Jeff Probst Jeff Probst Jeff Probst
Feb 26, 2024 In The Office With
Jeff Probst on ‘Survivor’s Ability to Outlast

Survivor has attracted millions of superfans over the course of its 24-year run. But the franchise’s most dedicated fan is Jeff Probst.

Our In The Studio With... series, gives talent at Paramount the opportunity to reveal a little bit about who they are, their gigs at Paramount, and what drives them in the day-to-day.

From the start, Probst knew hosting Survivor was the only job for him. And it’s become more than a job—he’s involved in every aspect of the series, including casting and producing and even, at one time, testing out the challenges. “Anyone that works on the show will tell you I'm intimately involved in every single part of the show,” he says.

Though, it’s not just a show, it’s a phenomenon. Viewers have spent more than 630B minutes with Survivor over its 24-year run. Multi-platform viewership increased 4% in 2023, averaging 6.3M viewers per episode. On Paramount+, Survivor is the most-watched reality series and the third most popular program.

Season 46 begins on Feb. 28 with a two-hour premiere on CBS and Paramount+, where it’s also available on-demand the next day.

Probst spoke to the Paramount Newsroom about the new era of Survivor, what continues to excite him, and which Paramount character could win the game.

Jeff Probst Jeff Probst

Nicole Bitette: Survivor is headed into Season 46. Why does the show continue to resonate with audiences?

Jeff Probst: One of the things about Survivor that has remained consistent is little kids watch it and grandparents in their eighties watch it. That's because this idea of Survivor is universal. There's something inside us that asks “could I do this? Could I build a fire? Could I live in the jungle? Could I outsmart people? I'm a pretty good detective, could I solve who's lying and telling the truth?” That starts at six or seven years old.

When I meet Survivor families, and I can spot them from 20 yards, they'll almost always say the same thing: “We love watching as a family because we play, watch, and enjoy the game in our own ways at home, but together.”

When I meet somebody in casting now who says, “I wasn't born when the show started, I can't believe I'm applying to be on it.” Of course, I feel old, but I'm getting used to that. Mostly, what I feel is their excitement. There’s this tangible desperation, this need and want to play, not about being on TV, but to see if they can do that. That's what inspires me. That's what inspires our whole team.

NB: Has the addition of Survivor to Paramount+ had any effect on the show?

JP: Having Survivor on Paramount+ has really been great because it attracted so many young viewers. I hear from people who say, “I got Paramount+ because of Survivor.” Those are the magic words.

Survivor fans are engaged and we're constantly trying to reward that with more. We're always asking ourselves, “what is something we could do for fans to give them a deeper look?” We do a Survivor podcast. It's small, but it's designed for the fan who really wants to know how or why something happened.

NB: Let’s go back to the beginning. How has your approach to hosting changed over 24 years?

JP: The first few seasons of Survivor, I was learning a lot and mostly I was learning by making mistakes. I was learning how to trust my instincts. The one thing I've always noticed about good hosts is they're able to see when a moment is unfolding and they know what to do, whether to create space for the moment to happen or whether to get in and grab the moment and make sure it has a spotlight on it.

Jeff Probst Jeff Probst

NB: You also added the role of Executive Producer and showrunner to your duties. How did that happen?

JP: I was really lucky in that Mark Burnett made me a producer in title from the beginning. He said, “you're going to be out there doing things in the moment that I won't be able to say anything about, I just want you to trust yourself and just go where your instincts take you.” From the day I got there, he made me feel like I had a point of view that mattered. I'm sure I terrified him at times in retrospect, but he never let me know that. It helped my confidence grow. And then I got to watch all the people who produced the show after Mark left, all these great showrunners still working today and I got to learn from them. Then maybe 12 years ago or so, I took over as a showrunner. That's ultimately when I saw where I wanted to be. I had to learn how to be good enough to have a shot at it.

I think your job if you're showrunning is just to make sure you're managing the entire idea—the direction and the tone and leading with positivity and inclusivity. That is inspiring and I'm still learning about that all the time from our team.

NB: What do you look for in potential contestants, especially given the diversity targets from CBS President and CEO of CBS George Cheeks?

JP: I'm very involved in casting. It is maybe the most important decision we make about our show. During casting it gets very personal, and we learn a lot about everybody, and they go through a deep psychological process with us so that we know that they're ready for this adventure and that they can handle this adventure once the game starts.

One of the most significant changes, in terms of the history of Survivor, was George Cheeks’ diversity targets. He didn't say, “Hey, if you can, it would be great.” He said, “You will.” We quickly realized we are not what we could be. By diving into our casting in a completely different way, we have found so many people that we never would've discovered before. The people we're finding are so interesting and layered and they love Survivor.

