The Jeff Probst Show–Jeff Probst’s new daytime talk show, not Survivor, although you’d be forgiven for confusing the two–today had a “Survivor first”: an interview with a contestant still on the show, Lisa Whelchel.
First, a note about his talk show, which I’d planned to review its first week: I quickly realized that this wasn’t a show I wanted to watch, mostly because it consisted of 1) inspirational people whose sad stories were told to us, not shown, and insisting someone is inspirational is rather insufferable, and 2) anxiety about gender roles, manifested to an insane degree in a segment where men answered questions from women about men, and everyone made sweeping generalizations (Probst frquently starts sentences with “men…” and “women…” as if everyone with a penis acts the same way, which is completely the opposite of the way people with vaginas act).
Today’s show featured a one-on-one conversation with Facts of Life star Lisa Whelchel for nearly the entire hour. While Probst’s declaration about his “Survivor first,” a talk show interviewing a sitting contestant, was probably technically accurate, let’s be honest: CBS and its publicity department have been loosening the shackles on contestants for years–or they just no longer have the same kind of control they once did, and have adapted.
Years ago, contestants went on the show, lied to people in their lives about where they were, and never surfaced publicly until after the episode aired on which they were voted out. The only interviews they did were with the press who interviewed them before the game began. Eventually, CBS started giving access to contestants pre-show but post-game, although that seemed to be mostly restricted to local media (though of course the Internet turns local media into international media).
Then, two years ago, CBS hosted a pre-game conference call with Jimmy Johnson, because he was so famous, another shift away from keeping contestants quiet. Today, contestants are pretty vocal on social media, conspicuously disappearing while they’re filming for six weeks and then returning to interact on Twitter, revealing information in conversations that are often the opposite of subtle. Oh, and let’s not forget that a contestant spoiled two seasons and CBS reacted with a clever shrug and wink.
So today’s “Survivor first” is just another step in a long path away from the restrictiveness that once existed.
As to Jeff Probst’s conversation with Lisa, this was not for fans–except for the potentially huge spoiler that showed up as a preview of the show that Probst introduced as “a good one.” The clip (skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know), showed Jonathan Penner asking Lisa, “Have any of them recognized you yet?” The spoiler was not just that he knows, but that they are talking to each other, meaning they are on the same tribe. In the clip, Lisa is wearing a pinkish shirt that nearly matches Penner’s, suggesting Lisa joins Kalabaw. Of course, the post-episode preview for Wednesday’s episode suggested a merge or shuffle, and this isn’t completely out of left field. Still, it’s amazing they would so brazenly give away something like that while having a non-revealing conversation for an entire hour.
Probst asks good questions on the reunions, especially of men who he likes, but his conversation with Lisa wasn’t an interview targeted toward Survivor viewers, which I’d guess was mostly because of the audience but also because they can’t talk too much about the show without giving something away. Later, Probst wrote down qualities in a man that Lisa wanted so he can try to find her a man. “You’re hot and you look good Whelchel,” he said. Sigh.
Probst competed against her in a Survivor trivia challenge that he threw, allowing a kid in the audience to host; he gave her a bunch of swag, which was sweet. But he also let her snuff his burning torch, something that should happen more often.
Update: Naturally, this spoiler ended up not being a spoiler at all, at least if you pay attention to promos and TV listings. (I should have known better!) The episode itself is titled “Not the Only Actor On This Island,” and says, “The Kalabaw and Tandang tribes merge, and the castaways scramble to fit into the new group. Meanwhile, Lisa is confronted about being a former teen TV star.” And there’s this: