Jeff Probst on the Survivor Filming Process From ‘On Fire’ Podcast (Episode 10)

What goes into filming Survivor?

Photo: CBS


On this week’s episode of the On Fire podcast, Jeff Probst, Brittany Crapper, and Jeff Wolfe reunited to discuss the effort it takes to shoot every second of Survivor, the crew that makes it possible, and the challenges they constantly face. They also talked about the latest season 44 episode and answered some fan questions.


  • Wolfe asks Probst how rain impacts the shooting of Survivor. Probst replies the crew is ready to protect the cameras and mics so they can get every second still and sound they’re shooting. 
  • Are rewards and letters from home specifically designed to show alliances within the show? Probst says they technically aren’t, but they still manage to make players show their cards. 
  • The creation of the sanctuary was initially designed as a response to Covid, as it was one place they could shoot rewards to mitigate risks. Probst then wanted the sanctuary to be precisely that, so it was later redesigned as a haven for players to enjoy their reward. 
  • The sanctuary also helps the players feel safe to let their guard down, as in this episode where they get their letters from home. The audience also connects with them through how those scenes are shot. 
  • Wolfe asks Probst if Jaime could’ve asked Kane for her (fake) idol before he left the game. Probst responds players can do it until he reads the vote. Afterwards, whatever idol or advantage the player keeps going home is void. 


  • With scripted shows, multiple shots and takes for each set-up can take days or weeks. As Survivor is an unscripted show, if a moment isn’t shot, it won’t be reshot and can even be considered as never having existed. 
  • The Survivor can be broken down into three pods: a purely observational reality, challenges that are a spectacle, and tribal councils, which are conversational. Every day one of the three is being filmed differently.
  • Reality (life at camp): there are different teams in charge of filming various aspects, and each team has a shooter with a camera, an assistant camera who’s responsible for recording cards, and a sound person that has a boom pole to make sure they get each sound. The shooting process is similar to cinéma verité, a documentary filmmaking style, and it’s to observe and not intervene. 
  • Crapper says that for every two players, there is at least one camera to cover every conversation. While shooting a conversation, the team needs to improvise what kind of frame they need to genuinely portray the moment while thinking on their feet, as they don’t know what the players might do next. 
  • When a player is looking for an idol, the shooting team is reacting to what a player is doing as they don’t know what will happen next. 
  • When a player enters the water, there’s a team on land, a drone covering the wide shots, and an underwater team ready to shoot the underwater scenes. 
  • Survivor shoots 24/7, including nights and “low moments,” as the game never stops.
  • Challenges (spectacle): they’re a sporting event. Several teams at land and sea, drones, and all types of cameras focused on different kinds of frames to get every angle. Every person has a specific task, and there’s a rehearsal before a challenge where the Dream Team runs the challenge, where players get to see how the challenge will work. The shooting teams make the necessary adjustments after reviewing the footage. 
  • Wolfe asks Probst, in case they miss a shot, would they make a player re-do that scene? Probst says he knows other shows do it as long as the outcome doesn’t change, but that’s not the case in Survivor. Players are not actors playing a game, so Survivor remains authentic. 
  • Audio works similarly to filming as there’s only one opportunity each time to get everything everyone is saying through mic packs used in challenges or boom poles at camp; there are also plant mics that are hidden in the ground to catch additional dialogue or impactful sounds and over thirty microphones at every challenge which are transported through the jungle. 
  • Probst also mentions that cameras and mics are sometimes hidden within puzzles to get those shots and sounds. 
  • Tribal councils (conversational): cameras are hidden within the tribal to create a safe space for Probst to talk with the contestants, who also say he doesn’t wear an earpiece. 
  • When Probst became a showrunner, he said he wanted Survivor to be even more cinematic so that every scene portrays the depth the show entails, especially when players go on a journey or enter a challenge, which is called a “warrior shot.”  


  • Where do the crew and Jeff live while filming? Probst says they used uncomfortable single-person tents for the first few seasons and built their own bathrooms. Now that they’re in Fiji, the crew stays in an island resort and are the only people staying there for months. 
  • Why aren’t there loved ones visits anymore? Are they due to the shortened seasons, or has the pandemic changed the rules? Initially, it was Covid related as they couldn’t bring people who hadn’t quarantined, but as restrictions have eased, loved ones visits could make a comeback. 
  • What are players allowed to have in terms of personal hygiene products? Probst says players aren’t allowed to change clothes, makeup, hairbrushes, razors, shampoo, dental floss, deodorant, etc. Players are permitted med kits, including “cactus juice” (a mix of sunscreen and mosquito repellent), contacts, daily meds, and a multivitamin.
  • Why Jeff sucks? Jeff previously mentioned on the podcast that he’s tried new things because of the fans and has recognised he’s failed. There will be a point where even the loyal audience will decide there are too many twists and that the show has become unrecognisable. Probst responds that point in time is subjective, and though he might look back in ten years and recognise he didn’t see what those fans are seeing now, the twists work for now. Production is following their gut regarding what the new game design entails, and Probst admits he’s constantly debating what works and what doesn’t for the show.

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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