ever] had on the show." "There were a lot of just normal people... [people] that you'd invite to your barbecue and never know that they'd been on Survivor if you didn't know them." "Palau is completely different. This is not a group at all, it is twenty individuals... they're all unique people and you're gonna know probably 7 or 8 people by the end of the first episode because they're these archetypes."