Jeff Probst on the Survivor Art Department and Building Sets From ‘On Fire’ Podcast (Episode 6)

How the show’s sets are built…

Photo: CBS


On this week’s On Fire podcast, Jeff Probst, Brittany Crapper, and Jeff Wolfe talked about the Survivor art department, which creates everything seen on the show. They also recap the latest season 44 episode and answer some fan questions, as always, in the “Why Jeff sucks” section. Jesse Tannenbaum, the casting director for SurvivorBig Brother, and The Amazing Race, also made a surprise cameo to discuss Probst’s hypothetical chances of being cast on the show.


  • The merge in the new Survivor era: the general idea within this new era was that players needed to earn everything, including going into the merge. Every element is designed to challenge the players to earn their supplies, food, and even their buffs. 
  • Producers realised they were “giving” the merge to the players, and so they decided that the fair, fun, and dangerous way to make them earn it was through a challenge and by surviving the following tribal council.
  • Probst props Jaime, as she’s not afraid to show her feelings and emotions in front of others or the audience in her confessionals. 
  • Probst says that every season, he sees a drastic shift in people, as they either “lean back” as they’d made the jury or “place their foot on the pedal” and start taking control of the game. He also hints that this shift will be seen in the next episode.


  • Probst reveals that in Fiji, the players are based on different islands than the one where production is based, called base camp. Also, production has dealt with the different island owners, so there’s no public access while Survivor is being filmed.
  • Brittany reveals she first met her husband while they were both part of the “Dream Team,” and he now works in the art department. 
  • The art department consists of 35 full-time crew members and a hundred daily local Fijian workers. The crew also comes from fifteen different countries.
  • The first thing the art department designs is the Survivor logo, representing the overall season. Afterwards, they create the torches and the snuffer (which is the only thing that Probst keeps from every season).
  • The prop makers create the idols, amulets, medallions, stools used in tribal council, maps, clues, and props used both at camp and at challenges. 
  • Probst says it took weeks for the art department to create the latest challenge in Survivor 44, as they needed to be meticulous in creating the giant spheres. 
  • Probst recalls an example of how much commitment and effort the art department puts into every detail. During his quarantine before filming Survivor 41, Probst was sent five dice samples for the “Shot in the Dark” twist. When they chose one, they created a container specifically designed for that dice instead of using a simple bucket, highlighting that Survivor is always telling a story just by their props.
  • Probst mentions how talented the art department is and how members and brothers Zack and Jesse Jensen worked alongside George Lucas in Star Wars by playing Kit Fisto and Saesee Tiin, respectively. 
  • Twists such as redemption island, exile island, ghost island, and the Edge of Extinction are also created by this department, and they draw inspiration from concepts such as gladiator arenas. 
  • For Probst, the most impressive visual representation of the art department’s talent is the tribal council. 
  • Probst also says that due to covid, there were many time constraints for building sets. Somehow, the art department managed to build one season’s tribal council “under” another season’s tribal council, therefore, making two completely different sets in the same place. For instance, the tribal council used for Survivor 44 was underneath the one used for the season prior. 


  • Do jurors get to talk about the game and discuss who the winner should be at Ponderosa, or are they not allowed to speak to each other like before Day 1? Probst says that players aren’t sequestered at Ponderosa, so they do talk about the events that transpired within the game and resolve any issues they might have with each other. This is when the jury members realise what they need from the finalists to vote for them to win.  
  • Isn’t it unfair to allow players to play idols after the “Shot in the Dark” results are read, as the person with the idol chooses to play the idol based on the results of the twist? Probst replies that it comes down to what has the supreme power of those two, and for production, an idol is more powerful than the Shot in the Dark, so that’s why it’s allowed for idols to be played after the twist, but before the votes are read.
  • Does Probst think he could be cast on the show if he wasn’t the host? Probst says that what he has going for him is his age, as he’s older, and it’s what is harder to find. Probst then calls Jesse Tannenbaum and asks what Jesse would ask him to cast him on Survivor. Jesse responds that he would need to see Probst’s layers to get to know him further and see if they have something else to work with. They all laugh and say it sounds like Jesse wouldn’t cast Probst, and Jesse jokingly says that Probst probably would get thrown into a pitch meeting. Probst agrees he wouldn’t cast himself, either.
  • Why Jeff sucks? Probst is told that he’s one of the best off-the-cuff interviewers in the entertainment industry nowadays, but it’s baffling how he keeps himself on such a short leash when it comes to showing narration. For instance, Probst uses the same phrases repeatedly (immunity is back up for grabs, once the votes are read, the decision is final, the tribe has spoken). At first, it was amusing, then annoying, and now it’s just cringeworthy. Probst responds that he’s doing it tongue-in-cheek and were initially used naturally. Now the phrases are part of the show’s vernacular, and he won’t stop using them as they’re entirely ingrained within Survivor, and taking them away would be like losing the show itself. 

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.