By Minh Nguyen
Special to MSN TV
Jeff Probst has won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality Competition Program four times since the category was created, beating out the likes of Ryan Seacrest, Tom Bergeron, Phil Keoghan, Cat Deeley, Howie Mandel and Heidi Klum. Not only are his hosting skills top-notch, "Survivor" is in its 24th season and is so wildly successful that Probst has already signed on for a 25th and a 26th season. MSN TV was in Samoa before the filming of Season 24 and talked to him about "Survivor," his talk show coming out in September and what he's watching right now. "Survivor: One World" premieres Wednesday, Feb. 15, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.
MSN TV: What's something people would be shocked to learn about "Survivor" that they don't see at home?
Jeff Probst: I actually think the thing that people would be most shocked about if they could come out and see the show firsthand is how real the show actually is. I still believe people think, "Oh, it's probably not as tough as it looks. They probably do give them something to eat, give them some makeup, or let them brush their teeth or let them go to the restroom or have a candy bar." There's nothing. Any interviewer or journalist that comes out here, they know. This is it. You walk in with what you have on your back. You're dumped on an island. We'll maybe give you some rice and a machete and a pot, and that's it. Those fish they're catching, they're catching them. And if they're not catching them, they're not eating. That's the part that gets me, is how real "Survivor" still is in an era in which reality shows are actually loosely scripted shows. We're not. There is no scripting at all, as you will see in Episode 1 in this season, in which you have something happening that's never happened before. First challenge out of the gate, and we have drama.
It seems the castaways are quite savvy because they've seen the show and have done the research. Does that make it harder to produce a show?
"Survivor" has evolved from the first season to now, our 24th season, quite a bit. I think the biggest evolution is the speed the game is played at and the layers that have been added, the complexities. In some ways, it makes it more difficult to produce because you have to be thinking ahead. On the other hand, with every new evolution, you have a whole new world that you can tinker with. I think we've started to relax around our fears of "Will the game ever outsmart us?" We're just letting it lead us. The game really does lead you where it wants to go. The players that play it keep evolving it and make it more fun. We've come a long ways from Richard Hatch winning the first million dollars to Boston Rob playing for his fourth time and winning.
It seems to me that there are more minorities this season. What do you think?
You're probably right. I've said this many times, and it probably always sounds politically incorrect. For the most part, the people that apply to "Survivor" are white. On any given season, there may be more ethnic diversity than on another season, but it's not because we decided this season, let's have more diversity. It's just who applied and who wanted to play, and how it worked out. We've done seasons where it's completely diverse, such as the "Cook Islands," and we've had seasons where there's been very little diversity. To us, it's all the same: who applies, who will make the best contestants, and we'll put them on the show.
For the first time, you have a little person in Mason Leif. Was it harder, in terms of thinking out challenges, to accommodate him?
Leif is on the show this year. He's a little person. So you have to think: Are we doing challenges that will be fair for him? But we started thinking through them: It really didn't impact us very much. We realized that, for the most part, your height is never going to stop you from doing something. Sometimes it will be an advantage. If Leif has to crawl under something, it will work to his advantage. If he's got to reach up high and tie something, he may need a boost. We're not going to build the game around one person. He's managed to get through life just fine being a little person. I think he'll do fine on "Survivor."
You have a new talk show coming out. How will you handle the work schedule?
We're figuring out the schedule right now: if the talk show goes, how we'll do both the talk show and "Survivor," but right now it appears no problem with us being able to shoot both and me being able to do the talk show in Los Angeles and still being able to do "Survivor" abroad.
Oprah was such a big part of our life. Are you hoping to fill the void now that she's retired?
Nobody is going to fill the void left by Oprah. Anyone who says they will is delusional. Oprah is that once-in-a-lifetime force, and she changed the way we looked at what's possible in daytime. She actually became an inspiration to millions of people. Some of the ideas she created are now conventions of daytime television. I don't think you can try to emulate what Oprah did -- just learn from her. I look at Donahue and Oprah as two of the greats, and think, "Those are the guys you aspire to be like." But I don't ever think somebody's going to fill that void. I think that's why there're so many people getting into daytime, as there is a void. I don't know that there's one person that will ever replace that void. I don't think anyone will ever have enough money to do the size of a show she did. I don't think daytime will be the same in 2012.
Do you watch TV? Are there any shows that you love to watch besides "Survivor"?
I became a huge fan of "Friday Night Lights" just this year. I'm a little late to the party, but I watched all five seasons in about four weeks. I found myself talking like Coach Kyle and wanting to be married to his wife, Connie. I'm surprised his vernacular didn't make his way to Tribal Council. I was watching so much "Friday Night Lights" when I went to bed that I found myself saying stuff like, "Get off my field. Put your helmet on and get off my field."
When fans approach you, what do you get asked? What do you tell them?
Well, fans of "Survivor" want to know how to get on the show. There's really no answer for that. If you want to get on the show, you'll figure it out. If you're asking me how to get on the show, you don't want it bad enough. I get asked a lot by fans, "Is it real?" I'm amazed that people, after 24 seasons, still question whether it might be real. People ask me where I get my shirts a lot. Women either ask because they want to get them for their husbands, or guys ask because they want to buy similar shirts. So I need to come out with a line of "Survivor" shirts.
"Survivor: One World" premieres Wednesday, Feb. 15, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.