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!
Sign up now for the Us Weekly newsletter to get breaking celebrity news, hot pics and more delivered straight to your inbox!