Jeff Probst Conference Call – February 10
Prior to each Survivor season kicking off, Jeff Probst holds a teleconference with various media folks to answer questions about the upcoming season. On February 10th Jeff held his call for the Palau season that begins this Thursday.
Normally John handles these types of calls and interviews for us via his contracts at CBS, but schedules prevented that. I was fortunate to have the chance to listen in to the call recording this season in John’s place.. Jeff Probst is a remarkably straightforward guy when he is answering interview questions. He talked openly about the season, without giving away any big secrets. He also gets into to his personal life, as well as his thoughts on Rob and Amber in The Amazing Race. Overall, it was a great call.
What follows is a summary of what the call covered and is most definitely NOT a transcript of the call. If something is in quotes, then it is Jeff’s own words, otherwise I will quickly summarize the topic from notes.
Question about Jeff Wilson
The first question was from a local reporter looking for background. He also wondered if Wilson’s personal trainer background resulted in any advantage for him.
Jeff talked about Wilson saying he is “a very fit guy” and that he also understands why he is fit, in terms of nutrition and lifestyle, not just working out. A recurring theme involved Jeff referring back to the initial Survivor selection process and every time he saw Jeff Wilson, he just didn’t think he was going to be selected. After a while though, the producers figured out that this guy was the one they kept talking about even after he left. Basically, he grew on them.
In other too much information news, Jeff reported that Wilson shaves his entire body besides his head, and that he does this everyday. Yes, his ENTIRE body. When asked about why he does it, Probst said that Wilson was a bit evasive. First he claimed athletics. Then he tried to say the ladies love it. When challenged by ladies in the room who disagreed with that sentiment, he finally broke down and said it was because he likes it that way.
As for the advantages of physical strength, Jeff pointed out that strong players have been early targets in the past, but this season the physical challenges, especially early, are so tough that tribes will soon learn that booting someone as a threat too early could end up only hastening your own return to tribal council. That makes it much tougher for people to immediately target those they fear down the road as threats in individual challenges.
Question about physical challenges
The next question asked Jeff to continue on that topic and describe some of the challenges, and how they were more difficult.
Jeff responded by noting that the water is so clear in Palau that they felt they had to take advantage of it. He also said a few of the early challenges are much more demanding than anything they have done in the past.
Question about the opening drop off of the Survivors
Jeff described how in the past nine shows they had changed the initial conditions a bit with each passing season, and generally gave the survivors less and less. First get rid of fire. Then no food. Then no water. This season will be a big step down that path as the contestants will receive nothing. Jeff said, “here is your beach, have fun!” and that was it.
He felt the biggest challenge from this would be the fact that they have no map, or any hint as to where water is. On top of that, they are not initially divided into any tribes, nor is any explanation given as to when or if that could happen. Jeff thinks the survivors will be on guard right from the start, wondering what will happen next.
A follow on question then asked about the rumor of two survivors being booted before the game even begins. Jeff confirmed that two folks will be gone before the very first challenge gets started. To quote him, “it’s a brutal, brutal beginning to the season”, and he said a good analogy was the cruelness of being picked last, or not at all in this case, as a kid on a playground.
He also confirmed that would be an additional boot in the first episode for three total.
Question about Caryn Greodel
Another local reporter asked questions about Caryn Greodel.
Jeff described Caryn as “well spoken” and he repeated those words several times. He also said she has a “sharp mouth” but not in the sense of being mouthy, only that she was very eloquent and unafraid to make her point. He expanded on that saying that he knew she was a lawyer and that she could make an argument, but he also felt her status as a mom might turn out to be just as important in terms of dealing with social interactions and disagreements during the game.
Obligatory question about Jeff and Julie
Yes they are still together, and Jeff spoke glowingly of his relationship. He is “in love” and not “just dating”. His words, not mine.
Question about people being attracted to each other while on Survivor
It looks like there is no escape for those of us who would like to see Rob and Amber ride off into the sunset.
On the topic of romance on Survivor, Jeff had some interesting things to say. “If you think about it, it is a romantic setting” Probst said, “despite the smell and being gross”.
Still, he was initially very surprised at Rob’s tactics in All-Stars. “Rob basically said I am going to run this game, and I am going to do it with the hottest woman on the beach tucked under his arm. No one stopped him.” Jeff was also convinced that Rob truly fell in love with Amber during their time together in All-Stars, and related some stories of them together immediately after the end of the last tribal council.
Jeff cautioned though that the majority of folks who try out for the game are in it for the money, and he himself would have a hard time trusting anyone in terms of romance while the game was in progress.
Later he predicted that Rob and Amber had the tools to do quite well in TAR, and that he had considered going on TAR in the past. He enjoys the show.
Question about Ian Rosenberger
Another local reporter asked about Ian Rosenberger and if his height worked for, or against him. Ian is 6’8”.
Jeff said that this would be the tallest Survivor cast to date. Jeff is just barely 5’ 10” and he felt dwarfed by many of them. Jeff remembered that he felt Ian assured his place on the show right from the “first time he walked through the door” during interviews. He says Ian is a “great guy” and “very good in the water”.
