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8 Quick Questions for Jeff Probst

As he gears up for Season 44 of ‘Survivor,’ the hit reality show host talks winning strategies and more


spinner image headshot of Jeff Probst with grassy hill behind him
Ryan Lowry/The New York Times/Redux

Believe it or not, it’s been 23 years since the reality competition show Survivor first began stranding contestants in remote locations with a $1 million grand prize on the line. Emmy-winning producer Jeff Probst, 61, will host his 44th season of the show, premiering March 1 on CBS — the same day he debuts his new podcast, On Fire With Jeff Probst.

What’s the most important thing a contestant should bring to the island? 

An open mind. You have no idea what is coming. So planning your strategy in advance is pointless. You can have ideas, but you have to assess the situation, and then you must be willing to take risks in order to win. The risk is what makes it scary. But if you sit in the corner of camp and try not to lose, you will never get the vote from the jury. They won’t respect your game.

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What do you never leave home without as you head to the next Survivor season?

Coffee. I drink more coffee on location than I probably do the rest of the year. Shooting Survivor is a blast, but it’s very taxing. Caffeine is my best friend.

How would you fare as a contestant?

Ah, I hate this question, because I always have to admit to myself that I don’t think I would do as well as I hope I would. I think I would be OK socially, and I can contribute at camp and in challenges, but I tend to see the good in people first and I overlook obvious tells that they are conning me. I have envisioned being blindsided, and I’m sure it would happen, probably by the person I trusted the most.

What’s the biggest mistake you think contestants make?

The biggest mistake — and they make it over and over — is playing from fear. Contestants approach the game from the standpoint of How long can I last? versus How do I win? Sadly for them, it never ends well. The Survivor hall of fame is full of great players who will never win.

spinner image jeff probst on location standing next to a treasure chest in a grassy field
Jeff Probst has been hosting the reality competition show "Survivor" for 23 years.
Robert Voets/CBS

You spend a lot of time filming in beach locations. Where do you like to vacation?

We love Hawaii. It’s our favorite place to visit as a family and with our group of friends. It’s heaven on earth.

You’ve also written a series of children’s adventure books. What was your inspiration for them?

The Stranded book series I wrote was inspired by becoming a step dad to two amazing little kids. … My wife [Lisa Ann Russell] realized there wasn’t anything in the world of fiction that featured a blended family, and suggested the idea. I wrote it with [author] Chris Tebbetts and we had so much fun. I love seeing adventure through the eyes of kids. In fact, I imagine every idea I have for the show through the eyes of an 8-year-old. If we think kids will like it, then we put it in the show.

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You were also on an episode of Saturday Night Live last year. What was that experience like?

Appearing on SNL was an absolute bucket list. I never ever dreamed I would get that call. I have [musician and SNL guest host] Jack Harlow to thank, as he is a big Survivor fan, so I know it had to be his idea. I mean it when I say it was one of the true highlights of my entire career. You can’t explain the feeling of being a part of the greatest comedy institution in the history of television. And the entire SNL cast and crew were so kind to me. Lifetime memory.

Looking back on your many years with Survivor, what have you learned about yourself?

I’ve learned more about myself from my time on Survivor than anything else in life. I honestly couldn’t even list all the wisdom I’ve gleaned over the years, but what stands out most to me is the importance of showing each other grace as we navigate our way through our lives. Most people are good people, and we are endeavoring to be our best selves. We don’t always get it right, so rather than gossip about someone or talk about their perceived inadequacies, what if we just supported each other a bit more? I can’t say I do this perfectly every day, but I keep it front of mind: Show others the same grace that I hope they show me.

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