Burning Survivor Questions Answered!
by Jessica Coen
Vomiting? Early tribe-switching? An apple for a meal? You asked for explanations about CBS' Survivor: Guatemala (Thursdays at 8 pm/ET), and TV Guide's got 'em, courtesy of host Jeff Probst, series creator Mark Burnett and unit manager Dick Beckett.
TV Guide: Why did you bring back Palau's Stephenie and Bobby Jon?
Jeff Probst: We believed that people wanted to see them again. Steph was this underdog. Everyone thought, "What if she could have been on a tribe that had won one or two challenges? She might've won that damn game." And Bobby Jon was never voted out. The only reason he left the game was that it came down to him and Stephenie, and we had a fire-making competition, and he had taught her how to make fire — and she beat him. That was a pretty compelling reason to give a guy a second chance.
TV Guide: What's with the lack of diversity in this season's cast?
Probst: The overwhelming majority of people who apply to Survivor are white. We're aware of racial [and] cultural diversity, because our show is built on people from all walks of life. Straight, gay, smart, dumb, big, short — it's all those things. We try to build the most composite cast of America, but if we don't have a good contestant who's gay, we're not going to put any gay guy on to go against the homophobes. You have got to be a good contestant. We have thousands of people who apply and we bring maybe 50 in for the final auditions, and of that we pick 16. And it's not easy. We're looking for a very specific type of person.
TV Guide: What made you choose Guatemala?
Mark Burnett: I always consider four factors: Does it conjure up exotic images when you hear it? When you get there, does what you see match up to your expectation of exotic? Is the government willing to help? And lastly, is it logistically possible to get our equipment in and out? If those four factors are met, then I'm going to consider that as a location.
TV Guide: What's in it for Guatemala?
Burnett: [Participating in Survivor] is a major, major tourist benefit to every country. It's probably worth about a billion dollars in marketing value.
Dick Beckett: Production spends millions of dollars using local resources. Plus, we donated five buildings, water tanks, water-treatment systems, school equipment and supplies to various organizations in the Yaxha region. [The show is soliciting donations for aid to Guatemala, which was devastated by Hurricane Stan, at CBS.com.]
TV Guide: This season has been particularly intense: vomiting, dehydration, passing out. At what point do you decide whether or not to step in?
Probst: We're monitoring them all the time. We have a benefit this year in that we have Margaret, the nurse practitioner, and a lot of the time we kind of gauged [the ailing contestants] through her eyes. She would say, "He's going into shock," or "He's fine," or "His eyes are rolling to the back of his head, wake him up." But the truth is, each season we have two doctors, two paramedics, three nurses, an evacuation helicopter and an evacuation plan at all times.
Burnett: It should be noted that none of the women collapsed. There's a moral to the story: The women are smart enough to ask for help, to know when to rest, when to cry, when to offer help. They're more valuable than men on expeditions for that very reason. Men, because of their ego and testosterone, tend to go until they fall over, doing nobody any favors.
TV Guide: Are you planning to keep up this intensity in Survivor 12?
Probst: Nope. We all feel that we did the "tough season" in Guatemala, and maybe we'll try something different. It was a little scary for us.
TV Guide: What's the advantage of setting up camp within the Maya ruin?
Burnett: [There's] more shade, more wind block, and it gives you a sense of a flat area. The other camp is in the jungle, and there's no flat ground.
TV Guide: Did Danni really recognize Gary as a former football player, or did you guys tip her off?
Probst: We never divulge information to the castaways about each other. She knew exactly who he was. In an interview before the game started, she talked about how her father had a photo of him and how she once visited [his alma mater] Central Michigan University, where they have a huge shrine to him.
TV Guide: Why did those "most in need of nourishment," Jamie and Danni, only get one lousy apple each?
Probst: We felt an apple was adequate for nourishment. One thing I'm convinced of is that the audience at home can never appreciate just how hungry they get and the overall impact an apple has on their energy. They digest it and hours later they're hungry again, but it keeps their spirits up and that's our goal.
TV Guide: Why did you shake up the tribes so early this time?
Probst: We're always trying to catch the castaways off guard. We'd decided to switch them early before the season even began.
TV Guide: What happens when contestants are voted off?
Probst: You're taken to a separate island. You get a shower, a meal, your favorite snacks and a bed to sleep on. Once we have all of the nonjury members together, we send them on some sort of excursion. We try to make their time there fun, because we are holding them hostage.
TV Guide: Is it true they all start partying and hooking up?
Burnett: That's considered behind the curtains.