Why Survivor's Jeff Probst Thinks The Shift To Shorter Seasons May Be Permanent

screenshot jeff probst survivor
(Image credit: CBS)

The game of Survivor is evolving yet again. What was thought to be a rumor turned out to be fact when it was announced that the new season was substantially cutting back play time for contestants. Instead of the 20-year-long tradition of 39 days to outwit, outplay, and outlast, it will now only last a total of 26 days. (The jury’s still out on how it will affect the exact number of episodes for fans to see.) Executive producer and longtime host of Survivor Jeff Probst spoke on the shift to shorter seasons, and why it might just be a permanent change to the rules.

Survivor fans are notoriously finicky over any modifications to the game. Redemption Island, Island of the Idols etc., didn’t exactly inspire love, and the recent Winners at War’s “fire token” twist was met with a less-than-lukewarm reception. In turn, the shift to a new 26-day season has led to speculation that the highly-developed and hard-won strategy over the years will devolve into pure chaos. But Jeff Probst explained to Entertainment Weekly that the change was a necessity because of COVID-19 protocols. He said:

The decision to change the game to 26 days came from the fact that we couldn't leave our bubble. So if we wanted to shoot two seasons, we had to do it back to back. For us to shoot two seasons of 39 days, back to back, along with our 14-day quarantine, would have meant nearly 100 days, and that was simply too long.

Due to the delta variant, COVID-19 cases are ramping up again throughout the United States. So it would seem that if Survivor continues to film new seasons amidst the new COVID-19 reality, then the shorter season change will have to remain. Regardless, it likely helps CBS save some cheddar along the way.

Even if COVID-19 disappears tomorrow, though, shorter seasons might still be a go in the eyes of the Survivor gods. CBS and Jeff Probst appear to be hedging their bets and looking toward the fan reactions and ratings for Survivor 41. Probst said to EW:

We haven't decided if we will go back to 39 days. I will say that I'm optimistic that fans will find this new 26-day game to be very entertaining and Survivor-worthy.

However, “Survivor-worthy” means a whole lot of things to a whole lot of people. Not just to fans, but to Survivor alums as well. Most wax nostalgic for the bare bones rules of the earlier seasons. But some are up for drastic changes to the game. Chris Hammons of Survivor: Millennials Vs. Gen X, as a matter of fact, hopes that CBS will drop the $1,000,000 prize and see who would play just to play.

The $1,000,000 prize is still technically in play for Survivor 41. But according to Jeff Probst, the shorter seasons forced them to change other aspects as well. (And Survivor traditionalist will approve.) He stated that they had to “adjust the living conditions” so that “26 days would still feel like 39 days.” Apparently, this took the form of contestants having less supplies, food, and rewards to start the game. Probst said:

So their cognitive abilities are diminished much faster than in the past. After only a handful of days with no food, they started to struggle to form clear thoughts. You'll see it. They struggle in all areas of the game. Nobody was complaining that 26 days was not enough!

Jeff Probst is making Survivor fans a lot of promises, and we love him for it. Hopefully, Season 41 truly did take up the challenge and elevate the strategy component in bigger and better ways. It's singlehandedly what makes Survivor so compelling to watch 20 years on. We'll start to find out on September 22 when Survivor 41 premieres on CBS.

Lauren Vanderveen
Movies and TV News Writer

Freelance writer. Favs: film history, reality TV, astronomy, French fries.