NOTE: XFINITY TV is the place to be for all sorts of “Survivor: Cagayan” finale fun. We’ll have the last round of the Power Rankings with “Blood vs. Water” competitor Ciera Eastin, Wednesday night we’ll bring you a recap of the last episode, and this Thursday we’ll have an interview with this season’s winner and the rest of the final four. Be sure to follow me on Twitter (@gordonholmes) for immediate updates.
Gordon Holmes: There’s an old entertainment adage that says a show usually doesn’t peak until its 28th season.
Jeff Probst: (Laughs)
Holmes: Now that you’re here and you’re clearly having one of the best seasons ever, how does that feel?
Probst: We never thought we’d get here. And you and I have talked for years about that elusive 28. You patted me on my back…and on my (expletive deleted).
Holmes: I did what?
Probst: So, to actually get here now, it made the pain worth it. It made the wait worth it. And now I’m looking to that next elusive number, 68.
Holmes: Now that you’re beating “American Idol” in the ratings, tell me you’ve given Seacrest some grief about it.
Probst: I’ve actually not talked to Ryan at all about it. And in fairness, Ryan never called me once to say “Hey, we’re beating you.” (Laughs) I would never call Ryan to say that. I know what it’s like to be on a show and every morning you wake up and the first email we get is, “Hey! You’re great! You’re awesome!” or “Hey, we didn’t do so well. You suck.” And really, if you look at the ratings, it’s very rewarding to beat “Idol” from a show standpoint, because “Idol” has been such a dominant force for so many years. But if you look deeper in the ratings, it says less about us beating “Idol” and more about our audience isn’t going anywhere.
Holmes: Yeah, you guys have held that number for so long. Even changing nights.
Probst: In television, flat is the new up. And while our ratings don’t grow, they don’t go anywhere. It’s what I’ve been saying to you for at least five or six years, that our relationship with our audience is very rare, and very unique. And they feel that, they believe it when we say we make the show for you. We spend all year thinking about two seasons and casting. We think through it. And we’ve been very lucky that the last four season have been some of the best we’ve ever done.
Holmes: I would second that emotion. When we were out there for “Blood vs. Water” I was not liking the twists. Then when I saw it in action I had to admit I was wrong…which I hate doing.
Holmes: But, I’m going to have to admit to being wrong again. I had Spencer ranked 17th out of 18 in my pre-game rankings. And you, my friend, said he had no chance of winning. How were we so wrong?
Probst: Gordon, I can’t think of anyone I’ve been more wrong about. I was so adamant with Spencer before the game. My deal with Spencer was, “Yeah, you’re very smart and you’re clearly a student of the game. And you’re not even that unlikable once you stop talking.”
Probst: “But, your arrogance combined with your lack of life experience…you just won’t have enough to get through.” I would love to think that Spencer heard some of that and that’s why he made the remarkable turnaround. I think it was day 15 that I said to myself, “I was completely wrong. That is an awesome young man. He’s playing his butt off. And when this is over I’ve got to let him know that he was right and I was wrong.” He’s a cool kid, I really like Spencer. Not only is he someone we’d invite back, but I enjoy going toe-to-toe with him. He’s not unlike you in that…
Holmes: (Laughs) OK, here we go.
Probst: He has very strong opinions and he can back them up. It doesn’t mean it’s personal. It’s just what he thinks.
Holmes: I thought you were going to say I’m not that unlikable once I stop talking.
Probst: (Laughs) No, I think Spencer beats anybody except Tony. That’s the one I’m not sure about. Because it’s a final two…and they don’t know that yet. Everybody always assumes they know everything about the game. And usually they’re right. And every so often they’re not. They figure it out in the final episode. Somebody figures it out. Somebody says, “Wait a second, something’s wrong here.” They start doing some math. And all of the sudden everybody starts to panic that the game they’ve laid out so beautifully for the last 37 days may be in trouble.
Holmes: What was the reasoning behind returning to the classic final two?
Probst: I don’t remember the reasoning…
Holmes: Is it because I’ve been whining about it for years?
Probst: No, well…part of it is that. I know you study the show and want us to try it again. I’m still on the final three for my own personal reasons. But it comes down to numbers. If we start a season with 20, you could make a guess that it’s going to be a final three. If we start a season with 18, there’s a chance we could do a final two. It depends, sometimes on something we didn’t anticipate happening. Like, if we lost three people due to medical injuries, we might have to change and go to a final two because we’ve run out of people. I don’t think that’s ever happened. But, we’re always prepared for it.
