3:38pm PT by Kimberly Nordyke
'Survivor: Philippines': Jeff Probst Spills Secrets on Final 2 Episodes (Video)
It's down to the final five on Survivor: Philippines.
Lisa Whelchel, Abi-Maria Gomes, Michael Skupin, Denise Stapley and Malcolm Freberg are all still in the running for the $1 million prize on season 25 of CBS' reality competition. The remaining two episodes air at 8 p.m. Wednesday and Sunday.
For the first time in Survivor history, the final players were allowed to talk about their experiences on the show before the season finale. They recently sat down with host Jeff Probst to tape an episode of his daytime talk show, The Jeff Probst Show, that airs Wednesday (check local listings for channel and airtime).
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Probst -- and the finalists -- after the taping in Los Angeles, where the host gave a sneak peek at what's ahead in the final two episodes of the season. (Check back Wednesday to see what the players had to say, and watch a clip from The Jeff Probst Show at the end of this post.)
The Hollywood Reporter: What can you tell us about the final two episodes without giving too much away?
Jeff Probst: Well, on a nonstrategic moment, there is a moment [this] week that is one of the most amazing moments involving Survivors and the ocean that we've ever had, and I still remember getting a call on the radio saying, "We just got epic footage of Survivors swimming with a whale shark, and it is stunning." It's just a brief little moment where everything lined up, and they're in the water and there's a whale shark and there's a cameraman, and it's beautiful. Those are the kinds of moments -- they only happen on Survivor and they don't even happen to the crew. We just get to watch someone else have them. It's pretty spectacular.
From a strategy point of view, what I like about this season ... it really is up in the air insomuch as you better choose right who you bring to the end because it's all about the pairings, and if you take the wrong two people with you, you lose, and if somebody else takes the wrong two people, they lose, and it happens a lot on Survivor. You're sitting there deciding between person A and person B and it costs you a million bucks, and that's what happens this year. Somebody has to decide, "Do I keep this person, or get rid of them?" And everybody's been talking in the last few episodes; they've been saying things like, "You better not leave them [in the game]; they're gonna win." There's lot of mind games going on.
THR: Usually the younger people tend to rule the game and pick off the older players, but that isn't the case this season. Is this the oldest group of finalists ever?
Probst: I was wondering that the other day, actually. I don't know if it is for sure, but it probably has to be the oldest group. I should check it. And I don't know what that means, but two seasons ago, I did a long, thorough search on past contestants and I broke down age, race, sex, education, location -- geography, where they are from -- and matched it up with the most popular players, and there was something about our older players that tend to be our most popular players because they have more life experience. They have a better idea of who they are. And maybe there is a correlation of having such a great final five. ... Sometimes when you have 20-year-olds, though they might be fun to watch, they don't have enough life experience yet to put a sentence together in a way that's profound.
THR: Is there anything that surprised you about the final two episodes?
Probst: I think what came across to me in the final episodes is that the people who are there and the cases they make as to why they deserve it really speak to how they played the game. I think when you're watching the finale, you will have a good idea who has won based on what they're saying because they all tell their story, and when they're telling their stories, it's really clear who deserves to win. That isn't always the case. Sometimes people get up there, and they're just a jumbled mess. The people on this final episode, even if it works against them, they tell the truth of how they played the game.
THR: What are your thoughts on this season as a whole?
Probst: I don't know sometimes why I like a group and don't like a group. And I always feel badly if I say I like one group because maybe it implies that you don't like the other, but I felt a renewed sense of enthusiasm this season. I felt it from day one. Every producer would come back from the beach and go, "We got great stuff," and there was a feeling of, "Man, we have something." We knew we had a good season coming in. We really believed it. ... And there was something in the air, but it carried over to next season. Season 26 is better than season 25.
THR: Will you have any returning players next season?
Probst: I can't say.
THR: What about in general? Every time you've had returning players on, at least one makes it pretty far in the game, and Boston Rob even won. But you didn't cast any last season. Will you continue inviting them back in future seasons?
Probst: I don't see any reason to stop having returning players. I love that Survivor fans have strong opinions and will say things like, "They've had their chance." If they've had their chance, then vote them out. But if you vote them out, you are voting out somebody that has a lot more experience than you do. And that's why they keep them. It's smart to keep them because there is a learning curve to Survivor. It can kick your ass, or it can bury you. You want it to just kick your ass; you don't want it to bury you. And guys like Skupin or [Jonathan] Penner, they can help you. The key is you gotta get rid of them [at the right time], and they did that. They got rid of Russell [Swan], and they got rid of Penner, but Skupin survived, and yes he could win. He'd have a great case: "I'm a returning player. How'd I get here? You gotta give me the money." So I love returning players.
Below, watch a clip of Wednesday's The Jeff Probst Show in which Malcolm talks about the first meal he had once he got home.