Jeff Probst sounds off on Survivor’s big 3-0

Jeff Probst
Monty Brinton/CBS

Few shows ever make it to five seasons, let alone to 10, 15, 20 or 25. This week, Survivor defies TV expectations when it debuts its 30th season with a brand new group of castaways, an new intriguing premise and the promise of lots more of the backstabbing, betrayal and blindsides that we’ve all grown to know and love.

Being the Survivor “Junkies” that we are, we knew we could just dish on all of our expectations for a memorable Season 30, but we figured we’d go to one of the biggest Survivor junkies of them all, Jeff Prost, to get his take on the upcoming season.

In an exclusive interview with The TV Junkies, Probst sounds off on some of the castaways we should keep an eye on, why Season 30 wasn’t an All-Star season, his special connection with former player Coach and more.

The TV Junkies: Why mark the 30th season with an entirely new group of castaways as opposed to a celebration with an All-Stars or Heroes vs Villains?

Jeff Probst: It’s funny you ask it that way because the last year as we contemplated what to do for 30, we were leaning heavily towards doing an All-Star celebration. But then one day it occurred to us, this isn’t the end of anything. It is a celebration, but it’s also just another season. We felt like we’ve been on a really good roll with new players and decided to continue going that route. I really think the audience is going to be excited and happy with this season. Then we will do an All-Star at some other point.

TTVJ: How did you land on this concept, White Collar vs. Blue Collar Vs No Collar?

JP: I felt like we made a bit of a mistake in the last season, Blood vs. Water. We got so excited with the theme that we decided to do it before we had a group of people. That put us in a situation with our backs against the wall and we had to cast towards that theme. So here we went back to what we normally do, which is find the best people we can find and then we decide how to divide them. The theme actually came from me sitting in my house with photos of everybody for four or five days. I kept coming back to them, and white collar and blue collar were really obvious. But that just wasn’t enough of a division, we like to triangulate things with three tribes. One day it just hit me that we have a coconut vendor and a sailing instructor. Just the notion of no collar struck me as really interesting. And then the next layer of that was defining the white collars as the rule makers, the blue collars as the rule followers and the no collars as the rule breakers. Once that crystallized we felt really good, that we had a good story to tell. It’s really interesting to look as three different types of people play the same game at the same time.

Monty Brinton/CBS

TTVJ: Which of the three collars do you personally most identify with?

JP: No question I’m no collar. I’m so no collar I’m annoying. I can’t stand authority, I hate corporate America. I don’t like to be told what to do and I like to break the rules in order to find a way that’s more interesting to me. The entire Survivor crew is no collar. Most of our crew members haven’t paid income tax in years because they are foreigners travelling from island to island. They don’t have a car, they don’t have an address and that’s the vibe of the show from a production standpoint.

Even though I identify with the no collar, if I had to bet going in I would bet on a blue collar winning the season. Because the blue collar work ethic is so ingrained; a blue collar person is used to getting their hands dirty. They don’t mind authority, are able to work with them and follow rules when they need to. But they know how to play hard and that can come in handy on Survivor. Looking at that skill set I would want to be on the blue collar tribe if I were to play.

TTVJ: What keeps you coming back to Survivor, how do you remain so passionate after 30 seasons?

JP: You can tell from me just talking now, I’m into it. I’m really into Survivor. I’m not into “reality shows.” I think most of them are trash. Most of them are poorly produced and they are scripted on top of it. Survivor is a real experiment. There is a conceit that yes, we are going to take you and drop you on an island and there will be cameras. That is a given, but within that world it is up to you to decide how you are going to behave and what you are going to do. We are going to watch you, and we’ve set up a structure that allows you opportunities to be a hero or a villain every day. To make moves that will show you’re loyal or a good strategist and in the end you have to figure out how to vote people out and get them to come back and vote for you to win. I don’t know when I would get tired of this contest, honestly. As long as we keep finding good people, it’s a really fun game to have a front row seat to. I think that’s why our audience is so loyal.

TTVJ: Have you ever considered playing yourself? Do you think you’d do well or would you have a huge target?

JP: I think obviously I would have a huge target.

TTVJ: If you had a way to do it somehow disguised?

JP: You know it’s a good question. If I could play without the baggage of host and executive producer, where people may just want to take me out for the fun of it, if I could play on the same grounds of everyone else, I would probably say yes. And the only reason I hesitate is after 15 years, I know how tough it is. It is no joke and I know that it would mess up my body and it would punish me in ways I’ve never been punished and challenge me in ways I’ve never been challenged. But it would be an amazing experience to see if you’re capable of biting your tongue at times and finding out what you’re really made of in the middle of a cold rainy night. Yeah, that stuff appeals to me. I don’t know if I could win the game but I would certainly give it my best show.

