Why Conan O’Brien should host Survivor if Jeff Probst leaves (seriously)

Survivor has been renewed for a 21st and 22nd season, but its host has not yet officially signed on. I can’t quite imagine anyone except Jeff Probst hosting Survivor, so I hope he decides to stick around, because as both a producer and host, he’s an integral part of the series that has worked so well for 19 seasons.

If (or when) Jeff leaves, though, I fear CBS and SEG will try to find someone who’s Probst-like to replace him, or some old cast member like Andrew Savage or even Richard Hatch. And even if they went with an unknown host, when’s the last time you watched a new reality show and truly liked and appreciated whatever host they dredged up? There’s just not that much workable talent, so these options would be a disaster, I think.

And that’s why Conan O’Brien should host Survivor. For real.

Conan would be the anti-Probst, and that’s what’s so great about it. Anyone who tries to duplicate Probst is going to be so obviously not Probst that they’ll suck. Past cast members have weird relationships to the show that probably won’t translate well to the screen. A new host needs to completely re-imagine the role, and needs to be someone we wouldn’t immediately think of as perfect for the job. Conan isn’t a TJ Lavin; he’s accessible, human, and comfortable on camera, and can handle everything a host needs to do.

Because Probst treated the game seriously–even the more ridiculous parts: he never even laughed at that fake chest of money at Tribal Council in season one–his hosting gave the game some weight and importance it might not have had otherwise. Conan wouldn’t need to do that, in part because the show is well-established enough now that some self-deprecating humor would be welcome, and also because that’s not Conan’s strength. Instead of being serious, he could embrace the absurdity, even while presiding over a game worth $1 million. That would be a nice change for series that could use some refreshing, especially with less money being spent on challenges and locations now.

Perhaps the biggest advantage is that taking Conan out of a studio and onto a remote Tribal Council set will allow him to rediscover and emphasize what he does best as he works without writers. Some people didn’t watch The Tonight Show over the past seven months in part because it was a watered-down version of what Conan did on his old show, and it’s only when he let loose during his final weeks that the show took off, ironically enough.

This free, liberated Conan would be a blast as he stands in the sun, providing color commentary as tribes compete in challenges. And can you imagine him asking cast members questions at Tribal Council about their behavior and decision-making? If Conan can wrangle celebrities pimping their latest projects, never mind a masturbating bear, he can handle 20 model/actors, and it’d bring some levity–never mind new viewers–to the proceedings that could help sustain Survivor for another 10 years.

The logistics work, too: Conan can’t appear on TV until Sept. 1, but that works for season 21, which won’t debut until mid-Sept. And since the show now tapes over 12 weeks in the summer, he could conceivably do a late-night show on or another network and take a hiatus to host Survivor, though the network politics might make that difficult.

But if Jeff leaves, CBS executives should do everything they can to make this work, because everyone would benefit from being on Tribe Coco.

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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.