Why Jeff Probst’s Survivor predictions and analysis in Entertainment Weekly are annoying bullshit, and how he could improve

For the past few seasons of Survivor, Jeff Probst has been writing what Entertainment Weekly calls a “blog,” because apparently no one at the best pop culture magazine in the country has any idea what a blog actually is, which is rather embarrassing. But I digress. In those, Probst writes–and he actually writes them himself, unlike other host “blogs”–about the episode.

Having the chance to hear from a person who was actually present during the events of the episode, including all of those that didn’t make it to air, is pretty outstanding, as is his willingness to spend time doing that in the first place. Unfortunately, Jeff doesn’t often offer anything worth reading.

Let me interrupt with a disclaimer: I like Jeff Probst as a host and as a person, so this isn’t some kind of anti-Probst rant. He’s never been anything but extraordinarily kind to me when we’ve interacted or I’ve interviewed him, and I think he remains one of the best reality show hosts we have, and his back-to-back Emmys were well-deserved. Alas, while I like him as a person and a host, I’m not a fan of his writing and analysis, which has become irritating.

I’ve briefly criticized his pieces before and because I don’t believe in talking about people behind their backs, when I was in Samoa, I told him that I found his pieces to be frequently insufferable. Instead, I said I wanted insight, insight that only he can provide. Occasionally, he does offer information that we don’t know, and I’ve quoted him when that happens, because it’s so awesome to learn those behind-the-scenes details.

But mostly, he’s offering a recap or summary that has no I’ve-been-there insight attached to it, or he’s giving his opinion on what we’re watching, like last season when he fawned over Coach week after week. I don’t mind knowing what Probst thinks about the show he hosts, but since he was actually there, I’d rather learn what he knows to be true, because there is certainly no shortage of assholes offering opinions on TV.

The part that really drives me insane is when Probst makes bullshit predictions, and he seems to be doing that kind of speculation more frequently this season. Those thoughts really are bullshit because Probst knows everything, including who wins. Thus, when he writes something like, “if Shambo makes it to the final you can bet she will not have Laura’s vote,” that’s meaningless, because Jeff knows if Shambo makes it to the end and he also knows who Laura votes for.

Let’s say you DVR a hockey game and then watch it with a friend who was actually at the game. Do you really want that person to sit next to you and say, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if Ovie came right out of the penalty box and scored three seconds later?” That friend knows exactly what’s about to happen, so what would be the point?

Today comes something even worse from Entertainment Weekly: Dalton Ross’ Survivor Samoa Odds to Win piece, with “special guest analyst Jeff Probst.” I imagine the problem here is evident to everyone except those at EW: analysis and speculation from someone who knows the outcome is useless, as are Probst’s comments on the show itself. In the odds slideshow, Probst says about Brett, “Everybody likes Brett. If Brett makes it to the end, he wins. Period.” So if Brett makes it to the final three, he wins, or Probst is a liar. At least that’s more interesting than his I’m-just-a-viewer observations, like when he says of Shambo, “Her betrayal of Galu combined with being on the bottom of Foa Foa makes it tough for her to win.”

Well, duh. Anyone who’s watched all season would say that. Of course, this is the same kind of speculation fans engage in, and of course I do that, too, often during episodes. That’s part of what makes the show so engaging and smart: As viewers, we can run through scenarios and consider various possibilities, even as we’re being manipulated by the editors. But that only works because we don’t actually know everything. I suppose there’s a certain amount of pleasure some die-hard fans derive from filtering through Probst’s comments to see if he’s being coy or trying to trick us, but I doubt he’s encoding secret clues.

Having Probst write weekly recaps for a well-trafficked web site is nice publicity for a show in its 19th season, a show that I really like and want to stick around. If it causes people to tune in, that’s great. But as a fan, never mind a journalist and critic, what he’s offering is frustrating and annoying because it’s so empty and wastes its potential. And its potential is vast, since there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes information and insight that he has that we do not.

That the two-time Emmy-winning host of a groundbreaking and still-popular American reality series is willing to write a few hundred words every week about his show is phenomenal. I just wish they were words worth reading.

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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.