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Survivor's Jeff Probst Shares Intel On Stopping A Challenge For The First Time In Show History

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(Image credit: CBS)

Spoilers ahead for the recent episode of Survivor 42!

Over the last 20-plus years, there have certainly been a lot of firsts in the game of Survivor. There was the first time no votes were cast at tribal council, but fan-favorite Cirie Fields still went home. The first massive immunity necklace blunder that sent someone packing. The first typhoon evacuation. The first elimination that came down to drawing rocks – so many memorable moments in the show’s history. Another milestone was added to the Hall of Fame in the current Season 42: the first time of stopping a challenge and scrapping a leg of it altogether. Executive producer/host Jeff Probst shared some intel on the situation in the wake of the latest episode.

To recap, the three tribes were slated to run a course on the ocean for a dual reward/immunity challenge. But apparently, Fiji’s waters had different ideas that day as the players were jostled around by high waves and strong currents. It became particularly difficult when a leg of the race demanded a heavy ladder be held up by those constantly being submerged underwater. Only the Taku tribe – thanks to Jonathan Young – was able to complete the entirety before Jeff Probst had to call it. The ladder portion was withdrawn, and Survivor 42’s production stepped in to retrieve keys so they could finish what was left.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Jeff Probst revealed that the Ika and Vati tribes were in the water challenge for 22 minutes. He described it as “insanity,” where the Survivor 42 contestants were being dragged so far off the course that they were bumping into the camera platforms. But the host wanted to make absolutely clear that none of the cast called for assistance or to stop the challenge, despite the grueling conditions. Ultimately, he said,

The decision to stop the challenge was made because we could see that the conditions were continuing to get worse. The swells were getting bigger, the waves more intense. There was no let-up coming and we knew that they had exhausted themselves to the point of simply not having enough strength left to finish. In 42 seasons of Survivor, we have never had to stop a challenge. This. Was. A. First. There wasn't time for us to huddle and discuss the decision, it was obvious that they were never going to be able to hold the ladder while someone climbed up it. Absolutely no chance. And because both tribes were equally helpless, we knew it would be fair to bring them both in and restart the challenge.

He continued that the show’s challenge team – who plans and orchestrates everything – actually tested the same run only days before. The only problem was that the test run was during calmer waters. Jeff Probst likened the recent snafu to his childhood in Wichita, Kansas – when a tornado was on one’s doorstep. Probst added,

If you've never been in those conditions in the ocean, it's hard to adequately describe the feeling. But it can quickly become a panic situation because you are struggling to get a breath that doesn't include a mouthful of saltwater. You're trying to keep your head above water, but the swells consume you. Your fight or flight reflex kicks in and it can feel overwhelming. In other words, for the players struggling, there was nothing fun about it. That was real effort, real exhaustion, real fear.

Technically, there have been some instances in Survivor history where a challenge had to be stopped. Sometimes resumed, sometimes not. I’m thinking here, most notably, of Survivor: One World’s premiere episode when Kourtney Moon broke her wrist in the first challenge of the game. Jeff Probst called it then, too, but offered the all-male tribe the option to run the course again as a gesture of “goodwill.” (Spoiler: they didn’t.) But in none of those instances did CBS have to step in to modify the challenge on the fly due to weather concerns.

Not long after the most recent challenge issues, the losing team went to tribal council – and it almost went to rocks! (I will say, I love that classic scenario probably as much as contestant Maryanne Oketch loves the prospect of a romantic future with Zach Wurtenberger.) An previous medical removal plus water endangerment plus $1 million coming down to rocks? Clearly, Survivor 42 is promising an even more difficult season than that of its predecessor. Stay tuned for upcoming episodes on CBS on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. EST on the 2022 TV schedule!

Lauren Vanderveen
Lauren Vanderveen

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