Jeff Probst has survived and seen ’em all
By Ruben V. Nepales
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:57:00 03/09/2008
LOS ANGELES—“Survivor” host and executive producer Jeff Probst recently sat down for an interview about his phenomenally successful TV series, which has just been picked up for two more cycles.
A chatty, friendly guy, Jeff talked about some of the interesting yet not well-known elements and incidents in the long-running reality show that he has seen and experienced. Below are excerpts:
What things are the contestants allowed to bring?
They have a first aid kit that has sunscreen lotion, tampons, condoms (laughter)—because we don’t want any “Survivor” babies. But they use condoms for different things, too. They get creative and realize that they can use the condom to somehow help them survive. Other things like toothbrush—no.
No toilet paper. They go in the ocean. No medication either.
So how well do you know them for just-in-case medical situations?
We know their medical profile pretty thoroughly so they can’t bring anti-depressants, for example.
They are not allowed to bring anything. We strip search everybody—literally. Because when we did an all-star season, a guy put matches in a little container up his bum. We were watching Richard who is our most infamous survivor of all time. He is now in prison for not paying his taxes on the cash prize that he won on the show.
We decided to make it really hard and not give him flint for six days. Richard was like, “I am not really worried.” Our producers said, “It’s weird.” Suddenly his group had fire. I don’t remember who it was but somebody tracked it down and found this little vial. So we now strip search everyone.
What’s the best part about casting?
We get like two 8 x 10s strung out lengthwise and it lists every single thing about a contestant’s life. Cars, net worth, where he lives, job, any STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), any augmentation to his body, has he been in therapy, has he been arrested—everything. It’s so invasive but fascinating because it is reality and we want to know about people.
Then we chart them. When it’s done, there will be red, yellow, green and blue dots.
What are the dots for?
Red means probably not going to get on the show because he is borderline out of his mind. The other dots will tell you things like he’s going to be a great storyteller, will drive drama, quiet—will sit in the back of the pack. You obviously don’t want all red dots. You do want some quiet people, some great storytellers.
Has any contestant been in real danger?
Our biggest danger was in the second season when a guy literally fell into a fire. He passed out. The criticism was that we’re seeing his skin fall off which meant that a cameraman was still shooting while this was going on. That’s true because (Mark) Burnett (the series’ creator) would say, “You’d better shoot.” If a crocodile comes up and eats someone, somebody better have wide and tight shots of the crocodile’s mouth. But we will also have a producer back there who would immediately radio for medical emergency. So far, we’ve been lucky.
What are some of the gross things you’ve seen?
We had a guy who had a huge cyst on the side of his neck. The doctors cut it open because it was a boil. Any time, any of our doctors can come in and say someone is out of the game. We had a guy whose bladder, his bowel movement and everything stopped. His stomach was just distended. He was in huge pain. He fought it for like three days. Finally, our doctors came out and told him, “You will die in a couple of days if we don’t take you out (and bring you to a hospital).” So he was taken out.
How did you fall in love with Julie Berry, who was one of the contestants? Did you read her 8 x 10 profile?
I didn’t know that I was going to fall in love at the time. Later, after the show was over, I asked our psychologist, “What do you think of Julie?” She said, “I can’t really tell you much” and then she told me one personal thing. Sadly, Julie and I are not dating anymore. But it was a good love affair. Honestly, I was so struck by her beauty when she walked in. I threw the paper down. I was like, “I know I’m voting for you to be on the show.”