Mike White might be one of the busiest producer-writers in Hollywood, having recently created the breakout HBO hit The White Lotus, but that hasn’t stopped him from lending Survivor a helping hand.
Cast your mind back to early 2020, before people started rugby tackling each other for toilet paper and “social distancing” was just something introverts did at parties. Survivor was airing its 40th season, Winners At War, and with it came a new concept: fire tokens.
The fire tokens were a form of currency that players could accumulate and barter with in the game to earn advantages. In the words of host and executive producer Jeff Probst, the idea was to “usher in a new era of Survivor” by adding a new layer to the society. Probst was obviously high on the concept, going so far as to say, “…In future seasons, who knows? Maybe you’re not looking for idols, you’re looking for tokens.”
However, as we reported earlier this year on the Inside Survivor Patreon, fire tokens were nowhere to be seen in the upcoming Survivor 41 (or 42). So what happened? Why did this brand new concept that Probst seemed some gung-ho about only last one season? Well, it seems we have David vs. Goliath runner-up White to thank (or blame, depending on how you feel about fire tokens).
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly‘s Dalton Ross, Probst said that during the creative process for season 41, he called White to run some of the ideas by him, specifically the fire tokens concept.
“I called Mike for his insight into a story-related element. He listened politely as I laid out the idea. It was an elaborate and very complicated Survivor capitalist society that would be driven by players earning money (Fire Tokens) and spending them on shelter, rewards, and advantages,” explained Probst. “When I finished the pitch, I asked him what he thought. He paused for a moment and said, ‘Well… it sounds… in-ter-est-ing. But is it fun?'”
That was all it took for the Emmy-winning host to completely abandon the fire tokens idea and re-think the entire creative vision for Survivor 41. “I couldn’t erase the white boards fast enough,” he said. “I had spent well over a year working on this idea, and yet it still felt so good to throw it out because it was so clear that it sucked! I called [executive producer] Matt Van Wagenen and said, ‘Forget everything we’ve been working on! Throw it out! From now on, fun is the only thing that matters!'”
This isn’t the first time the School of Rock writer has influenced Survivor. In 2014, Probst credited White for his decision to remove Redemption Island from season 29.
“[White] was over at our house for dinner just a couple of weeks before we started shooting,” Probst told EW. “I confided in him about the basic creative for the Blood vs. Water season and when I mentioned Redemption Island coming back he had a very lackluster response — “Oh, you’re doing Redemption again?” The words hit me like a stray, leftover Medallion of Power right between the eyes. We had debated Redemption Island during our Survivor creative meetings and for some reason hearing him say it at that moment tipped the scale.”