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Jeff Probst’s behind-the-scenes Survivor 44 secrets – updated!

Jeff Probst’s behind-the-scenes Survivor 44 secrets – updated!
Jeff Probst during the premiere of Survivor 44, with an inset of his new podcast's cover art (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS; composite by Andy Dehnart)

The first time I set foot on a reality TV set, I marveled at everything. Seeing how unscripted entertainment was created was amazing.

Years later, covering Survivor on location for three seasons was a dream come true, and just seeing the hundreds of people behind the scenes—parts of the production even the cast will never see—was worth the trip.

So: I love learning about how reality TV is made, and then sharing what I’ve learned. And I’ve loved Survivor since that very first season, despite its overall decline in recent years.

Enter Jeff Probst’s new podcast, On Fire with Jeff Probst.

As showrunner, Probst frequently discusses the show, from all of the insight he shared on another podcast to his Entertainment Weekly “blog,” which I once called “annoying bullshit.” He later answered questions for EW, apparently by e-mail, since there were never any follow-ups.

Now he’s taking ownership—well, Paramount is—with his own podcast. In a video explaining it, Probst said:

“It’s not a recap podcast, though; it’s cooler. We’re gonna go inside the making of Survivor from the producer’s point of view. So it’s the how we do what we do, and the why we do what we do. I think of it like a companion piece to the show: you watch an episode of survivor and then you listen to the episode of the podcast and we use that as a jumping off point to take you deeper into the show.

You know what Survivor was missing? The producers’ point of view. The only time we get the producers’ point of view is in every single frame: every storyline is crafted by a team of story producers and editors from the raw footage; every advantage is something they devised; every player is someone they chose and even costumed. So, yeah, we already get that.

But I am very interested in that next sentence: “the how we do what we do, and the why we do what we do.”

That sounds exciting! Will the podcast actually deliver that? That’s what I’m here for! My plan is to review and recap it weekly, highlighting the great stuff and mocking the other stuff. I hope it really does take us behind the scenes with real insight, or maybe I’ll get bored and give up!

And maybe, just maybe, we’ll get some insight into this abomination:

Cover art of a podcast titled "On Fire with Jeff Probst" with an cartoonish illustration of the host under the Survivor logo

On Fire with Jeff Probst episodes

Episode 1: ‘Getting to Day One’

My first impression: The podcast is a pretty even mix of absolutely fascinating and completely insufferable. A lot of what Probst says is quite familiar in terms of his philosophy about the game, but he also went into some greater detail than I’ve heard of read before.

Unlike on Survivor, Jeff has co-hosts, including Survivor supervising producer Brittany Crapper, who started on the Dream Team and led production on the season premiere for Survivor 44. I loved hearing from her, and wish there was more of her perspective.

The podcast’s producer, Jay Wolff, not so much. He gets the job of being the resident casual asking insufferable and inane questions such as, “What is that casting process like?” (Crap on a cookie, Jay, read the Internet!)

Jay learns about Ponderosa and says “that’s crazy!” and calls the time when Probst calls for medics “the most iconic moment of the show.” So Jay can produce and be quiet from now on, kthx.

Let’s break down the first episode, starting with my favorite part:

“This Is Why You Suck”

A person in a blue shirt pointing toward the camera; the ocean is behind them
Survivor showrunner and host Jeff Probst during the season 44 premiere (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS)

There are fan questions, chosen by Jay, including one person who tells Probst why he sucks, which, honestly, is terrific. So is the first fan question:

“Jeff, please stop talking every single moment during the challenges. I understand that you’re the play-by-play, but you’re driving everyone nuts.”

Connie, A+ question! You are my new favorite Survivor fan.

Jeff Probst’s response: “I get it, I really do. Even sometimes when I hear it—I know it drives a lot of people crazy,” he says. “And I understand the argument: We can see it, we don’t need you to tell us. Kind of like sports, you don’t need a play-by-play announcer; it adds a little drama.”

Probst further rationalizes it by saying he never talked in season one but then people complained “you can’t always tell who’s in the lead.”

He also says, “I can’t help it; I’m a talker.” But! He ended the segment with: “I take the note; and if I could edit myself, I would, I’ll try.” Progress? Maybe? A little?

