Jeff Probst on the History of Advantages From ‘On Fire’ Podcast (Episode 2)

How did idols come to be?

Photo: CBS


Jeff Probst, Brittany Crapper, and Jeff Wolfe reunite on the podcast to talk about idols and advantages throughout the history of Survivor, using the second episode of Survivor 44 as a jumping point. Jeff is also excited to take the fans on a behind-the-scenes of those advantages never found by the players and how those came to be. Rounding up the episode, Jeff answers some fan questions, including the latest “Why Jeff Sucks” segment.


  • The showmance brewing between Matt and Franny, and they’re all hopeful it will continue after the game. 
  • Jeff Wolfe compares how Danny found his idol to how Tony Vlachos used to build his famous “spy shacks.”
  • Carolyn is the type of player that draws the viewers in, whether because of her whacky behaviour or because she’s the type of mom that would go several extra miles just to make sure her kid is all right. Jeff says that facts about Carolyn will be revealed in later episodes so that we, as fans, can get to know her better.
  • How is it decided when a player gets a storyline? It isn’t a new concept, but the new era allowed certain storylines to be brought up so that the viewers connect with the players, which helps to understand the complexity behind who they are and why they make the decisions they make in the game. Jeff and Brittany also say that the order in which the backstories are revealed is essential, as the timing is crucial to understand the players. 
  • Jeff negates the existence of a “winner’s edit” and says that each episode is dedicated to telling a particular story within the game. Still, it doesn’t mean it centres on the person that will eventually win. 


  • Jeff states that advantage twists are born out of ideas that then turn into stories.
  • The first idol in Survivor history was in Survivor: Guatemala (season 11) and was found by Gary Hogeboom. Jeff recalls with a cringy British accent that it was Mark Burnett, who was on location, who thought it would be an excellent idea to have the players look for an advantage within the jungle and to get their reaction when they found it. It started as another individual immunity as the player could use it before the votes were read, but in the next season, they changed the rules so that it could be used before the votes were read, making it a Super Idol. That idea was scrapped as it was too much power, and the other problem was that the audience already knew how the votes would go, which took out any surprising element. 
  • Breakthrough on Survivor: Fiji (Season 14): the idol must be played after the vote but before the votes are read. That way, there’s the element of surprise of what will happen, and regardless of whether that idol negates the majority of votes or not, someone is still getting the impact of the decision to play the idol, and the game is shifted once more. 
  • The first advantage in Survivor history: was also in Survivor Guatemala (season 11). Danni Boatwright bought it at the Survivor auction, which she later used to win the following challenge. The producers realised they were unto something if they harnessed their power. 
  • Jeff says the rebirth of the Survivor Auction is still possible, and he’s open to hearing new ideas on how it can be used without the advantages taking away the essence of the auction itself. 
  • Jess also said that advantages were dormant for a while, and it wasn’t until Survivor 30 when they remerged. Jeff admits it was due to his influence advantages have become a pinnacle of modern Survivor. The brightest Survivor players were out gaming the producers, and they needed to come up with something that kept the players on their toes, for instance, the extra vote advantage, block a vote, steal a vote, bank a vote, etc. 
  • Jeff teases another variation of the vote advantages is coming later this season.
  • The natural evolution of the game only occurs when producers take risks; whether they work or not is another matter. Some examples of the game evolving due to players were when Russell Hantz found an idol without a clue or when Yau-Man Chan made the first fake immunity idol. Yau-Man then inspired Ozzy to make the infamous “it’s a Fing stick” idol, which led to having fake idols given to the players who’ve found real idols in Survivor 44 to use as they see fit. 
  • Knowledge-is-Power advantage was born from the idea of “what would be the worst scenario?” When a player tells another they have an idol or advantage to create trust between them, the worst case is that the information could turn lethal, and that would be used against that first player. With this advantage, every piece of information can become game-changing.
  • Beware advantage: the name came first, and the word “beware” needed to be on the front of the package. The key is that there’s a risk of getting the advantage, and in case of failure, there’s a loss. Jeff says the beware advantages are “here to stay” from now on in Survivor as everything in the new era comes with a risk.  
  • Jeff would always recommend getting the advantage, regardless of the risk, as having the power yourself is better than someone else.
  • Jeff confirms that the “Super Idol” idea was Tyler Perry’s, who constantly has many ideas, and that Probst decided to bring back this idol on Survivor: Cagayan. Jeff agrees it was a bad call to bring that idol back. 
  • Jeff says it was Jimmy Fallon’s idea that Sandra Diaz-Twine and Boston Rob hide behind a wall and hear into tribal council without being seen in Survivor: Island of the Idols (season 39).
  • Is a Survivor season possible without idols? Jeff says no, as idols keep the game dynamic, and it would be too predictable if players didn’t have anything to bargain with. Mentions of iconic idol plays were Parvati playing two idols and JT getting voted out, James getting eliminated with two idols in his pocket, Jeremy and Kelley Wentworth playing idols and negating all votes, Wentworth negating the record of nine votes and eliminating Andrew Savage in the process, etc. 


  • These advantages were in the episodes, but as no one found them, neither the player that missed them nor the audience knows about them until now.
  • Idol nullifier in Survivor 42: the idea was to have an idol inside a fish to be placed within a reward. After the players won the reward challenge in episode 4, Jonathan Young cleaned the fish without noticing the advantage. Jonathan then threw the fish guts out into the sea, along with the advantage. 
  • Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X (season 33): in episode 8, during the merge, there was a weirdly phrased note within the merge basket the players get. No one thought anything of it, but the message contained clues that an advantage was hidden in the tree mail. 


  • Why have eight jurors, and what would happen in case of a tie? In case of a final three, there could still be a tie, and the person with the least votes out of those three goes to the jury and casts the deciding vote. This scenario happened in Survivor: Ghost Island.
  • Would Jeff ever consider the advantage of a player seeing someone else’s vote before they’re all read? Jeff and Brittany start running scenarios of how that could work and decide to bring it back to their team.
  • Do the Dream Team go in search of idols to check out the hiding spots? Jeff says that when they hid idols within coconuts, the Dream Team did go and look for idols, but they normally didn’t do that.
  • Why does Jeff Sucks? Jeff is anonymously criticised for saying too many clichés, having forced inspirational moments, and that as a showrunner, he’s making ridiculous choices like the Knowledge Is Power advantage. Jeff says he’s hurt but will take being “the worst part of Survivor” as he knows everything else is great with the show. Jeff agrees that he says too many clichés, but he’s a corny guy and can’t help to be sentimental, making the inspirational moments genuine for him. Jeff finishes by remarking that he agrees that some twists in the past haven’t worked but that the KIP advantage works.

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.

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