For the first time in 25 seasons of “Survivor,” its finalists did a public interview before the finale. Naturally, it went down on “The Jeff Probst Show” (airing Wednesday, Dec. 12), where the Emmy-winning host quizzed Lisa Whelchel, Michael Skupin, Malcolm Freberg, Denise Stapley and breakout villain Abi-Maria Gomes about their experience and winning (so far) strategies.
Zap2it caught up with the dimpled torch-snuffer after the taping for the lowdown on one of the greatest seasons in “Survivor” history.
What was your reaction when Abi lied the first time at the challenge?
Jeff: Well, anytime somebody lies and I’m aware of it, I’m just worried about me. I’m only worried about my energy — like, do not give it away, don’t smile, God forbid don’t have some laughing fit all of a sudden. It’s a live moment and I’m fully aware I could blow it. So honestly, I selfishly, I just go, “Jeff, act as though what she’s saying makes total sense — don’t give anything away.” Because you don’t know what people are going to say, and people say things at Tribal all the time that aren’t true. And you just go, “OK, all right, the sky is red, I get it.”
Is there a point where you have to rein it in and say, hey, you’re breaking the rules a little bit?
No. There are no rules — there’s no reining it in. There’s a few rules: You can’t steal an idol, you can’t hit somebody. But when Abi won immunity, there were a lot of people on Twitter saying, “Wow, ‘Survivor’s’ rigged.” And it makes me laugh with joy that people are so invested that they actually would consider that we might cheat the game. I always have said I’ve never lost a night’s sleep over “Survivor.” We run a clean game. And if anything ever happened or I screwed up something — I don’t know what we’d do, but we’d find a way to make it right.
What prompted you to ask Abi at Tribal Council about cultural differences possibly explaining her behavior?
Well, I’m watching Abi and thinking, you know, I learned something from a contestant a few years ago, which is that everybody has a story, and once you understand their story their life makes sense. So I’m just looking at Abi and thinking, what if it is cultural? I mean, it’s so easy to pick on her and say, “You’re just being a b**** and you’re whiny and you’re entitled and you don’t deserve anything.” But I think my job — even though some people may think I’m very partial — my job is to try to bring both sides, and I thought it was a legitimate. I still think there’s some cultural thing there, [that] Abi doesn’t really understand that Americans see things differently, that maybe we judge people differently, or maybe we look for reasons to judge. And then you put yourself into a situation like “Survivor” where being judged is part of the game … So I’m still on the fence.
This is Season 25, and it’s one of the best of all time. Why? How do you do it?
It really comes down to the cast and the execution of the twists. Somebody brought up is that this is an older final five and maybe there’s some correlation to older people being more entertaining, generally speaking, because they have more life experience. Honestly, I don’t know. I think Lisa Whelchel’s a big part of the reason; people love her. And then you get somebody like Malcolm, who is a young Ozzy in the making. And then you have some returning players, which gives you some interest … I think it’s just sort of luck of the draw sometimes about who you put on.
What are your three favorite moments of the season so far?
One is the Tribal Council where Malcolm and Abi both pulled out their idols, because that was — when you’re sitting at Tribal Council and that happens, you’re giddy inside. You just can’t believe they’re giving you this! Gold! That was pretty fantastic. I gotta say, because I’m a corny guy, the loved-one visit this year got me. When Lisa fell into her brother’s arms, I really — maybe because I’m a new dad, I just felt such trust and love and that, man, if you don’t have that in your life, your life must suck.
And then the third moment is about to happen, on a reward with some of the survivors and a whale shark. They have an encounter that’s just so glorious that you can’t even get it in life, you can’t pay for it. It’s one of those, it just happened. We happened to be there, we happened to have cameras, there happened to be a whale shark. And a whale shark, if you haven’t seen one — I never had — they’re gigantic. And we have survivors in the water with it. That’s what we think of on “Survivor” — we’re looking for those moments of nature interacting with our survivors.
“The Jeff Probst Show’s” “Survivor” spectacular airs Wednesday, Dec. 12 (check your local listings). The “Survivor: Philippines” finale week begins Wednesday night at 8 p.m., followed by the two-hour finale and live reunion show on Sunday, Dec. 16 on CBS.