TTVJ: Of the past 30 seasons, who was your favourite player to ask questions to at tribal council?

JP: No one’s ever asked me this, that’s amazing. I have had a few, let me name a few that are really good. People like Boston Rob, Cochran, Parvati, Philip, Tyson … those guys are really fun to talk to. But my favourite all-time person to talk to at tribal is Coach. The reason is, I connect to the part of Coach that believes every story he’s ever told me or anyone else, and I connect to the part of Coach that realizes I don’t know the difference between true and false.

So if I believe right now that I am having an epic moment at the top of Exile Island with my Dragon slayer cane, then I am. I think because I connected that way to Coach, I was able to speak a language to him at Tribal that honestly, I don’t think anybody else understood. But it was me saying to Coach, ‘Give me that gold and I will keep coming back to you, and I am not mocking you. I’M with you. I am 100 per cent connected.’ Nothing lit me up like going to Coach and saying, ‘Coach you’re always honest, you’re on exile, walk me through it.’ And he winds up and delivers a fastball down the middle and knocks it out of the park. Fantastic!

Survivor, Coach
CBS Entertainment

TTVJ: Before we wrap, can you give us some of your standouts for the upcoming season that we should keep an eye on?

JP: In the white collar tribe, there is a woman Shirin Oskooi who was a Yahoo! executive, a big job. She’s 100 per cent a white collar in that she had people who worked for her, is used to establishing rules and she happens to be a massive Survivor super fan. She knows the game so well she actually ends up impacting the game because of her knowledge. It’s almost a meta moment, at a certain point where her knowledge changes destiny. I think it will be very fun for Survivor fans to see that play out.

Then there’s Max Dawson, a former college professor who taught a course on Survivor. Another guy who has studied the game for years, he can tell you which astrological sign is most likely to win. This guy goes DEEP. Both embody the white collar spirit, which is they like being in charge, have a plan and to have people follow them.

On the Blue Collar tribe there’s this guy Dan Foley who has worked for the U.S. post office for 30 years. He’s one of the biggest characters we’ve ever had. He’s boisterous, opinionated … people will not forget him, maybe ever. He is a blue collar in that he is not afraid of hard work and he’s also not afraid to argue. He knows that blue collars work hard and play hard but are still loyal to their brothers and sisters. That’s what really sets the blue collar apart.

Another blue collar is Mike Holloway, he works in the oil fields. He’s got a great work ethic and life ethic. He comes from Texas and he symbolizes Middle America in that he wants to play this game with integrity with one asterisk — If integrity doesn’t work then he will do what it takes to get him to the next level.

A counter to him is Rodney Lavoie, who is from the streets of Boston. He’s East Coast all the way. He loves his mom, tragically lost his sister a few years ago. He has a big tattoo on his arm to remind him. Rodney doesn’t take any grief from anybody ever for anything and if you spark him he explodes.

One more on the Blue Collar, Sierra Thomas, who is a pro Barrel Racer. Another great example of someone who pulls their own weight. She literally drives her own truck, unloads loads, takes care of her own horse. Everything involved in barrel racing, which is basically a man’s sport. And she does it all alone. There’s no chance anybody works harder than Sierra. And she will be loyal to you if you are loyal to her.

Then on the No Collar tribe there’s this guy Vince Sly who literally wears feathers in his hair and sells coconuts down on Venice Beach in California. He is a free spirit who loves people, wants to connect desperately and that can be a really amazing thing but can also be really annoying.

Will Sims is a guy who was a YouTube sensation. He was getting gas in his car when a hidden camera from The Tonight Show popped up and convinced him to karaoke. He became an overnight star. A really likeable guy, who takes one day at a time.

One of my favourites is Hali Ford, who is a great example that your occupation does not define you, it’s your approach to life. What I mean by that is Hali is a law student who wants to be a criminal defence attorney, not because she is interested in the laws as they are. But wants to get into law to change the laws to serve those who are currently underserved. So that is a no collar approach to life. A woman who wants to go into the establishment and break it up so she can create a new paradigm that will change the way the world works. Mark Zuckerberg is a no collar. Anybody who says, ‘There’s a better way, or another way, or why don’t you look at it from this point of view,’ they are no collars. They are not bound by the restrictions of normal society. As a result sometimes amazing things happen.


Are you excited for the upcoming season of Survivor? Sound off below!

Survivor: Worlds Apart, Season 30 kicks off Wednesday, Feb. 25 at 8 p.m. ET on CBS & Global.