What we learned about Survivor

  • Tribes are split in order to “approximate some fairness,” and criteria they use includes height and IQ because of the puzzles. (Fun fact not in the podcast: IQ tests have been “plagued by bias.”)
  • Mark Burnett visited Fiji for Survivor 40 but “had not been to location in years,” Probst says.
  • The advance team arrives in Fiji in January; Jeff Probst only arrives “three days out”
  • Head caterer Marianne Houston makes 100,000 meals per season for the crew
  • The crew members produced 60 babies as of Survivor 40
  • On Matthew climbing the rock, Probst says, “We would never tell him not to—we don’t interfere at all.” He added that “two of our drone operators are already in the air covering it.”
  • Talking about how Survivors poop, Brittany discussed “the aquadump,” and says the production has “been advised, by our medical team, is the most hygienic way to handle your business.” Some aquadumps have drifted to the tribe’s beaches.
  • Each camp has an area designated as Coconut Grove, where they can use the bathroom or change clothes. Brittany says “we decide this [location] at the start of the season” and says if players are “walking there, the cameras will not follow them”—unless they walk with another player.
  • During Bruce’s injury in the challenge, Brittany says, “the walkies are going crazy: every other department is alerted, knows what’s going on, is making sure we’re completely prepped and set up for worst-case scenario.”
  • Producers have changed their minds about breaking Survivor’s fundamental rules “Even five years ago, we wouldn’t risk the vote ever, because your vote is your one sacred thing,” Probst says. “Then one day, you wake up and go, because it’s sacred, that’s why you risk it.”
  • Probst frequently gives credit to his crew, which is awesome. In this episode, he mentions co-EP Jimmy Quigley, who he says is “so vital to our show that no matter what title he had, it wouldn’t do him justice.” Probst also says new casting director “Jesse Tananabuam and his team have really elevated the bar.”

Things we learned about Jeff Probst

  • “For me, everything that I read, or listen to, or witness, goes through a Survivor filter: is there anything from this moment we could incorporate into our show?” Probst says.
  • “I go on YouTube and I watch real police interrogations.” 💀 Oh no, just no. Why? Probst explains: “What I’m just looking for is that human behavior. And I know it doesn’t seem directly related, but you’re just trying to find a way: How can you approximate this kind of a situation in terms of a cat and mouse of telling the truth and telling a lie.”
  • “I also read a lot of negotiation books, the one I really liked lately was by Chris Voss called Never Split the Difference,” Probst says, saying it helped him understand “almost how do you trap somebody into getting where you want them” and “that might lead to an idea where we have a note, and the note says this, and if you can do that, then you get this prize.” Oh help us all.
  • Probst says that, while he’s driving or doing other things, “I create these scenarios in my head, and I role play—I will write out a script of what might happen. And it sounds absurd, but I’m looking for a new way in to a situation […] I just keep doing it until I stumble upon the moment of turning point and I go, Oh, that’s what we’ve got to get to there right. If we can find that moment, than it doesn’t matter who finds the advantage and who knows about it, we will have some decision that has to be made.”
  • With ideas, he says, “I call one person: Elan Lee,” the co-creator of Exploding Kittens and a game designer. Probst says they have a “super-fast shorthand” together, so he can run ideas by him without any set-up.
  • Probst doesn’t watch other reality competitions: “I don’t want to see another show doing an idea that we may have in the hopper, because then I’d feel like we can’t do it or they might do it better.”
  • “We don’t think our ideas on Survivor are right,” Probst says. “They’re not the correct ideas, they’re just ideas, we just try them. So often fans get so upset—I didn’t like this, I didn’t like that—okay, we didn’t know! We’re just trying.” And fucking up our favorite show!


  • The interview with Bruce, who was medically evacuated in the Survivor 44 premiere, last just over three minutes and is basically useless. It’s nice to hear Bruce, but he says things like “You had nothing but concern and compassion for us” to Probst and yet nothing like he says in this interview about the concussion he had, and how he knew it was bad the second he hit his head.
  • “We couldn’t rig the game if we wanted to,” Probst says, citing only the fact that challenges are created months in advance.
  • Probst tells us that “taking the audience inside the scene is essential to them having an emotional reaction.”
  • “First of all, we do have a medical team out there, and I don’t know if fans really understand that. But we have a full emergency team,” Probst says. “Nobody’s ever in danger.” Well, they’re in danger, as we saw, but there are people to help. And what fan doesn’t know about this? Have we ever seen the host of Survivor produce a scene in real-time that turns the medic into a character who’s ignoring the person lying unconscious so he can be interviewed?

Still a mystery

  • Who created the podcast’s cover art and why the actual fuck anyone approved it.

Episode 2: ‘Advantages and Idols’

A person wearing a cap and blue shirt walking in front of bushes and shrubs
Jeff Probst on Survivor 44 episode 2 (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS)

This episode tried my patience in its opening moments, when producer Jay Wolff starts by saying “First and foremost, I am thrilled to have a showmance back.” Yes, that’s what Survivor is all about: showmances. Christ on a bike.

