Friday, September 08, 2006

Jeff Probst Talks About All The Controversy On SURVIVOR COOK ISLANDS - Reveals Some Spoilers

SURVIVOR Host Jeff Probst Reveals Somes Spoilers For Upcoming Season

"The Freshest Cast Since Season One."

"Three Love Connections Of Varying Degrees, One Of Which Is The Strangest Love Affairs That You Ever Seen On Any Reality Show"

Yesterday afternoon must have felt like Survival time for SURVIVOR: COOKS ISLANDS′ Host Jeff Probst as he discussed with reporters about all the controversy for the upcoming SURVIVOR season.

Dividing the show by race has generated alot of flack (and interest) for the show, the producers of the series and for CBS for daring to cross that line on television. But Probst tried to assure everyone that this concept is a "positive idea" and that everyone seems to be "condemning the show before you′ve even seen it." reporter, Elaine James sat in on this 65+ minute interview with Probst and here are some of the main highlights of that session.

Question: Why did you decide to divide the cast by race?

Jeff Probst: Before we start the planning of each season, those of us known as the "creating nucleus" sit down and throw out ideas for what we want to do this time. We started to ask ourselves what we get criticized for. The most common thing we hear is that the castaways are too white. We knew that just having 5 African Americans as compared to the one that is usually there wouldn′t make it a diverse tribe, so we decided to make this the most diverse season ever. We did not know at the time that we would end up dividing the tribes by race.

Each casting, 85% of those that try out are white - the same was true for this season. To make sure that we achieved a truly diverse cast, we started seeking out those to represent their ethnicities. We called churches and cultural groups and even sought out "Miss Korea" pageant contestants. What we found was not people saying that they were going to be the next Colby or the next Johnny Fairplay, but people that had never seen the show before and just got excited about the idea of fishing and playing the games. We have now found the freshest cast since Season One.

It was then that we really started to see the ethnic pride that these contestants had. That is when we thought it would be great to divide the tribes into ethnicities. The test of identity will them be challenged when the tribes are integrated. Will they still rely on their racial allies or will they form new alliances based on who can get them further in the game?

Question: Will you continue this type of casting techniques in the future?

Jeff Probst: Absolutely. I was so delighted by this. Of course Mark [Burnett] has a lot more at stake, this is his brand and his show. And CBS has a ton at stake. But for me as the host of this show, and being the white guy from Wichita I feel in my heart that we will never go backwards. I think Mark knew it as well. All of us feel that we have just reinvented the show. It wouldn′t surprise me at all if a few years from now that when people look back that they will say, "Remember when Survivor did that and all the hoopla it caused and now it commonplace?" That′s why I think this is such a positive idea.

Question: Yul was one of the locals that you reached out to. Can you tell me what some of the people bring to the SURVIVOR experience?

Jeff Probst: Yul is one of the most interesting and smartest guys I have ever met. He scored incredibly high on his IQ test. Surprisingly, he was one the only person that when he found out how we are dividing the tribes said that he was concerned that they were going to be portrayed as stereotypes. We told him that we were not going for that in casting and were not going to make a joke out of it. We are simply here to observe. He was very satisfied with that answer. He was not familiar with the show before the casting. Yul is a player. You underestimate Yul and you will be going home before he does. Absolute fact.

Cecilia was much the same. She was not super familiar with the show either. She brings a completely different point of view to the show. She is very aware of her charm towards men. She believes that is a valid way to live in society and play the game. She navigates relationships based on the jewels she has. She is also one that has a lot of ethnic pride. There is no question of her ethnicity.

Question: Why are you so surprised that the public has reacted as it has to this controversy?

Jeff Probst: The show is absolutely more interesting this season than last season for the simple facts of the different points of view. We see people make fire different ways. I′m not surprised that America is making a big deal of this. Those with opinions are valid and fair. You have to recognize that you are condemning the show before you′ve even seen it. That is not fair or just. So keep the megaphone in your right hand and push that talk button again after you′ve seen the finale and let me know if it was everything you thought it was going to be if it was actually inspiring.

Question: Has this casting concept make you examine the lack of diversity in your own life?

Jeff Probst: Of course, I grew up where that was White on one side of town and Black on another side of town. I had a very limited upbringing until I joined SURVIVOR and started traveling around the world.

The other day I was at my dentist, who is white, and there was another dentist there also that was Asian. I asked him what part of Asia his family was from. He said his family was from Korea and we had a little chat about Korea. The only reason I had the courage or knowledge to ask that question was because I had just spent 39 days with people from Asia and I learned that Asia is made up China and Japan and Vietnam and Korea and that there is a hierarchy within that culture. Before that I would have felt stupid asking that.

This morning I said something to African American about being black and he stated that he was actually half and half. I thought how wrong was I to assume that you were black and to ask him that instead of asking what ethnicity he was. This show has completely changed my perspective of other ethnicities and wanting to learn more.

It fascinating to here what these groups feelings that they have towards each other and toward whites. You′ll see this on the show. By the second episode, the groups will be challenged to perpetuate their own stereotypes.

Question: Were there any instances of racial bigotry on the show?

Jeff Probst: There was nothing that I found troubling on the show. I wasn′t sure if something did happen, if I would have the best way to respond. I was very vulnerable by having my own background and not knowing what to expect. I will tell you this though. When this season′s over, I think this will go down as one of the best seasons we′ve had. We′ve had heroes and underdogs. We′ve had 3 love connections of varying degrees, one of which is the strangest love affairs that you ever seen on any reality show. We have lots more fish caught this season and we had octopus caught this season. We also had a record number of blindsides at tribal counsel. This tells you the level of competition. These are seasoned players. They understood instinctively that you don′t have to tell the person that you are voting out ahead of time. I realized that they are playing more from their gut. Viewers will not be disappointed this season.

Question: We′ve noticed that there are a dozen castaways from California and seven from LA. How did this end up this way?

Jeff Probst: Based on time and resources, we cased our efforts in California, but to achieve what we wanted we really reached out into America. As much as we would love to have a person from Cincinnati and a person from Detroit and so on, because people like routing for those people from their hometowns, we had to go with who we thought would be the best players in the game. At the end of the day, you have to pick the 20 best people, if they end up coming from LA, then that is where they come from.

Question: Are there any cases in this season where the challenges are adjusted to keep it fair for the groups?

Jeff Probst: No. What we wanted to emphasize this season is thinking. Every challenge involves group thinking or individual thinking. We want to force them to think in a group capacity and that started from the very first part of the show on the boat. They just met each other and they better start talking because you′ve got to grab what you can and get off the boat in 30 seconds.

Question: Did you watch the way you phrase questions in tribal counsel so that there wouldn′t be any misunderstandings?

Jeff Probst: No. That is a deal that I′ve made with myself. I′ve always approached the show with my gut and I don′t have the best grammatical structure. Sometimes there was slang used and I had to ask them what things meant. I decided to just let my guard down and just be who I am.

Question: With 20 contestants, will this season last longer?

Jeff Probst: No. This makes it fun for us. We keep the survivors on their toes by catching them off guard and voting multiple people off. There may be more than tribal counsel every 3 days.

Question: Who will people be rooting for this season?

Jeff Probst: It will be varied. Initially people will be rooting based on ethnicity because they want their group to succeed. There′s a point in the show that I can guarantee that you′ll be rooting for underdogs, regardless of ethnicity. There′s a turning point midway through the show that rocks it in such a beautiful way and at the end of the day you′ll be rooting for the people you like.

SURVIVIOR: COOK ISLANDS premieres Thursday night, September 14th at 8:00 pm EST / PST on CBS.