December 13, 2013 8:00am PT by Kimberly Nordyke
'Survivor's' Jeff Probst Previews Sunday's Finale: 'Brutal' Final Tribal Council
And then there were … seven.
Heading into Sunday's Survivor season finale, there are two extra people left in the game than is usually the case, thanks to the re-introduction of Redemption Island. Three people remain on Redemption, but only one will get back into the game for a shot at competing at the $1 million prize.
"I like that" there are more people left on the show, host and executive producer Jeff Probst tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I'm a big fan of second chances. I hear people all the time saying that it takes away the purity of the show. But it's a matter of opinion, and I don't think I'm right by any means."
Probst believes there also is a good mix of returning players (Tyson Apostol, Gervase Peterson, Laura Morett, Monica Culpepper and Tina Wesson) and newcomers (Ciera Eastin and Hayden Moss) following the elimination of Katie Collins on Wednesday night's episode.
"It really is up in the air [who could win], depending on who gets back in the game from Redemption Island and what they do in that spot," he says. "Alliances can be broken in many different ways. … There is no free pass for anybody this season, and alliances are truly tested" in the finale.
Probst adds that the strategic game-play heats up as well.
"People are still desperate to get to the end, and they will try and do and say anything to make that happen," he says. "You will see at least one person really confused on which way to go. … If one person changes their mind, it can change the entire game."
While some viewers miss the days of a final two, Probst says there's a good reason for sticking with a final three (though he declines to confirm this season will continue that format): "Typically, a final three gives us a better possible outcome than a final two. Often, whomever wins the last immunity in the final two takes the worst person with them, and it's over before it even begins. With a final three, you have to bring two people, and that switches things up."
Of the upcoming final tribal, Probst calls it "brutal."
"I feel for these people who have gone through 39 days of hell; the jury can't wait to get their licks in," he says.
The Blood vs. Water twist has resonated with viewers this season, which consistently wins its 8 p.m. Wednesday time period. It's also been noteworthy for the number of blindsides and big moves -- including last week's rock draw -- at tribal council.
"We're got really lucky this whole season that we had people who really wanted to play and weren't afraid to mix things up," Probst says. "Hayden is not afraid to get down and dirty, and Ciera is not afraid to make a big move or two."
As for Ciera's big move last week -- forcing the tribal council tie that resulted in the rock draw (in which the person who draws the odd-colored rock gets eliminated) -- Probst says he was surprised it came to that (it marked only the second time in Survivor history that's happened).
"There have been a few times over the last several seasons where people talk about forcing a tie, and when they really examine it that it takes the decision out of the game and puts it in the hands of fate, that usually stops the conversation and they switch their vote," he says. "I thought that would happen this season until Gervase made the mistake of counting one, two, three, four," inadvertently letting Ciera know she would be the first to be voted out from their alliance. "The minute he did that, it left the door open for Hayden … and he swayed Ciera."
But he says Ciera made the right decision, arguing that at some point players have to make a big move and just "go for it."
"If you don't win, it doesn't matter if you're second or ninth or 20th," he says. "The single biggest mistake I see people make is they don't make a big move because hey are afraid it won't work out, and the odds are it probably won't. But you have to go for it."
Survivor is produced by SEG Inc., with Burnett and Probst as executive producers. The Survivor: Blood vs. Water finale airs at 8-10 p.m. Sunday, followed by the live reunion show.