Entertainment Television

Survivor exclusive: Jeff Probst gives us the 411!

By Nelson Branco, 24 Hrs

(Handout)

(Handout)

Enduring the relentless torture of living in a Donald Trump world, a new all-star season of Survivor couldn't have come at a better time.

The world needs a distraction - and watching a group of mental and physical warriors intelligently and emotionally outwit, outplay and outlast each other is just what the TV doctors - and our brains - ordered. And Wednesday night's Survivor: Game Changers will mark not only the beginning of the show's 34th season but also its 500th episode. (It airs on Global and CBS at 8 p.m. ET.)

And there's no better way to mark the milestone than to redesign a beloved game by luring back its best-ish players over the years.

(This is the fourth season devoted to a full cast of returning players.) The sharks circulating around the one million dollar cash prize include: two-time winner Sandra Diaz-Twine, James "J.T." Thomas Jr., Tony Vlachos, Cirie Fields, Oscar "Ozzy" Lusth, Ciera Eastin, Tai Trang, Caleb Reynolds, Michaela Bradshaw, Andrea Boehlke, Malcolm Freberg, Jeff Varner, Aubry Bracco, Brad Culpepper, Sierra Dawn Thomas, Hali Ford, Sarah Lacina, Troyzan Robertson, Zeke Smith, and Debbie Wanner.

(FYI: Cirie and Ozzy now join Rob Mariano and Rupert Boneham in the elite four-time players club.)

Along with a new-and-improved immunity idol, there's a rule change this season: in the event of a tie vote, players will no longer vote again. Tribal council will immediately conduct a tiebreaker by trying to reach a unanimous decision as a tribe in an open discussion. If no consensus is reached, players risk going home by picking rocks out of a bag.

24 Hours caught up with Emmy-winning host Jeff Probst for an exclusive preview:

Why another all-star season? Not that I'm complaining ...

We were at a point where the game had been evolving so much that it seemed like a good time to grab a group of really seasoned players who actually really love to make big moves without boundaries. It's kind of like we have a closet full of Survivor toys ... we wanted to get as many in as we could. Looking back now, the timing is really good.

Weather's been a character in the past two seasons but I doubt you need that element given several storms are brewing within the cast.

We don't have a cyclone this season! The players do create their own storms. At the beginning of the season, there is a feeling of tension. Looking back on it, I think it came from uncertainty and everyone hesitating, waiting for someone to make a move. But that went away and suddenly, the game kicked in and people went for it. I think fans are going to have a lot of weeks where they are disappointed with what happens because they're going to lose favourite after favourite.

There are a lot of alpha players this season.

It'll be interesting to see - once the season plays out - if there is some kind of commentary on how our society works, no matter what group of people are playing. Do people naturally form a community where there are hunters and gatherers? Just by nature, everyone on Survivor should be defined as hunters [but some of them have to turn into gatherers]. It's a risky move what role you choose. I'm not hyping the gameplay but I will say there isn't a lot of wiggle room. If you're going to take aim at somebody, you better shoot at the centre of their head because you have to assume they are aiming right back at you.

What is it about the game that makes everyone who has played it almost addicted to the mental workout it provides?

Beyond being a really fun game, it does seem to speak to people on some kind of gut, animal level. 'I need to play - even if I don't know why. I need to leave my life, job and family to find out what I'm capable of.' That's what attracts me to the show. To watch a group of people being stripped to their core - sometimes literally - but always spiritually is fascinating. And then, these people want to come back and play again! Does this season change the game given the theme? I think it does change. I think when this season is over, there will be another level of gameplay that is expected of the next group.

Were you surprised Sandra would play again and risk losing her perfect record?

Anyone who asks why would Sandra come back and play for a third time will never make it on Survivor as a Game Changer. Billionaires don't stop working because the goal isn't the money, it's the win. It's the same with Sandra. She did not hesitate when our casting director called her. In fact, she missed the call and immediately texted back with: 'whatever the question the answer is yes.' I was really blown away by that. Sandra doesn't rest on her laurels. This won't be the last time she plays, either.

Is there a chicken all-star?

[Laughs] There are chickens - and Tai is there. There's always room for controversy involving Tai and the amount of attention he pays the chicken. I love Tai for caring about the chickens but I'm not sure he'll find another group of people that are quite as accommodating like they were [in season 32].

My designer wanted to fact check something: Malcolm will be shirtless 24-7 this season, correct?

Of course. In fact, we actually didn't give Malcolm a shirt just for the women out there.

Can you tease next season yet?

We're deep into casting for 35 and 36. We don't know what will happen until we get out there but I will say I like the people we're seeing a lot.

For part two of the interview, pick up next Wednesday's 24 Hours.