‘Survivor’: Why Jeff Probst Thinks It’s Sometimes Smarter for Contestants to Give Up Immunity for Food

With the 38th season of Survivor airing right now, fans of the show have watched contestants make seriously difficult decisions over the years. Jeff Probst, the executive producer and narrator of the show has seen it all from the beginning, too. From blindsides to medical evacuations, there have been some shocks that have completely thrown both Probst and fans for a loop. And every decision a contestant makes on the island could either make or break their chances of winning the million dollar prize at the end.

There are times when contestants are faced with an important decision during immunity challenges: They can either attempt to win the challenge, or give up completely and eat whatever food is offered while the challenge is running. Jeff Probst weighs in on his thoughts regarding what contestants choose.

Contestants have talked about how grueling the starvation on the game is

Jeff Probst awards Natalie Anderson with the Immunity Necklace
Jeff Probst awards Natalie Anderson with the Immunity Necklace | CBS via Getty Images

Not only is the mental gameplay of Survivor grueling, but those who last all 39 days on the island also face many obstacles with their health. Many contestants who fail to win rewards along the way go hungry, resulting in serious weight loss. And feeling the starvation for that length of time can also seriously impact gameplay.

Survivor winner Natalie Anderson told CBS after the game, “My body was wrecked. My hair was falling out. I lost all my muscle. I was so frail.” And contestant Keith Nale, a firefighter in his 50s, also told CBS he lost a ton of weight on the show and couldn’t stop thinking about what he wanted to eat when he was finally finished with it all. “We were going to stop at the Waffle House, at the pizza joint, the chicken joint — we were going to stop at everything on the way home. Southern-made donuts. I had big plans, big plans of eating,” he said. Yet another firefighter who competed on the show, Jeremy Collins, said his body was in such poor shape upon return to his regular life that he could barely even run for a few minutes.

Jeff Probst loves the strategizing that goes into choosing food vs. possible immunity

"Survivor: Edge of Extinction"
“Survivor: Edge of Extinction” | Robert Voets/CBS via Getty Images

Some players will take having a shot at immunity whenever they can — but that can be a tough choice for those who are incredibly hungry. “The ‘eat or play’ twist delivers surprises every time and there is always one constant takeaway: hungry people want to eat,” Jeff Probst told Entertainment Weekly. He then goes on to explain that when players choose food over the possibility of immunity, it’s typically because they don’t think they can win immunity anyway — though that’s a call they have to make in a split second upon just viewing the challenge from afar.

For those who don’t think they can win the challenge, Probst thinks “sitting out is probably a very wise move. You are calculating the risk of giving up immunity against the slight odds of you winning it in the first place and then contrasting that with the certainty of food.” He then notes that the quick thinking that needs to be done here is “one of my favorite parts of the game. Players who are constantly weighing risk vs. reward and making moves to try and maximize every opportunity.”

Probst explains starving makes many players act in a way they otherwise wouldn’t

Jeff Probst extinguishes Julia Carter's torch
Jeff Probst extinguishes Julia Carter’s torch | CBS via Getty Images

There are plenty of fans who think if they were on the show, they would never sit out for food and always attempt immunity. That’s definitely a key strategy for many players — but it might not always be the smartest move. Recently, on Edge of Extinction, fans saw a wild tribal council complete with a few astonishing admissions. Alliance lines were clearly drawn in the sand, and one player, Julia, who wasn’t on the chopping block before tribal got herself voted out because of her shifty, loud behavior.

Probst thinks if Julia had eaten more that day, the tribal may have had a totally different outcome. “Imagine that Julia, who was completely depleted at that point, had just spent the afternoon devouring pizza. Now she’s back to her normal very bright self with all of her cognitive abilities back in check,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “Could have been a very different outcome. But instead, she’s exhausted, she’s short-fused and just wants Tribal to be over and makes one or two combative comments that turn the tide toward her, and another great player is out..”

Check out The Cheat Sheet on Facebook!