Holmes: During Jefra’s exit interview, she referred to Tony as a “wannabe Russell Hantz.” Do you agree or disagree with her assessment?
Probst: No, I know where Jefra is going in that Tony plays a very aggressive game. But, maybe it’s just me, I don’t see Tony as unlikable. I see him as a villain that it’s fun to root against, and he may be too aggressive. And he seems to fly by the seat of his pants, although I’m sure he’d argue that it’s all very well thought out. But, I saw Russell as kind of a mean person. And I don’t think Tony is a mean person. He’s playing hard.
Holmes: I think Tony and Spencer are the favorites. But is there anything Kass can do at this point to win?
Probst: I think for Kass it comes down to…she has to be against the right person. If I were Kass I’d want to be against Tony. And I think she’s got a chance. I think it really does come down to your ability to sway somebody who’s probably 99% sure of what they’re going to do. She’ll have to call on those warrior skills. And get people to forgive her smirk. Which I think is half the reason people don’t like her. It’s her smirk. And I don’t even know if that’s something she’s aware of. If you vote someone out and you’re smiling, that’s salt on a wound. But, I do think she could win. The argument I would make would not start off with “I’m sorry.” I don’t get that at all. They get suckered by these faces in the jury who are over there making these mean faces. If I played I’d say, “I’ve been watching you guys for the last 15 days, and I know you’re mad at me and you want me to know that you’re mad at me. And now I’m going to ask you for something. We’ve all played this game together, it’s going to go down in history as a complete game. So, would you please vote the way you would have voted in a year? In a year you won’t be so emotional, and reason will take over. And I reason right now that I kicked all of your asses. And I did it so handily that it left a mark. So give me the vote, don’t give it to this idiot next to me.”
Holmes: (Laughs) It’s certainly unique.
Probst: We both know that every speech starts with, “I want to thank all of you for being a part of an amazing adventure.” Nobody cares, dude. No one cares!
Holmes: I’m a big believer in; just admit you lied. Even if you didn’t lie, say you lied.
Probst: Yes! Exactly!
Holmes: OK, how does Woo win?
Probst: What if Woo’s story was this; “I know I’m easy to look past. And I know I didn’t make big flashy moves. And I never yelled and screamed about my accomplishments. Well, let me tell you why; I am from the world of martial arts. And if I win a gold medal at the Olympics, I don’t jump up and down. I go hug the guy I beat. That’s how I’m raised. I hope you appreciate that I didn’t do what Tony did. I wasn’t like Kass and flipped people off. I didn’t make big gestures like Spencer. My heart was pumping for 39 days and I’m here, and you’re not. And I’m likable. You like me.” I think he’s got a shot.
Holmes: Alright, I have a new game for us. I’m going to give you a statement, you tell me which of the final four it best applies to. So, either Woo, Kass, Tony, or Spencer. It’s like a lightning round…
Holmes: Which player will be cheered the loudest at the finale?
Holmes: Which player would you most like to have a beer with.
Probst: (Laughs) Spencer.
Holmes: Which player had the hardest time physically?
Probst: Good one…this four did really well. I’m going to say Spencer.
Holmes: Which player would you trust with your money?
Holmes: Which player will get booed loudest at the finale?
Probst: Kass…wait…maybe Tony? Wait, lightning round…I said Kass…I’m going to stay with Kass.
Holmes: Which player deserves to be in the final four the least?
Probst: None of them. And this is not blowing smoke. You know I’m honest. I think this is one of the best final fours we’ve ever had.
Holmes: Which player is most likely to be asked back?
Probst: Man…three of the four. Tony, Spencer, and Kass are definitely on the list. And depending on how it finishes, maybe Woo too.
Holmes: Which player was the most different from when you met them at casting?
Holmes: When I interviewed Lindsey, she wanted to pitch you a boxing match between her and Trish at the finale. What are your thoughts on this?
Probst: No. (Laughs) I think Lindsey made a really wise move. I think she showed a lot of maturity that she was about to make a mistake in character and do something she would not be proud of. People have asked why I let her off so easy, I don’t always give someone a hard time when they’re quitting. There’s always context. And I think Lindsey’s context was I’m afraid I’m going to say or do something I regret. I respect that.
Don’t miss the finale of “Survivor: Cagayan” this Wednesday, May 21, 2014 at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.
Any Questions? Drop me a line on Twitter: @gordonholmes