Think about it this way: When Jeff Probst hosted the very first episode of Survivor on May 31, 2000, Jennifer Aniston was busy planning her wedding to Brad Pitt. Twenty-one seasons, 10 1/2 years, three Emmys --- and approximately 3,286 blue shirts later -- Probst is set to take the reins once more for the much-anticipated Survivor: Redemption Island, which premieres tonight (CBS, 8 PM, duh). The Kansas native, 48, talks to UsMagazine.com.
UsMagazine.com: So this is the season of second chances. Take it from there.
Jeff Probst: We're introducing a new format. When you're voted out, you don't go home, you go to another island for a chance to come back into the game. In the first episode, one person goes. In the second episode, another person goes. By the third episode, there will be a duel and it's going to pay off really well.
Us: You're also bringing back "Boston" Rob Mariano and Russell Hantz. They're fan favorites, but we're talking third and fourth chances here.
JP: That's true, but there is so much animosity between them. And you have this great added component, which is both of them were villains, and then somehow Rob became a hero. So it's a very good rivalry. You also could argue that Russell still hasn't learned what it means to redeem and needs to redeem himself, while Rob is a great example of what redemption can do for you. He says becoming a father has changed him. It's strange for the fans to have this kind of relationship with someone like that.
Us: It's the first day of production for this season. Are you still excited to start the game or are you on auto-pilot mode?
JP: I don't know what energy I was picking up on, but about 10 minutes before the game started, I put on Eminem's "Lose Yourself" and I got all the Survivors in a circle and I said "I've never done this before. But I think we're on the verge of something great." And I put on the boom box and started singing it.
Us: So there are seasons when you can sense it's not going to be...
JP: No, I've never been negative going into a game. Never. That's why I'm still with the show. I still love the people. Give me 16 strangers who are all going to compete for $1 million at any cost and I get to put my big fat face in the middle? I'm totally in.
Us: Last summer, you left Survivor: Nicaragua in the middle of filming to officiate Jenna Fischer's wedding in Los Angeles. How was that possible?
JP: I've never left location ever. But this was one of those serendipitous things in that there was a break from challenges and tribal council, a flight landed in time, and then I went right back to the airport at 1 a.m. and I was back in the morning. I didn't miss anything. I'm so happy that I did it because it was fun to be a part of. Jenna and I are friends and her husband is a really nice guy.
Us: You know this next question is coming, so here goes: Are you officially on the short list of possible Regis Philbin replacements?
JP: Here's my thought: I think Regis should stay.
Us: Come on, he's not going to stay!
JP: Well, we don't know. I mean, people retire and change their minds. Look at Brett Favre. So I don't think people are ready for Regis to leave, and that is my comment.
Us: You've beaten Ryan Seacrest three times in the Best Reality Host Emmy category. Do you ever rub his nose in it?
JP: Never. Everybody in that reality category....honestly we're all just happy to be in the game. And look, let's be clear, Ryan is doing just fine!