Jeff Probst on the Success of 'Survivor' Jeff Probst on the Success of 'Survivor' Jeff Probst on the Success of 'Survivor'
Jul 17, 2023 Content Success
Jeff Probst on the Success of 'Survivor'

Host and EP of 'Survivor,' Jeff Probst, reflects on the series’ impact through the years, the moment he knew the show was a hit, and the last time he won an Emmy.

I wish I knew the answer to Survivor’s longevity. Here’s my guess: It clearly starts with a tremendous format. Beyond that, we have an amazing team of casting producers that continue to find interesting, diverse humans who want to test themselves. I think the two other big factors are our willingness to try new and risky ideas and the freedom to do so from our bosses!

Season 44 — which just picked up three Emmy noms, including its first for Outstanding Reality Program since 2006 — was one of those seasons that just felt electric from the opening moments. We had a very engaging group of players who were willing to let go of their fear of being judged and just be themselves. And when you have compelling players combined with this format and our level of storytelling, it’s pretty entertaining. Yes, I know that’s me bragging on our team, but it’s my job and I believe it!

Being involved in Survivor as host and EP for more than 20 years led to plenty of “What am I doing here?” moments for me and they vary quite a bit. When you’ve produced this much television in this genre, in foreign countries, under intense conditions, you often have to step back and assess what you are doing and why you are doing it. I’ve certainly had some low moments where I wondered if I wanted to keep doing the show. Fortunately, at those moments there was always someone much wiser in my life to remind me that I’d be out of my mind to give up Survivor!

In my host role, it’s a bit tricky because it is really just an extension of myself, so I often wear my emotions on my sleeve. I’ve had moments I’m proud of and moments I would love to do over, but that’s not how it works. I have to treat myself the same way we treat players – if it happens we show it.

As executive producer, I love everything about my job in terms of making the show. I love casting, I love brainstorming new ideas, I love the energy of shooting the show at a breakneck pace in the rain and the heat, I love post-production and I love being included in how to market each season. The only part of the job that is truly challenging is being away from home. I’ve been doing this job over two decades and it hasn’t ever gotten any easier.

Looking back to when the series first began in 2000, we knew the idea was radically different than anything that had ever been on television and we fully leaned into it. We wanted our own vernacular, a unique look, and a specific type of score. We wanted Survivor to look, sound and feel like something that had been going on for hundreds of years. In other words, we wanted it to feel like you were the one who was late to the party.

In terms of success, I don’t think anyone would have predicted Survivor’s instant appeal or staying power, but I do remember the moment I knew we were onto something very original and compelling. t was day one of Season One. Richard Hatch was sitting in a tree, assuming a power position as the rest of his tribe started building shelter on the ground. He kept saying “I think we should talk first…” but nobody was listening. Finally, Sue Hawk, a truck driver from Wisconsin, walked past carrying some bamboo and said “Where I’m from, we work while we talk.” Everything about the show was captured in that simple exchange. You take a group of people from very different walks of life and force them to rely on each other while voting each other out.

It was exciting to learn about our Emmy nominations this year, as I always think the team is incredibly deserving of the honor. It’s very fun for me to attend the ceremony because I love gawking at all my favorite actors from my favorite shows.

It was even fun the night I was part of hosting one of the worst Emmys ever in 2008! I still remember seeing Jimmy Kimmel at the Night Before Emmy party and telling him what we had planned as hosts. His response was simple and delivered with love: “You’re going to bomb.” He was right. And the irony was that the last category of that evening was “Best Reality Host,” which I won that night and the three years following.