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Two Things That Jeff Probst Allegedly Does For Survivor Contestants Off Camera

When we as viewers watch Survivor, we see the major blindsides. We see the heartache and the strategic thinking bubble up from the players. The spectacular Fijian views. As a result, it’s easy to forget (at least in the seasons past) that it’s a huge production put on by CBS. Well, one former contestant is pulling back the curtain so to speak for what goes on behind the scenes in the moment. In fact, he makes two specific claims about what Jeff Probst allegedly does for them off camera.

The revelations are from an op-ed for Insider written by the one and only Malcolm Freberg, a fan-favorite who was cast in three different seasons, including the Philippines, Caramoan and Game Changers. Cumulatively, he’s played 79 days of the game and was in fact one day shy of finale night on Philippines. So, all in all, he knows his Survivor. And in his opinion, “Tribal council is the worst.” Because, apparently, there’s a lot that goes into it beyond the 15 minutes that make the final edit.

Survivor Host Jeff Probst Supposedly Helps Players Give Nothing Away

Fans and contestants alike know this moment during tribal council. (which is filled with big moves) by now, when Jeff Probst says, “It’s time to vote.” The players then proceed to get up, walk to the voting booth, write down their choice and then stage-whisper an explanation of sorts to the camera. It seems seamless but, according to Malcolm Freberg, one part of the process is left on the cutting room floor. He stated:

So every season I've been on, Probst stood in front of us and said, ‘This is me talking,’ at a normal volume. The host repeated the phrase over and over again as he walked to the voting booth and as he returned to us. You could usually just barely hear him in the booth. Then he'd change his volume to a whisper and repeat the process. Now, you absolutely couldn't hear a word while he'd ostensibly be voting. It's incredibly helpful and made me feel comfortable knowing how loud to speak during the vote.

It's understandable why the longtime host might do this "volume test." If the players speak too loudly, that would spoil the fun of the official reading of the votes. Speak too quietly, and then the cameras have a difficult time picking up the brief explanations for their choices. I always knew Probst pulled double duty as an executive producer on Survivor but, now when I’m watching future seasons, I’ll hilariously be imagining him repeating “This is me talking” before everyone votes.

Jeff Probst Encourages Survivor Players To Stop The Vote?

Another off-camera aside that Jeff Probst supposedly delivers is, again, right before the first tribal council of a given season. Malcolm Freberg alleged that this happens for everyone, whether they be newbies or veteran players. As he tells it, Probst makes certain pointed reminders, which include the necessity of stopping the voting process if the player feels strongly about it. Freberg wrote:

One point that always stands out is that you, the player, shouldn't allow the vote to start unless you've said all you need to say. On one of my seasons, Probst prefaced this tip with a vague anecdote. He said a former player — I don't know who — complained after their boot that they hadn't gotten the chance to say all they wanted to say at Tribal. So now Probst makes a point of empowering every castaway to hold up the vote if they feel the need to do so.

If this is true, it does make one wonder if there’s something more to it than just being a reminder – as though Jeff Probst is angling for contestants to be on edge to stir up a dramatic and memorable moment for the show. I’m thinking, specifically, of a moment in Season 41 when Heather Aldret stopped the vote – even after Probst had said, very slowly, the “It’s time to vote.” Her scrambling at the time is arguably what created the next fracture between allies Deshawn Radden and Shan Smith, which ultimately led to her ouster (which led her to pen a message to fans) not long after. But then again, if you feel on the bottom (like how Aldret did then), it’s probably a good thing to feel empowered by the face of the show to do what you can to save yourself without fear of a backlash.

Malcolm Freberg added other alleged examples of BTS rituals that made him dislike tribal councils. He said the losing contestants going to tribal had the “insult to injury” of having to do multiple takes of walking in and out of the set, so production could get the best (and presumably, most pitiful) shots. He also lamented how it apparently takes tribal “two and a half hours” to officially commence. And then, when they’re answering Jeff Probst’s questions, you’re not supposed to simply answer just “yes” or “no.” Likewise, the grind of assigned seating and enforced silence in-between key moments by producers was mentioned.

Nevertheless, a CBS representative told the outlet that some of what the former Survivor contestant said were “false statements.” It isn’t clear which parts were false exactly but, since Freberg’s last stint on the show in 2016, several changes have been implemented to new seasons, including Jeff Probst and production breaking the fourth wall. Perhaps, his experiences were the case at one point, then, but not anymore?

Either way, it’s a good reminder that Survivor is first and foremost a show, with a lot of protocol in place to make sure thing run smoothly. We’ll find out if things run just as smoothly in terms of my theory for who will likely win Season 42. The three-hour finale airs on Wednesday, May 25 at 8 p.m. on CBS as part of the 2022 TV schedule!

Lauren Vanderveen
Lauren Vanderveen

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