Though it’s been nearly 20 years since 16 strangers learned how to outwit, outplay and outlast on Survivor, the veteran reality series is still capable of firsts.
In Survivor: Edge of Extinction, castaways dealt a torch-snuffing blow at Tribal Council are in for a shock. During the usual walk of shame, they’ll be presented with the option of either continuing to play the game in a desolate location called Extinction Island or end their experience. If they choose Option A, they’ll have almost nil in the way of food and shelter — and no idea of when and how they can rejoin the fun and vie for the $1 million.
If they think conditions are too difficult, they can literally raise the white flag. “It’s going to be hard for them,” longtime host and Survivor executive producer Jeff Probst promises Us.
To add an extra wrinkle, four returnees are in the mix: Aubry Bracco (Survivor: Kaoh Rong, Survivor: Game Changers); David Wright (Survivors: Millennials vs. Gen X); Kelley Wentworth (Survivor: San Juan Del Sur — Blood vs. Water, Survivor: Cambodia — Second Chance); and Joe Anglim (Survivor: Worlds Apart, Survivor: Cambodia — Second Chance).
On the first day of shooting Survivor: Edge of Extinction in the sun-drenched Fiji’s Mamanuca Islands (i.e. Survivor’s home base since 2016), an excited Probst, 57, broke down the series’ 38th edition and talked all things Survivor with Us. Read the interview below and for even more, pick up the new issue of Us Weekly, on stands now.
Us Weekly: Walk us through this concept again, what happens when someone is voted off.
Jeff Probst: When you get voted off Tribal Council, you will follow a path like you always do but at a certain point, you’re going to turn a corner and the darkness will go away; it will be replaced by a lighted torch and a sign. The person is going to be in shock. The sign post will read “You have a decision to make: If you don’t want to play anymore, follow this path and the game will end.” The other sign is “If you want another chance to get back in the game, take this torch and get on the boat.” So, all they know is they have a chance to get back in the game.
Us: What are the conditions like on the island?
JP: The sign is a bit of a trap because it doesn’t reveal how difficult the conditions are going to be. Even something like a handful of rice – you have to find the rice and then do a little work to get the rice. That will be the only rice that you get. There won’t be a tin where you can eat as much as you want. Here’s your rations, see you tomorrow. If you want it, you’ll stay.
Us: Doesn’t this twist go against the whole “the tribe has spoken” part of game?
JP: I’m a fan of the losers’ bracket. I like the second chance. I like the underdog. I like telling the winner, “If you’re so good, beat me again.” It’s not a right or wrong. I totally respect people thinking this breaks the rules, I just don’t agree. The idea is to try to go deeper with the show. I’m curious why people are playing Survivor. Why come out here and do this to yourself? I think Extinction Island will do this. On Survivor, the worst day is when you don’t have a challenge because you have to sit there. On Extinction Island, there are no challenges, no rewards, no fried chicken. You have rice and time. You’re going to lose your mind out there.
Us: Of the four returning players, who do you think will go the furthest?
JP: Joe will have the hardest time, but he’ll last a while; his record is undeniable. Once you get to individual portion, people know they just can’t risk it. David is the dark horse, the one people don’t really understand. My pick is Wentworth to win the game. She’s got so many skills. I would never vote these four early. They have too much experience.
Us: They’re all threats, vote them out!
JP: You’d be a fool to vote them out. They know how to play this game and they have the same goal as me: They don’t want to be voted out. So I want you. You may find an idol first because you know. I’m willing to take that risk. To get rid of Kelley before I get rid of a weaker player? No. I could ride on Joe’s back for weeks!
Us: Would you have done Extinction Island without returning players?
JP: I don’t know. It was always connected to returning players. I knew we needed four people to represent the different types of game – really good players who never won to really show you that this game is not easy. And that’s the misdirect. You think the game is about how hard it is. But it’s setting you up for what’s coming. I feel like this is a psychological experiment in getting ready for Phase II, too, which is Extinction Island. This could all be a bunch of gobbly goo, too.
Us: How challenging is it for you to keep thinking of these new ideas?
JP: We’re talking 37 past seasons, so it’s hard. This came from me wanting to go deeper. We have this gift. We have advantages and idols, which is cool. But I have a motivation: Why are you out here? If you really want this, how far would you go? Would you go and live on an island by yourself? And if so, what would you discover? I’ve been taught to trust my instincts. This is the riskiest island we’ve done. Ghost island was guaranteed, whether you liked it or not. There was an action. This is a choice! If nobody goes, it will be a very weird season. But I’m hopeful somebody does.
Us: What still surprises you about hosting the show?
JP: I’m still so into it. It does surprise me sometimes. I’m almost 20 years into it, and yet, this morning, I found myself going, “I’m curious! I want to see you guys play!” My enthusiasm surprises me. I would have never guessed it. It’s probably more today than it was because I’m learning more about myself and about human nature and that makes me want to go deeper, which led to Edge of Extinction. We had the players do something we’ve never done before. We had them answer three questions right here in Fiji before the game started. They centered around the idea of “Why are you here?” I’m curious if they’re different when you’re done.
Survivor: Edge of Extinction premieres on CBS Wednesday, February 20, at 8 p.m. ET.
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