What it takes to get to the end is very hard to define, but it starts with this: You have to be authentic. If you're trying to front as someone else, it just won't work. Every time I say that answer, people go, “oh, but there must be another trick to it.” Of course, you have to have emotional intelligence and social abilities. You have to be able to withstand all the elements. But in the end, somebody's going to give you a vote for a million dollars and they're not going to give it to a fraud.

"What it takes to get to the end is very hard to define, but it starts with this: You have to be authentic."

NB: As viewers, we only see you interact with the cast at challenges and at tribal. Are there any personal moments we’re not seeing?

JP: Before every challenge, I am their biggest fan. We walk through the challenge and explain how it works right before we go. It's a kind of coach/mentor dynamic. Then the game is on and they’re on their own.

When I'm in my hosting role, I don't even remember where people are from. I know so much about them and yet during the game there's a distance. When we're in post-production, and I'm looking at the first cut of something, I’ll be involved in a scene, and I won't remember it at all. I'm like a first-time viewer. I've realized in talking to improv people that it's similar—I’m so fully committed to the moment that I'm not editing in my head; I'm just experiencing it.

NB: Tell me a little bit about the “new era” of Survivor. It’s a divisive subject for fans. Why do you think that is?

JP: There are really two eras of Survivor. There are the first 40 seasons and then there's 41 and beyond. We just felt like after 40 seasons, we had done everything we could do within that framework and the players were getting so good that they were figuring out what we were going to do before we had even done it. You can't really compare the two eras because they're different.

I love the new era because it's faster, more dangerous. Some tribes literally get nothing because they don't earn their tribe supplies. What we endeavored to do with the new era was create uncertainty. We want the players to just give in and be ready to adapt to what is happening. You're starting to see players make it work for them. “How do I exploit this for my advantage? How do I exploit your weakness against you?” That's the game of Survivor.

Jeff Probst Jeff Probst

NB: What do you say to the feedback that things look easier in the new era, or people look like they have makeup on a tribal council, etc.?

JP: I have heard people saying it used to be harder, and I'm here to tell you as somebody who's been there every single day, the new era of Survivor is incredibly difficult. If you're lucky, you get a pot, a machete, and a flint, that's it. It's very, very, very hard.

Aesthetically players start to look better. I've heard people say, well, the toxins are coming out. I don't know what it is, I only know there's a jungle look. My mom used to say that firelight is really flattering. It gives your skin a glow and it's kind of romantic. But I'm there with them. They reek; they're covered in dirt. There are cuts and bruises everywhere. But something about that experience brings out the parts of our skin or maybe it's just our personality that's oozing out. Survivor is as real and as difficult as anyone would ever want it to be.

NB: Have you ever tried one of the challenges?

JP: We used to test the challenges in the early seasons because we didn't have any crew. But we realized we can't produce the show and also practice it all. Now, we have the Dream Team, and they run all of our challenges. Every now and then, if I don't think I'll injure myself, I’ll take them on just so I can see how I would do. And yes, I lose miserably every time. It's incredibly humbling because I am like a player, I feel like I could do all of this stuff, and then I get up against a dream teamer and they annihilate me.



Q: If Survivor never made it this long, what would you have done next?

JP: I would still be in this business. Here's the funny thing. There hasn't been a show that has come around since Survivor that I looked at and went, “oh, I should be working on that show.” Survivor was the show that, when I heard it in my bones, I felt like, that's me. I'm that dude. I get that show. I have had times where I'll look around and see the other shows and while they're great, never really feel like they would've been a fit for me.

Q: What was your first job ever?

JP: I was 14, living in Wichita, Kansas. I got a job as a busboy making $2.20/hr plus tips and I never saw a tip. I remember it because I lied to get the job you had to be 16. I was so nervous when I handed my resume in and I'm sure the guy was like, “if you're willing to wash dishes, I don't care if you're 12, get in here.

Q: First job on TV?

JP: At the Boeing Motion Picture department. Boeing Airplane Company had a motion picture department, and I got a job there through my dad and I was basically a PA. I slowly worked my way up to where I got to write a script and I got to produce something and then I asked if I could host it because I saw how much money the host made. I'm like, wow, they make more than I make in two weeks, just walking around and talking. That’s when I realized I love storytelling, and I liked it from both sides. I liked being behind the camera writing, directing, or producing, but I also liked being able to influence the story in terms of the delivery of the message.

Q: What Paramount character or talent do you think could win Survivor?

JP: SpongeBob is my go-to because SpongeBob has this likable quality and is clever, and if that were manifested in a person playing Survivor, I think they're a Hall of Fame player because they're super unique and authentic and fun to be around. In terms of a person playing Survivor and doing well, I'm going to go with Drew Barrymore. I think if she played Survivor, she would make a lot of bonds, and I think those bonds, especially maybe with women, might be really strong. If you can have two or three people that you trust and trust you, you can go a long way in Survivor.