If Jay’s just playing Extreme Casual so the casuals feel comfortable listening to a behind-the-scenes podcast, my apologies, because he’s doing a brilliant job.

Later, he asks if the Tyler Perry idol idea really came from Tyler Perry, something Jeff Probst revealed in 2014.

What we learned about Survivor

  • Why Survivor started backstories: Producers were thinking that “if the audience could understand and know the players as deeply as we do, it would help,” Probst says.
  • Probst and Survivor producer Brittany Crapper break down how they lay out Carolyn’s story, with Probst pointing out that her kid/poop story in episode 2 was there so “your impression of her is starting to change,” and says “imagine if you flipped those scenes … it doesn’t have the same emotional impact”
  • Brittany denies that they story-dump for people who are about to get eliminated. “Everyone thinks we do that,” she says. “We’re just trying to tell the best story at the best time”
  • They both deny that there’s a winner’s edit. “There’s no such thing as winner’s edit,” Probst says. “I don’t even know what a winner’s edit is—I understand it conceptually.” But then he says, “We’re clearly aware of who wins when we start, but we don’t give them a winner’s edit.” Sure, Jan.
  • There’s another, new, vote-based advantage coming this season.
  • The Beware Advantage “was a name first,” Probst says. “I didn’t have any idea what it was.”
  • Will we get an advantage-free season? Nope. Survivor producer Brittany Crapper says, “The dominant alliance could control the vote, and if we don’t have anything in the game to switch it up, then there’s no way of stopping that.” Probst agrees: “You have to create that uncertainty,” and then rattles off “great moments that come from idols and advantages.” Sigh.
  • Here are two advantages that were not found:
    • S42: Idol nullifier was inside a fish, but Jonathan threw the advantage out with the fish guts, which is visible in an episode
    • S33, episode 8: note in the merge box had a clue in the first letter of each word: “Mail brings advantage. Find it first”

Things we learned about Jeff Probst

  • Probst cannot imagine an auction without advantages. I say that because he wants us to share “idea[s] how to resuscitate the auction” and says the reason it was dumped is because players “sat on their money and wait for the advantages.” He says “we would love to bring the auction back.” SO WHY NOT DO IT WITHOUT ADVANTAGES AAACK
  • Probst takes credit for the shift to advantage/idol-land. “A lot of that is my influence,” he says, insisting the producers “had to lean more into game design, and we had to have some unexpected twists and some advantages that would give power to people, because you wanted to create uncertainty.” Citing players such as Rob and Parvati, Probst says, “my concern was, if we aren’t ahead of you, you’re going to catch us … and it will become very boring.” Another way to solve that: Don’t bring back the same people four times!
  • Probst says that for the first hidden idol in Survivor season 11, Guatemala, “the problem was we didn’t have any intention behind it”
  • Probst calls the advantages and twists “the MacGuffin,” and says how people respond is what matters. But I’m curious if he knows that MacGuffin means something that is, to quote Wikipedia, “insignificant, unimportant, or irrelevant in itself.” Advantages affect the game, and thus are none of those things.
  • Probst says when he designs a new twist, “I’ll reverse engineer a result—meaning, I’ll imagine a situation I’d like to see happen and then figure out how to achieve it”
  • Probst admits the Super Idol is a bad idea: “I got intoxicated with the fact that Tyler Perry thought we should it bring it back,” he says. “That’s another one I got wrong.”
  • Probst says that even though his name is on the podcast and he’s showrunner, “we are a we,” and “everybody contributes to” ideas, saying “the various points of view that we all bring in” makes something work

“This Is Why You Suck”

“My favorite part of the show,” Probst says—and it’s mine too!

This week’s entry comes from an anonymous person who summarizes many of our complaints:

“Jeff Probst was okay in the beginning, but has quickly become the worst part of Survivor. Every time he talks, it’s a bunch of random cliches mixed with forced inspirational moments. On top of that, he’s the showrunner and is making ridiculous choices like Knowledge is Power.”

Probst ends by defending Knowledge is Power as “pure beauty” and “magnificent”

But he begins by saying this note “is a good one, because they’re hitting at some things that hurt.”

As to the “I’m the worst part of the show” part, he says, “I will accept that with one tweak: Worst part implies that lots of parts of Survivor are bad, and I clearly don’t agree. I think the format is great. The players are ridiculously entertaining Our storytelling, I’m going to say it, really well-crafted. Challenges are epic and pretty to look at, and the buffs are cool. So if I’m the worst part, I can accept that, and I will honor the spirit of the note that I have become intolerable.”

