Jeff Probst Reveals the Reasons Why He Almost Quit ‘Survivor’

After 38 seasons of “come on in guys” and “you wanna know what you’re playing for,” it’s hard to imagine Survivor without Jeff Probst. The show started its run 19 years ago in 2000, and since then has aired a whopping 566 episodes to date.

Probst lives and breathes the game. But that wasn’t always the case. Back when Probst was still relatively new to the show, there was a time when he came close to ditching it all — and most people wouldn’t think of Probst as the quitting type. What almost sent Probst teetering over the edge?

A ratings magnet

Jeff Probst
Jeff Probst | CBS via Getty Images

According to a New York Times article, CBS executives call Survivor the “miracle show.” Even after twenty years, the show is going strong as a stalwart source of ratings and viewership for CBS.

Kelly Kahl, senior executive vice president at CBS, said that, “The old dog’s still got some fight left in it.”

Probst said the secret to their success is that they appeal to their viewers,and know what their faithful audience wants. “I’m not going to lie and say I wouldn’t love for more people to start watching ‘Survivor,’ but I’m not making it to attract a new viewer. I’m making it for the people who have kept us on the air.”

Kahl went on to add, “It’s the greatest gift you could ever have as a scheduler. It’s the greatest source of comfort knowing you do not even need to worry about it, and it’s that that show still wins its slot in viewers and the demo.”

The lowest point in his career

Jeff Probst
Jeff Probst | Robert Voets/CBS via Getty Images

That doesn’t mean Survivor is always a walk in the park. In fact, Probst at one point felt like he was in such a rut with the show that he told the team he was quitting.

In 2008, CBS aired Survivor: Gabon. After the season wrapped, Probst told CBS he was ready to quit the show. Probst told the team that he was feeling burned out, and that he was self-conscious about being known exclusively as the “Survivor guy.”

“My Achilles’ heel for a lot of my life was that nobody saw me as a storyteller, that they saw me as a white guy with dark hair who was just a game show host. And that in terms of my own self-image was the thing that could gut me. It was like a kidney punch.” explained Probst.

Probst himself had claimed in the past that after twenty seasons, that would be the end. “We could hit 20 seasons! That would be the end. I can tell you if we hit season 20, that would be it.”

Leslie Moonves, chief executive at CBS, told Probst to take a break. Probst stepped away for a few months, and returned re-energized. Since then, he’s stepped into the roles of showrunner and executive producer as well as host.

What does the future hold?

Rick Devens and Jeff Probst
Rick Devens and Jeff Probst | CBS via Getty Images

Probst no longer seems burned out or unenthusiastic about Survivor. In fact, quite the opposite.

“I feel like I’ve been given the greatest gift and no one really realizes it,” said Probst. “Mark and CBS have given us this great franchise, and they let us go make it. And then we bring them back episodes and they say, ‘Great, go make it again.’”

Probst admitted that the Survivor team doesn’t even think about the show ending as a possibility anymore. “I don’t think any of us have looked at the show that way in so long,” explained Probst. There was a period of time in the middle where I know that all of us were asking the question that you just asked which is, ‘Wow, how long will this last?’ And we didn’t know. And then there was a time where we just kind of all jumped on the same approach, which is that we just keep doing it.”