Jeff Probst on Survivor Beginnings and the Latest Medevac From ‘On Fire’ Podcast (Episode 5)

The origins of the show back in Borneo.

Photo: CBS


In the latest On Fire podcast, Jeff Probst, Brittany Crapper, and Jeff Wolfe take a deep dive into the foundations of Survivor: Borneo, the very first season of Survivor, and how, aside from the new twists and advantages, Borneo still provides the layup for every season afterward. They also talk about the latest season 44 episode, finishing with some fan questions and “Why Jeff Sucks?”


  • Jeff Wolfe talks about Matthew’s medevac and says how long he lasted in the game with his injury is admirable. Probst agrees and clarifies that though the medical team didn’t pull Matthew from the game, it’s not considered a quit, as Matthew needed to consider his long-term health. 
  • Matt and Frannie’s showmance comes up too, and Brittany, this episode’s producer, says that she wanted to include Frannie getting blushed as it was a raw and honest moment.
  • The scene between Yam Yam and Josh highlights a great example of how fast things can change in the game, as they go from enemies to potential allies by sharing their common experiences in coming out. 


  • A key ingredient when it comes to Survivor is that the people that are on the show need to be different, as it has been proven that in an environment such as the one on the show, people from different walks of life have connected and have offered unlikely connections, starting with Richard Hatch and Rudy Boesch. 
  • Though the show has evolved in 44 seasons, the foundation of Survivor hasn’t, and that’s why it continues to work. 
  • Probst learned there weren’t “second takes” in Survivor on his first day, as he thought the first time he talked to the camera on-site was a rehearsal, and the first take he shot, was what stuck. 
  • Probst explains why he hasn’t changed his wardrobe after 20-plus years as there wasn’t a wardrobe person on the show, so he bought his oversized shirts in Kuala Lumpur. Regarding his choker, Probst says a guy named Adam from the art department drilled a hole through a seashell, put a piece of leather in it, and then gave it to him. Probst also says his shirts are now tailored and dyed to fit him better. 
  • Probst tells the others that for the first tribal council, he was going to watch how someone else did it during a trial run, but that he took the initiative of doing it himself so that he didn’t mimic how anyone else could do it.
  • Another essential part of Survivor is the vernacular used in the show. Probst says that they started using words such as castaways, tribes, immunity, idols, etc., to help create the illusion that the Survivor society has existed for a thousand years and that viewers are the newcomers into this world. They also did it to distinguish Survivor from any other reality tv competition show.
  • Probst says that the reviews back in the day said his “serious” attitude was corny and laughable, but he says that as long as he’s in on the joke, he doesn’t mind being perceived that way.
  • The inception of “the tribe has spoken”: Probst says that the show needed a final line, and several bad ones were written on a board. Mark Burnett said they didn’t need one, but Jeff insisted, and while discussing it further, Mark blurted out the phrase, and it stuck. 
  • What about the phrase “Survivors ready? Go!”: Probst says it wasn’t rehearsed and that it came in the moment during the first immunity challenge. He said he would raise his hand and then drop it to signal the players that the challenge had started, and he continued doing it until now. 
  • Probst says the crew in the first season was small, around 80 people. Now, the crew is over 300 people plus 400 local workers. The crew also used to walk everywhere while carrying out the equipment and only had one phone line for everyone.
  • The catering was non-existent at the show’s beginning, and a local family fed the crew. They used to eat fish heads in broth every day, and Probst says he lost 20 pounds while shooting Borneo. 
  • Three examples of the philosophical approach that production used in Borneo and are still applicable today: never stop shooting no matter what (even during storms), rewards must escalate throughout the season (they can’t give a feast and then only a piece of bread) and trust the format of the season (despite people hating the season’s villain Richard Hatch, they continued to watch the show). 
  • Probst reveals the behind-the-scenes of him and Kelly Wiglesworth having a beer at a bar back in Borneo: production didn’t have a lot of space to create a new set for one of the rewards (dinner and a movie), so they decided to do it at their base camp and got it transformed to what looked like a bar. While they run the challenge, the crew continues to work but isn’t ready when Kelly wins the challenge. A producer takes a blindfolded Kelly to a “remote location,” which turns out to be none other than the base camp turned into a “local bar.” When the season ended, and everyone went back to the base camp to celebrate the winner, Kelly realised it had all been a con. 


  • How are decisions made regarding using rocks rather than schoolyard picks for team challenges during individual immunities? Probst says that though schoolyard picks are fun and reveal information, they take too long, and using rocks is a much simpler process to fit within the episode.
  • Does production re-hide immunity idols if no one finds them, or make it easier for someone to find them if they’re on the outs? Probst denies helping players with idols by hiding them in more difficult places or assisting them in seeing the idols. He mentions Ben in Survivor 35 as an example, as he kept finding idols, and people thought he was being helped. Ben just kept looking 24/7.
  • Do castaways have prescribed times to go on interviews, or can they pretend to have an interview and look for an idol? Times aren’t defined and usually are timed depending on what is happening that day. Players also can’t involve production when lying about their whereabouts.
  • Why Jeff sucks? Probst is told that he always starts a season off by saying how it is the greatest social experiment of all time, only it’s not, and it’s a TV show. Probst says he writes those speeches on the morning of the marooning and takes inspiration about what is about to unfold. He says that Survivor is just a show, as much as Tarantino is just a filmmaker. 

Written by

Mariana Loizaga

Mariana is a lawyer and a writer from Mexico City, Mexico. She has a masters degree in International Relations from the University of Surrey. Her hobbies include reading, blogging, and of course watching Survivor. The first season of Survivor she ever saw was Survivor: Philippines and she became so fascinated with the game and its many layers that she went back through the archives and watched every single previous season.

3 responses to “Jeff Probst on Survivor Beginnings and the Latest Medevac From ‘On Fire’ Podcast (Episode 5)”

  1. There’s not one member of Season 44 that would last past Episode 2 of Survivor Season 2. Cast selection has been degraded so low it’s almost a joke now.

  2. Bring back real challenges like the disgusting food eating (bugs etc) challenges. I’d love to see more real casts too. Casting people that are good for ratings or the whole woke movement needs to end. Enough of lbgtq people too. 1 per season is fine. You are trying to make too big of a political statement with this show!

  3. Translation: “I only want to see straight white people on the show, with maybe a token black person voted out early.”

    It might shock you to learn that less than 60% of the current U.S. population is Caucasian, and that number continues to trend downwards. Those of us who belong to the LGBTQ+ community are just as real as the “real casts” you claim to want. That isn’t “woke”; that’s the truth. Get with the times and move on already.

    Also, you know you’re not replying directly to Jeff Probst or CBS, right? Inside Survivor has no input into production decisions.

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