Jeff Probst Explained Why ‘Survivor 40: Winners at War’ Is ‘Personal’ for Him

Island of the Idols contestant, Chelsea Walker, interviewed executive producer and showrunner Jeff Probst about his start on Survivor as well as the epic 40th season where 20 former Sole Survivors come back to compete for another title and a record-breaking $2 million cash prize.

Here’s why this season is “personal” for Probst.

Jeff Probst Chelsea Walker
Jeff Probst and Chelsea Walker | Rich Polk

How Jeff Probst landed the ‘Survivor’ gig

According to Jeff Probst, he’s the first person executive producer Mark Burnett met with for the job. To his recollection, Burnett talked to him for two hours straight, seemingly trying to scare a young Probst away from the job.

Convinced he was the person for the job, Probst remembered feeling like “the opportunity was slipping away.” Therefore, he “dramatically ripped up” a picture and told the executive producer, “This is not me. I am not a studio guy. I am a student of human condition. I’m a writer; I’ve been to therapy. I get this show.”

In response, Burnett simply shook Probst’s hand, noted the meeting was “nice,” and went about his way. Four months later, the executive producer called Probst back to work on the show and the rest is history.

Twenty years later, he still doesn’t know why Burnett picked him for the gig.

Insight into how Jeff Probst handles Tribal Councils

IMDB correspondent and Island of the Idols contestant Chelsea Walker noted “how well” Probst does his job, and asked him for insight. The executive producer and host explained that at the first Tribal Council, Burnett wanted to give him an earpiece.

However, Probst didn’t want it because he knew the executive producer would “second guess” him. Therefore, Burnett let Probst “find his way” and now it’s a “natural conversation.”

According to Probst, he watches how the contestants “behave” during Tribal Council. Then, the showrunner notices if someone is left out, and then tries to get that person to understand they’re on the outs by setting up several questions so the player realizes their position.

Jeff explained why ‘Survivor: Winners at War’ is so personal for him

Walker then turned the conversation to the current season of Survivor, the first season consisting solely of returning champs, Winners at War. Probst admitted he never thought it would happen because most winners don’t want to come back.

However, Kelly Kahl, the President of CBS Entertainment, asked Probst if he contacted them lately. The showrunner realized he hadn’t and immediately reached out to Boston Rob Mariano, who served as a mentor on the most recent season, Island of the Idols.

According to Probst, the Redemption Island winner immediately responded that he and his wife Amber, who hadn’t competed since 2004, would return. Then, they contacted Parvati Shallow and Yul Kwon, who also agreed, and before they knew it, 20 former champs signed on to compete again.

During the marooning on the premiere, Probst admitted “it became personal for him” because he saw his past 20 years of life standing there in front of him.

The showrunner recalled he “was a kid” maturity-wise in Australian Outback when Amber Mariano first debuted. Additionally, Probst realized every former winner taught him something, including how to listen better and “to take more chances.”

Even though the executive producer admitted he doesn’t know how to top Season 40 yet, he said that fire tokens are here to stay and promised there would be no more Edge of Extinction “for a while.”

Watch Survivor 40: Winners at War Wednesdays at 8 p.m. EST on CBS.