Jeff Probst a constant for ‘Survivor’ as it approaches game 44

NEW YORK (AP) — There was a time when Jeff Probst couldn’t imagine doing what he would do on Wednesday, presenting the launch of a 44th season of “Survivor.”

That’s not just due to the evanescence of television, where a 44th season of anything is a rarity, even a program that caused a sensation when it first aired on CBS in the summer of 2000.

In those early days there was a commotion about Probst. He had studied screenwriting, acted, and wrote and directed a well-received indie film in 2001. He tried a short-lived talk show. He admits, “I had a chip on my shoulder for being called ‘host.'”

But when series creator Mark Burnett began to retire, Probst added “producer” to his title and has since risen to “showrunner” — industry lingo meaning he’s in charge of everything.

At 61, he’s in full swing, an evangelist for Survivor.

“I’ve never been more excited to be a part of the show,” he said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “I hope it’s obvious. I hope it’s clear that I’m really into ‘Survivor’.”

It remains a beautifully crafted game, one that tests survival skills in a forbidden – albeit beautiful – environment along with the social and scheming skills to ultimately stand and collect the $1 million prize. Even if a cast is sluggish, “one of the show’s greatest strengths is that each season hits a reset button,” said Dalton Ross, Executive Editor at Large at Entertainment Weekly and a veteran chronicler of the show.

That’s how it can, um, survive a scandal like this Player is kicked out in 2019 after being accused of inappropriately touching young women or not working tweaks like the “fire signs” introduced and abandoned after one season.

Other new ideas, like a hidden immunity idol or the David vs. Goliath season that Probst loved very much, freshen up the show as it follows a basic structure.

Producers were also directed by CBS to increase diversity, which Probst says has added to the show’s richness. The 18 castaways for the new season include five black contestants, three Latinos and one Asian American.

“People who don’t watch ‘Survivor’ will, I think, mistake it for some kind of survival show or label it with the idea that it’s just a reality show,” Probst said. “If ‘Survivor’ really is one of the greatest adventures you can ever experience, either as a player or as a spectator.”

As Probst became more involved in putting the show together, there was a marked difference in how he went about his work on screen, Ross said.

“Jeff started to put more opinion and personality into his hosting,” he said. “Up to that point, it was more of a master of ceremonies role. They realized that he could be the audience’s eyes and ears and speak for the audience. It was one of the most important changes he made as a host. It made him an element of the game that players had to contend with.”

“Survivor” has settled in Fiji as a permanent set after bouncing around different locations for several years. The jungle is a character in itself. High-definition photography and drones are making things more visually appealing than ever, Ross said.

Probst hesitates when asked for his opinion the best player of all time, and admits that some seasons run together. He would lose a “Survivor” trivia contest, he said.

“I’ll see an early cut of an episode and I don’t remember who got voted out, although I was the one on the Tribal Council who put out their torch,” he said.

And yes, he’s looking forward to the new season, calling it one of the most entertaining groups of players the show has assembled in a while.

“It’s exhilarating,” he said. “I honestly think one of the reasons we’re still on the air is because it’s compelling. If people watch the first episode of ‘Survivor’ 44, I don’t see why they shouldn’t watch the second episode. You will become addicted.”

Beginning Wednesday, Probst will host a podcast with show producer Brittany Crapper and fan Jay Wolff that airs after each episode wraps up. “On Fire with Jeff Probst” an insider will take a look at how the show is being put together, he said.

Rather than spoiling the magic, CBS wants to deepen the relationship with fans, he said.

As television competes for viewers, “Survivor” is a dependable cast member for CBS and one of those rare family shows that people of all ages can enjoy. The show seems destined to be around for a while longer and is hard to imagine without the man who “is not only the face of ‘Survivor’ but is also the pulse of ‘Survivor’,” Ross said.

When asked if he would like to stay with the show as long as it airs, Probst initially calls the question impossible.

Then he answers quickly.

“At this point, yes,” he said. “Really yes. Because I’ve built my life around Survivor and shaped all of my creative ideas through Survivor. Every single conversation, every book I read, every podcast I listen to, every single thing… becomes filtered through my ‘Survivor’ filter.” Jeff Probst a constant for ‘Survivor’ as it approaches game 44

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