Tonight is the night! Survivor returns for its 37th season at 8:00 PM ET/PT on CBS. This year’s theme is “David Vs Goliath” and will pit one team of people who have battled adversity through every stage of life against a group who has benefited from advantage at nearly every turn.
CBS Local’s Matt Weiss spoke to Survivor host and executive producer Jeff Probst ahead of the season’s premiere to discuss new twists, players to watch and the driving force behind the show’s sustained success after 30-plus chapters.
MW- Good morning Jeff, how are you doing today?
JP- G’morning Matt, it’s going well how are you?
MW- Good! I want to jump right into things because I’m so excited for this new season of Survivor which is “David vs Goliath.” How did you and everyone else involved behind the scenes come up with this really unique premise?
JP- This idea came during casting which is a risky way to approach a show, to be weeks away from shooting and still not know what the theme is. But we had one day where randomly several people came in and one after another kind of told us the same story that all of their success originated with advantage. Either they had a great family or they had great educational opportunities. Then, coincidentally we saw a group of people who started telling us stories of overcoming obstacles, how they had to fight and claw and climb up the mountain for everything.
After two days of casting we started to look at each other thinking it seems to be presenting this favorite vs the underdog, David vs Goliath. What made it really lock in is the linchpin of Survivor that is always hovering around which is the unknown. It doesn’t really matter where you come from until you know the situation and once you know the situation then you’ll figure out for whom is this the advantage and for whom is this the Achilles’ heel. It’s really interesting how that plays out this season.
MW- There’s such a diverse group of castaways on this season, one is a truck driver, one is a scientist, one is an MMA fighter, one’s a pro wrestler. Is this the most diverse group of castaways in Survivor history?
JP- This is one of the most diverse groups we’ve ever had. You look at their occupations, where they come from in the country and where they started in terms of disadvantage or no advantage versus advantage and it really is a good stew of people. I keep saying it but our casting keeps getting better, we keep finding more and more interesting people and we’re taking a deeper dive in our story so that in addition to challenges, and camp life and tribal councils, you’re also really getting to know the people that you’re investing your Wednesday nights to watch. The deeper those stories go, the more personal they become and the more we care about these people and ironically the more we see ourselves in their journey.
MW- Now something that really stood out to me from seeing previews and promos, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, but the Goliath team looks so much physically larger than the David team. I know this season is really about adversity versus advantage, not necessarily physical stature, but is that the case? And if so, how do you think that’s going to factor into the game?
JP- One of the things I’m most proud of, about Survivor is that we never take the easy road. We never take the safe path and this season is the same. When you look at this in the opening moments you will have the same conclusion we did which is, ‘That tribe of Goliaths are gigantic!’ But then you talk to them and their smart.
Then you look at the Davids and you go, ‘How could they possibly compete?’ But you get into the game and man, I’ll tell you there’s something about a David that has had to claw their way to the top and when the going gets tough, which it does on Survivor, who actually has the advantage? The person who comes from it or the person who has had to work to get there?
MW- It’s an interesting social experiment for sure. Who are the early standouts from the David tribe in your eyes?
JP- We have some great people this season on the David tribe. There’s a guy Pat who kind of personifies what a David is, he comes from nothing, he’ll tell you he’s had to work for every single thing in his life, as did his parents. The minute he graduated high school, college was not an option – he hit the working force and has been going since. We also have another guy on the David tribe as a contrast, he’s a robotics engineer, he builds robots! You might think wait he’s really smart he should be a Goliath, until you meet him and then you realize he’s really insecure. Socially he’s not as good, he stutters and he walks with a bit of a hunch. He’s incredibly likeable and rootable but he wants desperately to be accepted by the Goliaths.
Then when you look at the Goliath tribe, we have a guy named John Hennigan who is a professional wrestler – he’s known as “The Mayor of Slamtown.” He really personifies the Goliaths, he’s gigantic! And he will also tell you, he’s really smart as well – he went to UC Davis and has all of this advantage. We also have a woman named Alison, her parents were both doctors, she went to school and became a doctor. She says she was upper middle class of course she was going to go to college.
So just those four stories alone, you can look at them all and see completely different approaches and upbringings. But on Survivor with the great unknown – who knows!
MW- It can always go any way, which is what I love about the show. Another thing that really draws me in is that in today’s day and age with technology and social media – Survivor offers something very real and primitive -these girls and guys are on the island with no technology, no updates from the outside world. That’s something I personally really enjoy but what do you think has kept Survivor going so strong now 37 seasons in?
JP- I think what keeps Survivor going is probably a few factors. It’s a really cool format, the concept that you take 20 strangers and you abandon them. There’s no technology, there’s no updates on YouTube, you’re just out there in the environment and you have to rely on each other. People that you don’t know, people that you would normally never interact with – you’re now helping them build a shelter and sleeping next to them.
Then on top of it you put the game. You’ve got to vote people out. The last person left wins. That format is really good and I think we produce it really well. I don’t mean that to be bragging, we just care! We work every single day, so that all we do on location is Survivor, Survivor, Survivor. We know that there are families that we going to give us an hour tonight, or in tonight’s case 90 minutes, and we want to deliver.
We want people to walk away going, ‘Yes, I like this show. Yes, I want to watch with my kids. And yes, one day I hope my kids grow up and want to be on the show.’ There’s a lot invested from us because we feel like we’ve been given this great gift of Survivor and we don’t want to drop the glass ball.
MW- And you and the rest of the crew all do a great job of that in my opinion! Thanks so much for the time today Jeff and good luck on the new season, always a pleasure.
JP- Thanks to you as well! Later!
Don’t miss the 37th season premiere of Survivor tonight at 8:00 PM ET/PT, only on CBS. Check your local listings for more information.