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‘Survivor’ Lie Fools Probst, Fuels New Season
LOS ANGELES ( – After six turns as the host of “Survivor,” Jeff Probst pretty much knows his job cold. Every now and then, though, something on the show catches him by surprise.
That happened during his stint off the coast of Panama for “Survivor: Pearl Islands,” the seventh edition of the game, which premieres at 8 p.m. EST tonight on CBS. For a time, he says he fell for “the greatest lie ever told on ‘Survivor.’ ”
“It’s brilliant. It’s brutal and it’s brilliant and it totally suckered me,” says Probst, who, naturally, won’t divulge who told the lie or what its ramifications were. “My first reaction was ‘Motherf—-r,’ and then my second reaction was ‘Wow, that’s amazing.’ ”
The fantastic fib would seem to fit well with the overall theme of “Pearl Islands,” which is piracy. The two tribes are called Drake and Morgan, after two English pirates (Sir Francis Drake and Capt. Henry Morgan) who sacked Spanish forts in the 16th and 17th centuries. Probst says working with that theme helped keep the show fresh for him and the crew this time.
“That was the creative box we worked in,” he says. “[We were thinking] what would pirates do, how do we set them adrift, how do we do a mutiny, who can we make walk the plank.”
The duplicity started right away. The 16 players were told to dress for a publicity photo while on the boat to their destination. Instead, though, Probst informed them that they’d be setting up camp with only the clothes they were wearing.
“It’s not a huge twist in a sense, because it’s just clothes,” he says. “But it spins the game so differently from the beginning and puts them in a different mindset of being resourceful.”
The two tribes were also given 100 Balboas — the equivalent of $100 — to buy supplies in a small village before being taken to their camps. They could also barter using the few items of clothing they had with them.
“What’s interesting is one tribe comes out of there like they just robbed Fort Knox — they have every thing,” Probst says. “The other tribe comes out with not much more than when they went in. In fact, these idiots go back to camp with cash in hand. … That’s what makes the show still fascinating, is ‘What are they thinking?’ ”
Because “Survivor” was essentially the starting point for the current glut of unscripted series, and because it’s delivered consistently to a loyal audience, Probst thinks the show can outlive its newer, lesser spawn.
“I can see fatigue setting in with reality [shows], without question, because there’s a lot of crap out there,” he says. “Do I think it will affect ‘Survivor’? No I don’t. … I think we’re going to be around, I think ‘American Idol’ will be around, I think ‘The Bachelor’ will be around. Because they all touch on something, either fulfilling a dream or finding love or, in ‘Survivor,’ the adventure.”
To make sure of that, though, the show’s producers will keep coming up with new wrinkles. Probst promises more than just a grandiose lie by one of the players this time around.
“There’s … a very, very regrettable event that happens, and the person to whom it happens is going to regret it … more than they have any idea right now,” he says. “I couldn’t believe it when it happened, and I can’t wait for it to play out.
“There’s also a huge twist to come that this time next year we’ll be talking about, and you’ll have an opinion on whether you loved or hated it.”