Jeff Probst, back for Survivor 27 and 28, talks credibility, boredom, man crushes, over-reaching

Survivor host Jeff Probst will be back for seasons 27 and 28, which CBS hasn’t officially ordered but is pretty much a sure thing. In two recent interviews, he discusses criticism of his hosting by fans.

First, although he hasn’t yet signed a contract, that’s “a formality” for hosting Survivor 27 and Survivor 28, he told Survivor alum Rob Cesternino on Rob’s must-listen podcast, saying, simply, “I’m doing it.”

In the great, nearly hour-long interview, Probst addresses a lot of criticism leveled at him by fans—and also embraces it (“I don’t mind the negativity. Really. I get it.”). He says that what he does is “for the audience. Always. And every question I ask is for the audience.” Probst insists he does not impact the game, both because the editing leaves out moments that would make it clear he’s not singling individuals out, and because players are already thinking about the things he says: “You can criticize a lot of things about me, but one of the criticisms I never get, is when people say, ‘You’re bringing up things.’ … They’re already considering all of these things,” Probst said.

“I’m always surprised that even this many seasons in, people still think a) I could influence, and b) that I would. That I would risk my own job security, that I would risk our franchise,” he added later. But he won’t stop doing his thing: “I don’t see any way around that. The show has evolved to where if I stayed a passive participant, it would a) be inauthentic, and b) a missed opportunity.”

Probst also tells Rob Cesternino the reason he’s given before for favoring male players and/or having man crushes on them: “Here’s the truth, like it or not: The majority of our biggest characters our men. That’s just the truth. For us, when we sit down and make a casting list of our greatest characters, it’s probably 70/30 male. I don’t know why it is, but they tend to be larger characters.”

He elaborates, but as I’ve written before, Probst doesn’t acknowledge that this may be a product of what he and other (male?) producers value, such as masculine characteristics. I understand that they need to pick type-A, big personalities to create good television, but a big personality does not necessarily mean an in-your-face asshole. A big character can be quiet and unassuming because of their impact, intelligence, or more.

Meanwhile, Probst responds to criticism about his pre-season promotion. “I honesty believe what I say,” he told Rob. “I’m not trying to cry wolf. I hate that I’ve lost credibility because I only care about the people who like the show. Even the people who love to hate the show, I still like they love to hate it.” Jeff can’t resist, though: “I’m going out on a limb to say next season will be as good—or dare I say—at the risk of being ridiculed—better.”

In an interview with Fast Company, Probst identifies the origins of his hosting style, pointing out that Mark Burnett “never second-guessed me” and “never said anything, and what he fostered was incredible confidence that I was doing it right whether I was or not. And that allowed my instinct to grow.”

Freedom to be effective is one thing, but is not facing challenges to one’s argument a good way to grow, or just a good way for one’s ego to grow?

Probst says later in the interview that he thinks, “What’s usually running through my head is, ‘Who is the hero at this moment, and who is the goat? Who is the underdog? Who is the villain?’ Those are the stories you’re trying to tell.”

In his podcast interview with Rob Cesternino, Probst says that producers thought Survivor would be ruined when Rudy dropped out of the final immunity challenge because “we had no idea how big Richard would be for the show in that moment.”

I’d argue that’s a good reason for Probst to be cautious about the things he says and the impressions he forms. I love him as a host for asking tough questions and really trying to think for the audience (and for his ability to take and discuss criticism, as he proves here), because that makes the show better. But I think he underestimates his own power, both in the game and in terms of how the story unfolds on screen.

Finally, Probst revealed to Fast Company that he got bored around the time of Survivor China and Survivor Micronesia:

“Probably about five years ago, I was getting bored, and I decided, ‘Okay, I’ve got to find a way to make Tribal Council interesting again to me.’ So I decided I was going to say less and listen more and really push it. We don’t have the time in an episode to fully show what goes on at Tribal, but I don’t hesitate now to ask a question and let the person answer, and then do the oldest interviewing trick in the world, which is to just keep staring, and I’ll stare to the point where someone will uncomfortably laugh, and then they’ll say, ‘What?’ Then I still won’t say anything.”

I don’t want Probst to be silent, because that wouldn’t be Survivor, but perhaps the show would benefit from a little more of that.

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