He continues: “The random cliches, also not wrong. You know, I was reading comics and dreaming of being a pro baseball player. I should have read more literature. I can’t argue with that either. And here’s the thing, I’m aware of that, too. When I’m out there, I go, This is the best I have right now, but it’s all I got.”

Probst does object to his making a big deal out of the family visits and similar moments.

“On the forced inspirational moments, I completely get that they seem forced, but I’m going to tell you, they are genuine. Despite what you might think, I’m very corny. I cry easily. I’m glass half-full. I root for people. I’m a parent. And I’m invested in these players. So in these moments when I think something beautiful has happened, it’s real. I’m feeling for them. Plus, we got a dog, and somehow that changed me a lot.”

Episode 3: ‘Choosing the Castaways’

A person with their hands on their hips, with a large Survivor logo behind them
Survivor 44 host and showrunner Jeff Probst during episode 3 (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS)

What we learned about Survivor

  • “There is no box any more. All we want is for you to be you.”
  • Probst breaks down their analysis of great cast members with four categories, though they don’t form a fun acronym like Creativity, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent. They are:
    • Drive
    • Compelling (“What’s your story?”)
    • Authenticity (“We don’t care who you are, we just want to know who you are”)
    • Are you going to play the game?
  • Probst give a lot of credit to Lynne Spillman, who cast Survivor Borneo and also The Amazing Race season 1. “She is the pioneer,” he says, and “her process laid the foundation—not just for Survivor, but lots of unscripted shows.” “She’s the first face on Mt. Rushmore of casting,” he adds. Lynne cast for 19 years and 38 seasons, and then was fired, but Probst doesn’t mention that.
  • New casting director “Jesse Tannenbaum took over … and he updated our process, because we’d been doing it the same way for a long time,” Probst says, calling it “cleaner, faster, more personal. It’s definitely very current.” Jesse is “very in touch with his emotions.”
  • “100 percent confident that they would send a cast that would be great”
  • Initial interviews with top-level producers, including Probst, are now via Zoom or FaceTime, so “the people that we’re flying to L.A. are only people we want to meet.” That’s for finals casting, which is similar to Big Brother’s final casting.
  • At finals, Probst said, “We’ll even say, let’s all have a beer” to help prospective contestants calm their nerve. “We are their biggest fans; we want everyone to succeed.”
  • If a potential contestant flops in the room with producers and network execs, any production team member can say they “fall on the sword,” and everyone agrees to ignore that interview and put the person on the show anyway. I’d love to know who this happened to!

What we learned about Jeff Probst

  • I genuinely admire the way Jeff Probst approaches job opportunities. Here’s what he said: “It may seem crazy, but I’ve always approached my career this way: If I’m the right person for the job, there is nobody else. And if there’s anybody else for this job, then I’m not the right person. So that gives me the permission and the freedom to be me; I’m either right for you or I’m not. I’m not everybody’s cup of tea; I know that. But if I’m your cup of tea, then let’s have some tea together.”
  • Probst tells the story of hearing Mark Burnett talking about Survivor on the radio, and then competing with Phil Keoghan for the job. Here’s Phil’s version of those events.
  • Probst shares his notes from his initial calls with S44 cast members Carson, Yam Yam, and Carolyn.
  • He knows that his questions influence votes. “100 percent. Happens all the time. But I don’t think it’s the question I ask. I really don’t, because I ask the same basic questions every tribal: who, what, when, where, why. Obviously, they’re situational and contextual and all that stuff. … It isn’t the questions that I ask. It’s what the player does with it that matters, so treat every question as an opportunity.”

“This Is Why You Suck”

The critical question this week is related, I think, to last week’s, which was about his cliches and “forced inspirational moments.” The question/complaint is about Probst’s analogies.

“This one does actually hurt, because I know I suck at analogies,” Probst says. “My memory is terrible so I forget a lot of things, including that I suck at analogies.”


  • Probst: “We try to have a few rules as possible on Survivor.” LOLLOL
  • Producer Brittany Crapper: “We want to have this, like, limitless approach for them to create and play the game exactly how they want to.” LOLLOL
  • Producers came up with the Beware Advantage phrases, Probst said, with this prompt: “Think of crazy phrases that would be impossible to say in a Survivor setting and not sound like you’re cuckoo.” Few rules, limitless approach indeed.

