"We had a big debate -- a huge debate -- before Tribal Council, and me and the executive producer were on flip sides," Probst told reporters during a Wednesday conference call. "The executive producer was saying, '[Herd's] got to keep [the Immunity Idol]. It's his only chance at winning.' And I said, 'If he keeps it, he has no chance of winning.'"
Probst was right, as Survivor: Fiji's jury unanimously voted to give the show's $1 million prize to Earl Cole instead of Herd, a 25-year-old Wilmington, NC cheerleading coach who spent part of his life homeless, or Cassandra Franklin, the third member of Fiji's Final 3 finalists.
"Ultimately I was sad because everybody was so disappointed," said Probst. "People don't give you a second chance. All they see is a greedy kid and it's hard to put yourself in his shows."
The deal that cost Herd a shot at Fiji's prize began to take shape when Chan won Fiji's most lucrative Reward Challenge and received a 2008 Ford Super Duty truck for his effort.
As soon as Chan won the challenge, he told Herd he would give him the truck in exchange for a promise that he would give Chan the Immunity Idol if the two were both members of the season's Final 4 and Herd were to win Fiji's Final 4 Immunity Challenge. Herd accepted the deal and at first, everything played out swimmingly when Herd won the Final 4 Immunity Challenge.
"As a producer on the show, I'm looking at it going, 'Dreamz, make the right decision, and your life will change. You could potentially change your life. You could potentially win $1 million if you play this right,'" recalled Probst. "[But] that's me [if I were] a manipulator. That's me the guy saying, 'Here's the speech I'd give man.' Here's what I'd do, I would do the [Survivor: The Australian Outback runner-up Colby Donaldson]. I would lay down and say, 'I kept my word and I hope you guys will reward me because I am a kid who's never had a damn thing in his life.'"
However once he won the challenge, Herd never followed through with his agreement to give the Individual Immunity necklace he'd won to Chan, who was subsequently booted.
"If I'm Dreamz, I don't have the life experience -- the wherewith all -- or greed is to big of a word in my life when I'm smelling the shot at $1 million," said Probst. "I don't have the capability to realize I'm never going to get it. That by betraying Yao-Man, I just cut my own throat... So I get Dreamz. Dreamz was just an excited kid who never, ever had a shot at something like this. He didn't know what to do."
During the conference call, Probst also discussed Melissa McNulty, another contestant who cost herself the opportunity to win Survivor: Fiji. However unlike Herd, McNulty never actually competed against her fellow Fiji castaways, as she suffered a panic attack only a few hours before filming began and had to drop-out, cutting the cast from 20 to 19.
While Probst explained producers "always have alternates ready," that wasn't the case with Fiji.
"We didn't bring an alternate with us. It's a little weird," he said. "We had an alternate with us in [Survivor: Cook Islands] because we had somebody we weren't sure on, weren't sure about. So we brought somebody. We had an alternate for Fiji, but when we got out there, [McNulty] quit five hours before we started. There was no way to get anybody there. Had she quit three days before, we would have probably brought an alternate out."
Probst described it as a "guessing game" when trying to decide whether an alternate brought on location.
"We really don't typically bring anyone on location that's not going to be on the show because you're getting their hopes up and it's pretty emotional on them," he added. "We did do it in Cook Islands, we didn't do it on Fiji and maybe we should have."