Jeff Probst: back-to-back Survivor seasons “because of budget cuts”; “I really don’t” know about hosting past season 20

Seasons 19 and 20 of Survivor will be filmed back to back–instead of taking a three-month break in between them–and the reason is entirely about saving money, Jeff Probst told me.

“This season we’re also doing back-to-back seasons because of budget cuts, and that’s just the truth. We are having to do two seasons to save money, because every television show is undergoing some sort of a cut,” Probst said. “And I think that’s going to be hard on people. It’s a long time to be away from home. We’re gone nearly four months. Six weeks was one thing; 14 weeks is another,” he said.

To me, getting two seasons out of the way and having a year-long break seemed like it might be easier, but Jeff said I was mistaken, and to explain why, launched into his Mark Burnett impression, complete with a British accent. “That’s what Mark Burnett would say. Mark Burnett would say, ‘Jeff, oh oh oh I’ve got a brilliant idea. I’m going to do this for you. We’re actually going to shoot both seasons back to back. It’s brilliant. And then when you’re home, look, you’ll be home for a long time, so it’s brilliant.’ ‘Mark, you coming to location for that long a time? ‘Eh, no, Jeff, I can’t, I have a business to run.’ That’s how it goes with Mark. Any time Mark starts a sentence with ‘I have something you’re really going to like’, it means, you’re going to hate this. So like a doctor saying, this won’t hurt much–oh, here we go.”

During my conversation with Probst, I also asked him the inevitable question: His contract is up after season 20, so will he stay on as host? He was noncommittal, although not in a bullshit sort of way. “That will be 10 years, and I really at this point don’t know my own personal feelings about continuing or not. I really don’t,” Probst told me.

“I’m incredibly loyal to Mark, and we have a crew of 325; I don’t want to be the guy that has anything to do with having a hiccup in Survivor. It’s a hard time to have a job, and I have one, and I certainly don’t want to walk away from a job. So I’m not trying to be coy or cagey,” Probst said. “I’ve been telling Mark, 10 years and 20 seasons is a long time to do the same job from a creative standpoint. But then there’s the logical, rational side of, you are employed, you moron.”

Burnett seems confident, however, that the show will continue on for another 10 years. Burnett recently talked to Fancast to promote his new show Wedding Day, TNT’s first reality series, and said, “On the last Thursday, ‘Survivor’ beat ‘CSI.’ Survivor’ is untouchable on Thursdays at eight. Everything that’s thrown at it, they don’t come close. If a show stays on, it stays on. ‘America’s Most Wanted’ has been on for 20 years, there’s no reason ‘Survivor’ won’t be on for 20 years.”

The obvious question, of course, is whether there’s a way Survivor could be on without Probst, who has anchored the show since the beginning, if he decides 10 years is enough. I think replacing him would be nearly impossible without restructuring the show, because sticking someone in his place would just highlight how critical he is to the show, never mind his off-camera work.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.