Then he went off on a bit of a tangent, but it was an intriguing one to me. Jeff said that whenever he is involved with the interview of younger applicants he always considers their maturity. He worries that many of the younger players go far in the game but then make “mistakes” because they don’t have the life experience, or maturity, to deal with the things that happen in the end game. He didn’t really expand on that further, but I took his tone to mean he didn’t want someone like Eliza (who he did mention by name as an example of this) potentially ruining the season by doing something silly at the end.
Question about rejected applicant videos
A reporter noted that one of the most entertaining aspects of American Idol is the rejected audition scenes. Would Survivor consider a special showing some of the rejected applicants?
Jeff laughed for a bit and then firmly said no.
Question about big twists or events this season
A reporter noted that in the past there have been big twists and big lies, such as Johnny Fairplay. Is there something this year?
Jeff responded that there is not a single dramatic event this year along the lines of some in the past. However, he did say there are “more firsts this season than any other.” He explained that as he went through his notes on the show he found more and more times where he noted that something that occurred had never happened before in the game. He wasn’t willing to give more details than that.
Question about female survivors treating Jeff differently from now on given that he is a dating a former Survivor
A reporter wanted to know if Jeff had been treated differently, or expected he would be in the future, due to his relationship with Julie.
Jeff was amused by the thought, but pointed out “it would be a waste of time for them if they did.” He expanded on that to say that he takes his job very seriously, and that part of his job is to sometimes have the survivors mad at him. He just thinks of them as contestants, and it is his job to get them to come out of their shells.
Question about Angie Jakusz
A participant asked if Angie’s multiple tattoos had inspired Jeff to go get his own tattoo.
Jeff laughed again, but seriously noted that Angie’s tattoo’s are all “thoughtful in terms of placement.” He noted that there was nothing random about the tattoos themselves, or their locations. He further discussed Angie and noted that she was smart, and knew she could be perceived as an “oddball” going into the game by the other survivors.
Question about three lawyers being in the game
A reporter asked if three lawyers this season, and the number of lawyers from the past, showed an inherent advantage in that profession as related to the game of Survivor.
Jeff disagreed and felt that because of all the variables in the game, there would be no one occupation or background that had an advantage. However, he noted that lawyers have the skill to argue, and part of that involves thinking ahead as to what your adversary would say and do. This does help in terms of strategy, but such skills and other social abilities were not limited to attorneys alone.
From here though, he took another turn slightly off-topic and it made me wish he would do that more often. In regards to lawyers he only half jokingly said that he still doesn’t understand why they cast them in the game. He fears lawsuits from that type of player, or at least arguments about the rules. To counter that, Jeff said that he sets firm guidelines early and “doesn’t take sh*t from anyone” during the game.
A follow on question then asked who had the final say in any dispute regarding the game. Jeff responded that Mark Burnett has the final say as to anything in the game, but that during challenges and such, Jeff is empowered to be the judge and jury. Jeff says he takes that very seriously and does go back and look at tape. He says that if a mistake occurs he will ensure it is shown on camera.
Question about older players and physical challenges
A participant asked if the mentioned heavy physical challenges are a disadvantage to the older survivors.
Jeff answered “Maybe, but it comes down to choice and thinking as a team”. He discussed again their desire to force the survivors to make hard decisions. Cut a person who can help us win challenges? Or cut someone else perhaps not as strong physically, but helpful in finding food and water. It is meant to be hard, and not necessarily fair.
Question about Jolanda Jones
Another local reporter asked about Jolanda Jones.
Jeff was impressed with her. “She is the full package in terms of physical. World Class Athlete, not before, but right now.” Jeff further described her as very giving and a strong arguer. However, she can “disarm you with her million dollar smile”. He noted that much like Ian’s height, Jolanda’s skills work both for and against her depending on the situation. Jeff gave her great credit for rising up through her challenging background.
Another good sidetrack here. Jeff noted that the Vanuatu participants were the most “normal” folks to ever play the game. He said they were type of people you could have a BBQ with and never suspect they were on Survivor unless you knew in advance. He further said though that the normal attribute though kept any one of them from standing out and people still confused many of them for each other several weeks into the show. He called the participants in this season’s show “20 individuals” and was confident that we viewers would already know several of them by the end of the first show.
Question about the World War 2 theme
A reporter asked Jeff to explain the WWII theme. Would the challenges be called war? Etc…
Jeff emphasized that they showed great respect for the wrecks and other historical areas on the island. He emphasized that the show would not minimize the actual sacrifices of war to further the game.
Interestingly, he noted that you simply cannot get around anywhere in Palau without seeing the wrecks of ships and planes. He said that at first he snorkeled around some of the wrecks near a challenge beach, but after a while you begin to realize the human cost those remnants symbolize and he no longer dove. He was uncomfortable.
Final Question: How involved is Jeff Probst with the casting process
Jeff related that he is brought in once the casting team has screened the thousands of applicants down to 50-75. He interviews every applicant from that point forward, and several times before they arrive at their final number. Ironically, for a popular host, he feels many of the contestants likely feel he is arrogant because he challenges them many times during these interviews. He related in his first interview with current girlfriend Julie, he upset her to the point that she ran out of the room crying.
That’s it. Again, not a transcript of the call, but we hope you enjoy the additional information prior to the premiere this week of Survivor: Palau.