Tonight is the night, Survivor: Winners At War premieres at 8:00PM ET/PT as a group of castaways solely comprising returning champions compete for a record-breaking $2 million grand prize. Returning winners include Boston Rob, Amber Mariano, Sarah Lacina, Yul Kwon and 16 other fan favorites and villains from throughout the show’s 20 year run on CBS.
CBS Local’s Matt Weiss spoke to host/executive producer Jeff Probst ahead of this season’s premiere to discuss the return of Edge Of Extinction, the brand new Fire Tokens and what it’s been like to host this revolutionary program for two full decades.
MW: Hey Jeff, good morning, how’s it going, buddy?
JP: Hey good, how you are you doing?
MW: Doing well. First off, I just want to say congrats, another huge season coming up, your 20th one which is unreal. What does that mean to you that this show has this long sustained success?
JP: It’s really interesting when I personally take a moment and look back at 20 years, two decades of my life and really the biggest thing I’ve ever done professionally, how much the show has shaped me. When I started I was a very different person walking through the jungle in Borneo with Mike Burnett and it’s really become…it’s hard to separate it from my life. It’s all I think about all the time, what should we do next and how are we going to make this game fresh again without changing it. I notice that I’m into the game in a different way as well. I’m into the human adventure of it all, what are we capable as people? How would I play this game? It never gets old for me.
MW: Another great thing about Survivor is now that the show has been on for so long, it’s become a part of the fabric of a lot of families, literally someone could’ve been born during season one and now they’re halfway through college.
JP: Yeah, we’ve been on so long, that it’s very common now when somebody comes and we talk to them about being on the show, they will say, ‘I started watching when I was six with my dad and its family viewing and I cannot believe that I’m sitting in the room with a chance to be on.’ That becomes a little meta but it also speaks to the idea that, when you have this many families, Survivor has become family viewing, so when you have this many six, seven, eight, nine,10, 11-year-olds viewing it, dreaming to be on it, and then we’re on long enough that they can be on, and there’s a new six-year-old watching that person saying well they were six when they started and they got on, it’s pretty cool. With streaming today it’s so easy to go back and watch the old seasons so I’ve met 9 year-olds that have seen all 20 years.
MW: Wow, awesome. Moving forward to this season. We have Survivor: Winners At War, so we’re going to have all returning champions. Who were some of the champions that are returning that you were personally most excited to see have another crack at the game?
JP: The biggest question, when we decided to attempt to do all winners is, could we get the handful of players, that we knew we needed that said no in the past. That was Rob, Amber, Parvati, Yul and Danny. One by one we started calling them and one by one they started saying yes, so once we knew we started having some of the old school players, we knew the newer players would have to be on board and that’s kind of what happened.
Every person we called they would say is so-in-so doing it and I would say, I can’t say yes or no, but what do you think [laughs]. You got to do it, it’s the 40th season. You have a lot of moms now that weren’t moms the first time they played, they’re leaving their kids behind because they want their kids to see mom go out and live in the jungle and play this game and it was a blast. I love that everybody said yes and we had so much fun out there.
MW: And not only the players, but we also have another returning figure with the Edge of Extinction coming back this season. What role does that play now that there are people who’ve played the game before but it’s a totally new twist for them?
JP: Edge of Extinction is back and it’s back for two reasons, the number one reason is when we called these winners, they all said look I’m not going to leave my family and be first out and be done. I told them I’m not going to tell you what we’re doing but I can tell you that’s not going to happen. I think every player could read between the lines and knew that there was going to be some sort of second chance for them. The way Edge of Extinction plays this season is different because now it relates directly to the game. We introduce this new layer in the form of currency, survivor money called Fire Tokens. The Fire Tokens work both on the Edge of Extinction and in the game. It’s going to be a little bit of a supply and demand situation, I have what you need, you have what I want. Even if you’re voted out, you’re still able to directly impact the game, and in doing so, help yourself have a chance to get back in the game.
MW: Huge season coming up, number 40, 20-year-anniversary, also a record breaking $2 million prize, so lots to look forward to. Jeff it’s been a pleasure talking to you as always and all the best with Winners At War.
JP: Thanks Matt, I really appreciate it!
Survivor: Winners At War airs Wednesdays starting February 12th at 8:00PM ET/PT, only on CBS and streaming on CBS All Access. Check your local listings for more information.