Watch CBS News

"Survivor" host Jeff Probst on 15 years of groundbreaking TV

As the longest running reality competition kicks off its 30th season, the show's host and executive producer joins "CBS This Morning" to discuss the show's legacy and how they select contestants
Host Jeff Probst on 15 years of hit show "Survivor" 05:35

"Survivor" was a made-for-TV social experiment that became a pop culture phenomenon. It all started with the first episode where 16 Americans were marooned for 39 days in the middle of the South China Sea.

The Emmy-award winning show premiered in 2000 and was an instant sensation, boasting an eye-popping finale viewership of over 50 million.

"I think, really, the success is the format. That is the star - to take a group of strangers, abandon them, force them to work together and then get rid of each other with $1 million at the end," host and executive producer Jeff Probst said Tuesday on "CBS This Morning."

Creator Mark Burnett described the show as "Gilligan's Island" meets "Lord of the Flies" meets "Ten Little Indians" meets "The Real World."

With its groundbreaking design, "Survivor" has been widely imitated, giving rise to the reality show era. It was a precursor to other CBS reality programs like "The Amazing Race" and influenced America's version of the ever-popular "Big Brother."

As with those shows, lies and backstabbing are all part of the game.

"But that is built into the game, that's where people get in trouble on 'Surivior.' It's like playing poker, but it's human poker. So if you walk in going 'I can't lie,' well then you're at a disadvantage because I'm reading the rules and the rules say, 'lie' so I'm going to lie, but we can still be friends," Pobst said. "Talk about Pollyanna; what's interesting is almost always at the end of a season the people who got mad at each other end up making up and one of them was smart enough to get the million dollars en route."

For "Survivor," good characters are so crucial that they spend an entire year searching, Probst said.

"We continue to fine tune our casting and one of the things we now look at is motivation, 'What is your real motivation? Is it to be on TV? Is it the money? Is it the experience? Is it to prove something to your parent?'" Probst said.

Over time, they've found there is no commonality among hopeful competitors. While Probst isn't always able to predict the best motivation for a character, he said the best cast member is a great storyteller.

"You have to be compelling," he said.

After 30 seasons over 15 years, 460 contestants, 17 countries and 52 Emmy nominations, the series is going strong. But few could have predicted just how long "Survivor" would, well, survive.

And the new season comes with yet another twist. The group of strangers will be split up into three tribes: the white collar tribe, the blue collar tribe and the no collar tribe.

Probst described the first group as people who tend to "work in offices, might wear a suit, and they make the rules"; blue-collar as "the heartbeat of America, [work] outside maybe in uniform getting their hand in it, they follow the rules"; and the no-collar as "the free spirits on the outside that are breaking the rules."

"The idea was to put the three of them together and it's three very different approaches to life," Probst said.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.