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EXCLUSIVE: Jeff Probst Teases 'Game Play Opportunities' Ahead of 'Survivor: Game Changers' Premiere

by Jennifer Drysdale 7:10 AM PST, March 08, 2017
Playing EXCLUSIVE: Jeff Probst Teases 'Game Play Opportunities' Ahead of 'Survivor: Game Changers' Premiere

Survivor is (almost) back -- and better than ever!

The hit CBS reality show premieres its 34th season -- and 500th episode -- on Wednesday night in a big way: with a set of castaways with more experience, more determination and more guts than perhaps we've ever seen. Only ET has an exclusive first look at Survivor: Game Changers.

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In exclusive new pics from the season premiere, fan favorites like Sandra, Caleb, Tony, and Malcolm make their first fire as a tribe -- after which Tony quickly sets up a new and improved version of his spy shack (in the video above).

That's right, this season is compromised only of returning players, defined by their shared desire and willingness to make moves. Those moves might have worked (two-time winner Sandra will hit the beach for the third time) or might have fallen flat (four-time players Ozzy and Cirie are both back for another shot) but what everyone has in common is a few tricks up their sleeves.

That's not to say that the show doesn't have a couple tricks planned as well. Executive producer and host Jeff Probst revealed just before the season that a change would be introduced to voting procedures, preventing a revote in the case of a tie (players will either have to unanimously agree who to send home, or immediately draw rocks).

ET caught up with Probst ahead of Game Changers' season premiere, where he opened up about what viewers can expect from the high-intensity season, what ties the show together through each year's changing themes. 

ET: Survivor: Game Changers was filmed in Fiji, the same location as last season's Millennials vs. Gen X, which featured a full-cast evacuation for Cyclone Zena. This season, everyone is experienced, but sometimes you just can't fight Mother Nature -- are we going to see the contestants struggle against the elements in any way?

Jeff Probst: We were fortunate this season to not have the same struggles with Mother Nature in terms of bad weather. But that is not to imply this is an easy season. One of the things the audience will be reminded of this season is that the hunger is real. The meager amounts of food they live on really does have a major impact on their cognitive abilities. Every day is earned on Survivor.

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You've mentioned that while building this cast, everyone in the room, from Survivor producers to CBS execs, were fighting for their favorites to be included. Who is your favorite to make it far, and who do you think the dark horse of this season will be?

Yes, it was a really fun process to sit with CBS and have 100 percent agreement on all twenty players. I'm not sure we've ever had that before. I don't have any favorites and I'm not foolish enough to think I could ever predict who will do well and who will get voted out early! This group is way too sophisticated for me. I would have no shot in this group of players. And the fun part about all 20 of them being game changers is that there is no way to predict a favorite or a dark horse anyway -- it depends what happens on a day-to-day basis. The "all in" notion really keeps everybody on their toes because safe today does not mean safe tomorrow!

Photo: CBS

What makes Game Changers different from All-Stars?

All-Stars was a group of really popular players. Some were aggressive, some were laid back, some were funny, some were underdogs. This season they all have one thing in common: they are big time players who make big time moves. That's why it's such a dangerous game, there really is nowhere to hide.

This season we've got competitors like Ozzy and Cirie who are playing their fourth season -- is this an advantage to them, or does it leave their gameplay wide open for other players who have watched them to anticipate their moves?

It's a great question as the experience cuts both ways. You may understand the game better, you may be more comfortable living on the island. Those are great advantages... unless as your opponent, I see them as threatening. It's the same with relationships. Do you trust someone you played with before or should they be your first target? You have to always remind yourself, "I am playing against players who play just like me..."

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Photo: CBS

The same goes for Micheala and Zeke -- their tribemates haven't been able to see them play, and all you've told the others is that they didn't win. Is this an advantage to Michaela and Zeke?

Being asked to come play again knowing that you are an "unknown" is a very tricky situation. On one hand, the group knows that they were big enough players to garner the title of "game changer" but what they don't know is HOW they play. It's up to Michaela and Zeke to read the room regarding first impressions and take it from there. The good news is, they ARE game changers, so it's not like they are coming in with no ammunition. They both belong, so as long as they believe that, they should be fine.

Almost half of the players are over 40. In more recent seasons, we've seen these players be ostracized because of their age, but in this case, they're all experienced, and have proven themselves. Are we going to see an age divide here?

It's a fair question. Going into the game, I didn't anticipate that simply because the level of game play and existing relationships are so strong that I think it will dominate over any other kind of alliance. But it is a fact that older people, and by older, sadly, I mean over 40, often get treated as "the old people."

Photo: CBS

Other seasons have been based on differences -- Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty, Millennials vs. Gen X, One World, Heroes vs. Villains -- but this season is based on their shared quality of "game changer" status... how does that affect how alliances will be formed?

Best question so far ...and I have no idea. Nor do any of the players. It's one big "unknown" on day one. Every player has to make a move based on their gut. You cannot trust anybody, regardless if you've played together or not. There is a million dollar prize and a huge title of "bragging rights" that come with winning Survivor. I think the idea of "who is the biggest threat" still in the game at the moment will always be looming, but what complicates it is the different criteria for what makes a player threatening. It's a never-ending series of questions you are posing to yourself, all centered around making sure it's not you going home tonight.

The game play has been upped before the season has even started, as you've mentioned a new voting procedure: there will no longer be a revote after a tie. How do you think this will affect the players, and what other twists and turns do you have up your sleeve?

This is just a fun experiment for us to throw at them and it gives them the opportunity to play very conservatively or to use it to their advantage by forcing a tie and possibly changing the game. I'm very curious what they will do with it and based on that, we will decide if we do it again or try something else. We have a lot of "game play" opportunities this season. We know they like to play and we want to give them the tools to do it. Everybody should be aware at all times.

Photo: CBS

We have players like Malcolm this season, who did pretty well their first season, but have struggled as a returning player. There are also people like Sandra, who have won two seasons. What do you think separates the Malcolms from the Sandras, and do you think they'll repeat the same mistakes, or be able to find the same stride that made them a winner?

There just isn't any way to really analyze what makes someone successful one season and less successful the next. Nobody thought Sandra could win a second time. Nobody. But she did. When Cirie played for the first time, nobody thought she would become a game changer but she did. And anytime Ozzy plays, people think "this is the year he will win," but he hasn't. There are thousands of elements that make up a Survivor season and if you can survive half of them, you're hall of fame. You just have to continue to try and be self-aware and do your best to read the group and then at some point you vote and hope you're on the right side of the numbers.

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The season premiere marks Survivor's 500th episode, and you've been with it since the beginning. What surprised you about Game Changers from the previous 33 cycles?

No season of Survivor is the same. You could take the same group from a previous season and have them play again and you would get all kinds of different results. Each season has its own texture and pace and ultimately its own story. I can say that Game Changers does live up to its name in that we have some very big moves!

There have been so many different versions of Survivor -- where do you see it going from here?

As you mentioned, our premiere is our 500th episode and we will continue the same way we have for 17 years... one episode at a time.

Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

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