Episode 4: ‘Designing Challenges’

A person wearing a blue shirt with his hands on his hips, standing next to a table with something covering it, and an Outwit, Outplay, Outlast flag behind him
Jeff Probst at the Survivor 44 episode 4 reward challenge (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS)

What we learned about Survivor

  • Not much that’s new: I think challenge design is probably the most covered behind-the-scenes aspect of Survivor, from the behind-the-scenes videos CBS used to produce to my NPR story. So everything from design to Dream Team rehearsals has been explained extensively for years.
  • But I guess there are people who don’t know this stuff, like casual co-host Jay Wolff, who says “huh, I never knew that” after Probst talks about walking the tribes through the challenge, off-camera, to give them the rules
  • Probst does give a detailed explanation of the way the challenge teams secure challenge platforms in the water, which allows them to stay put but also move with the ocean, which is interesting.
  • Probst says challenges need one or more of these three things: “a physical requirement,” “a mental component,” or something “emotional: you against you.”
  • If you wish Survivor would stop repeating puzzles: “We’ve decided to keep some of our iconic puzzles and repeat them,” Probst says, adding, “I love that because it rewards preparation.”
  • “We don’t even know who the players are when we’re making these challenges”
  • The forced tribe switch that happened on Survivor 44, Probst reminded us (and me!) that this also happened in Survivor Africa: “This was the first twist we ever did,” Probst says, insisting the producers are doing it “to force you to adapt”

What we learned about Jeff Probst

  • “I’m somebody who seriously struggles to change a light bulb,” Jeff says/jokes when praising the challenge teams for its builds
  • Probst says this episode/moment is “my favorite moment of Survivor, because for me, the corny part of me, it captures what I want the show to be, which is: What are we capable of if we just give ourselves a chance?” He calls it a “beautiful, powerful, historic moment.”
  • Probst’s dog is named “Stevie,” although that may not be the correct spelling.
  • When he was in high school, Probst thought he’d play David Lee Roth in a movie someday

“This Is Why You Suck”

The criticism this week is about Jeff Probst’s hair. The listener says: “Probst, cut your hair. Seriously, dude, you can get a haircut again. It isn’t quarantine. Act your age.”

Probst says, “They’re hitting me in places that I’m very vulnerable, like vanity and age.”

But he likes his long hair. “I’m happy to have hair, and I never take it for granted,” he says. “I kind of like it right now, because it takes me back to my high school rock ‘n’ roll days.”

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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Happy discussing!


Wednesday 15th of March 2023

Did they not talk about contestants building challenge puzzles at home to practice on? This really chaps my hide.


Tuesday 14th of March 2023

I would think you'd be more generous about all the times Jeff Probst is admitting he messed up and got things wrong.

James Pats

Wednesday 15th of March 2023

@ALan, Of course he won’t. Dehnart is clearly miserable, and simply wants any excuse he can take to shit on Jeff Probst, a man he has an unhealthy obsession (read: hate boner) for. It’s simply just outrage-stoking faux journalism. The Tucker Carlson of Reality TV, if you will.

James Pats

Thursday 9th of March 2023

It’s amazing how Jeff still takes time out of his very busy schedule to sit down and do this podcast so we can get an inside look into the show and some very valuable information, and it continually amazes me how he continues to have such passion for what he does: despite ungrateful misers like you tearing him down at every opportunity.


Wednesday 15th of March 2023

@Andy Dehnart, I deeply appreciate you listening so I don't have to. :)


Monday 13th of March 2023

@Andy Dehnart, hahaha! We appreciate your service, Andy.

Andy Dehnart

Thursday 9th of March 2023

What about all the time I took out of my busy schedule to sit down and tear him down at every opportunity? No credit or thanks for that?!

Chuck S

Wednesday 8th of March 2023

One thing I would like to know, and maybe it's been answered already, is if Jeff is filled in on what's going on with the castaways that he doesn't see. i.e. If Player A and Player B are working to get Player C out, does Jeff know this when he holds tribal that night? Because information like that could color his questioning and possibly ruin some player's games.

Andy Dehnart

Wednesday 8th of March 2023

You should send this in to the podcast! But yes, he is absolutely briefed on what's going on. The level of detail is unclear, but he has the basic idea.

Scott Hardie

Friday 3rd of March 2023

"I take the note, and if I could edit myself, I would. I'll try." Jeff, you are the showrunner! Nothing makes it to air that you don't approve. You can shout all you want at challenges and then instruct the editors to tone it down in the finished episodes. Come on.

"How do you trap somebody into getting where you want them? ... That might lead to an idea where we have a note, and the note says this, and if you can do that, then you get this prize." And so Survivor continues its dispiriting transition, from a competition between players into a competition against the game itself. How many more seasons do you think we'll get with actual voting, until that's eliminated in favor of players just finding and obeying random notes in the woods to stay in the game?


Saturday 4th of March 2023

@Scott Hardie, Next season, the tiebreaker gets replaced with Jeff voting to break the tie.