Reality godfather Survivor recently kicked off its 12th edition, this time setting its reward challenges, tribal councils and million-dollar jackpot in Panama. Each season, Jeff Probst has hosted, and Mark Burnett shakes up the formula just enough to keep viewers tuning in (it scored a 7 household rating/19 share in this season’s premiere). Earlier this month, CBS announced that it will sell episodes of Survivor on CBS.com—representing the first time a network is selling shows directly through its Web site. Probst, who recently signed on for two more years as host and producer, spoke with B&C’s Michael Malone about hosting a pop-culture icon.
What makes Survivor compelling season after season?
There are two big themes: One is being stranded in the middle of nowhere. That could be an exotic island or the wrong part of town. The other is being picked last. On Survivor, we vote people off. But it could be, in the office, you’re the first person that got laid off or, on the basketball court, the last kid that gets picked. Those themes resonate with people.
And there’s something about Survivor that represents the adventurous spirit in all of us. This isn’t The Apprentice, where you’re living in a hotel and you have food and you take showers. You’re by yourself, in the middle of nowhere, with absolutely the barest essentials. And you have to find a way to live.
How will products make their way into Survivor this season?
The way they usually do—with the finesse of a sledgehammer. The first couple seasons, it was like, Really? I have to say this product name? Now we don’t even think twice about it. We just try to think of a way that will move the show forward. If it’s Home Depot, we can figure out a way to get [contestants] tools from Home Depot to build a shelter. That gives them something to do, and it pays for our show. It’s a win-win. There’s no sense in fighting it and no good to come from appearing to be above it. Programming is the stuff between commercials. If it allows us to continue to do Survivor, that’s great.
What other reality shows do you watch?
I watch Idol. And every time an episode ends, I go, Why did I just watch that?
Because I get nothing from it! I’ll tell you what keeps me coming back—and that’s not true that I get nothing from it. What keeps me coming back is the chance that I might see somebody’s dreams come true.
When you’re out with friends, having a couple beers, do you ever come close to spilling the beans about who’s getting voted off?
The only person I really confide in is Julie [Berry], who I met on the show, who is the love of my life. I can’t tell my mom. She’s in a [Survivor] pool with, like, 600 people. She always frames the question a little differently to go for the same answer. She’ll give this long, drawn-out question, couching it in this motherhood thing. The one person in the world you should be able to trust—your mother—I don’t.