After all this time, you don’t associate Jeff Probst with traffic gridlock, yowling sirens, or office towers crowding the sky.
It’s not that Probst seems out of place in a metropolis like New York. It’s just that, after 16 seasons hosting CBS’ Survivor, he’s more readily identified with various brands of wilderness half a world away. Yet here he is in Manhattan, eager to talk about Survivor: Micronesia, whose finale originated last night from the Ed Sullivan Theater.
“This has been a season of blind-sides and dumb moves,” Probst zestily sums up. “We’ve had a really strong women’s alliance for the first time. We’ve had people out with injuries. A woman lost her mind.” (Or, at least, her will to continue: On Day 19 of the 39-day ordeal, Kathleen begged tearfully to be sent home — and was.)
The process will start over again, with Probst presiding at the next, yet-to-be-announced exotic site as Survivor No. 17 goes into production in July.
Season after season, the Nielsen tribe has spoken and pronounced Survivor an enduring hit. How to explain it? Probst theorizes that success has stemmed from starting with a good idea, then sticking with it. He thinks back to the first season, as the series took the plunge with its distinctive style and pseudo-mythology.
“We wanted to make an impression, and we wanted our own vernacular: ‘castaways,’ ‘survivors,’ ‘the tribe has spoken.’
“I knew it was corny,” he adds with a laugh. But, to his everlasting credit, he never let on. From the premiere — when Sonja (remember her?) made history as the first castaway to be “voted off” and told “it’s time for you to go” — Probst nailed his compound role as master of ceremonies, counsellor, ringmaster and provocateur.
Just a few weeks later, he was taking on more roles: Directing an indie film from his own script. Finder’s Fee, an edgy drama that begins with someone finding a wallet that contains a winning lottery ticket, was released in 2001.
“I’ve learned a ton about storytelling from Survivor. I’d love to make another movie.”