'Survivor Ghost Island': Jeff Probst on a Returning Relic's "Bad Mojo"

Survivor Ghost Island -Only Time Will Tell  March 7 - Publicity 3-H 2018
Courtesy of Robert Voets/CBS

[This story contains spoilers for the third elimination from CBS' Survivor Ghost Island.]

"You just had to go and eat the apple, didn't you?"

One can imagine three-time Survivor veteran James Clement shouting those words at his television on Wednesday night, as Ghost Island competitor and undercover teenager Michael Yerger wrapped his hands around one of the greatest missed opportunities in Survivor lore: one of the two immunity idols James found all the way back in Survivor China, the show's 15th season.

Even with two surefire anti-vote weapons in his possession, James was blindsided from the game with both idols in his pockets — impressive, considering the hulking size of the things. Now? One of them is back in the game.

"One of the most enjoyable parts of putting this season together was tracking down old idols and advantages," executive producer and host Jeff Probst tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Getting one of the two idols from Survivor China that James was voted out with was one of our biggest scores. The day [executive producer] Matt Van Wagenen called to say he had it was one of those days when you started to believe Ghost Island was going to work."

But will the relic itself it work? Michael and his fellow ally Brendan Shapiro, who was on hand when the discovery was made, will certainly hope so. From Probst's perspective, the outcome doesn't matter so much as the question it poses.

"Now we have it back in the game, still carrying its bad mojo, and the question is: will it be played correctly, or will it haunt another player?" he says. "I really like the 'reverse the curse' idea, because even the phrase itself puts doubt in a players mind. Is it possible it really is cursed? I love it!"

Another item with something of a cursed aura: the legacy advantage. Heading into Ghost Island, the so-called "Survivor gods" placed the legacy advantage from Game Changers back into play, with Jacob Derwin discovering it during his stay in the land of bad Survivor decisions. Jacob willed the legacy advantage to Morgan Ricke, mere days before he was eliminated from the game. Now, one episode later, Morgan becomes the latest victim of a blindside, forced to send the legacy advantage to another player in the game: Domenick Abbate. 

"Will it get him, too?" Probst wonders. "There's so much game left to be played. We're just getting started."

Elsewhere in the episode, the first tribe swap of the season occurred, and it was very bad news on paper for the eight members of the original Malolo tribe. In both cases, the tribes were split with the exact same majority: five original Naviti against five original Malolo. Over at the new Malolo, Michael found James Clement's idol, a potential game changer should his tribe visit Tribal Council. Over at the new Naviti, cracks formed within the majority group, with the four new Malolos — James Lim, Libby Vincek, Laurel Johnson and Donathan Hurley — all being sought after for a potential blindside. 

As the proverbial belles of the ball, the ex-Malolos were in the enviable position of choosing their dancing partner. They chose to vote out Morgan, a move that will quite likely send ripple effects through the remaining Naviti: Domenick and Wendell Holland both voted for their day one tribe mate Angela Perkins, who remains in the game, their duplicity now wide out in the open. Male model Chris Noble won't be thrilled when he returns to the beach. At best, it's a four-four tug of war at Naviti beach; in reality, it will almost certainly be much more complicated should they return to Tribal Council.

"In the old days, a five to four advantage would often be a done deal: pick them off," says Probst, reacting to the very impressive gameplay from James, Libby, Laurel and Donathan. "But in today's game, there is always someone who is looking to move up or blindside a competitor, and so alliances are only solid so long as they serve each individual. The minute one person gets antsy, it's a whole new game."

"Probably the single best thing that has happened to Survivor has come from the very people who play the game," Probst continues. "They have upped the ante. It is a known fact that no jury will vote for someone who didn't play the game. And the reason is simple — if I'm playing a risky game and get voted out as a result, I am damn sure not gonna vote for someone who played a 'safe' game. No chance. So everybody knows you have to play. That really throws a giant monkey wrench into the entire landscape."

On the receiving end of the monkey wrench this week: Morgan Ricke. Here's how Probst viewed Morgan before the game began: "We almost put Morgan on last season, but we didn't really feel like she fit the theme. The only tribe we could sort of consider was Hustlers, and it didn't feel right. We waited, and fortunately she was able to get the time off this time to play the game. We obviously really like her. In some ways, she reminds me of Kim Spradlin who won Survivor: One World. I don't know if she's as good of a social player as her. But her attitude toward life… she's physically fit, and she seems like she has a really big spirit about her. I don't know if she can win. I haven't seen it yet."

And here's what Probst thinks about his assessment now, long after Morgan's torch was snuffed: "I still feel pretty much the same way. But I did start to see her game and it was strong. I think she would have been a legit threat. She's good at downplaying how sharp she is, but I was already starting to pick up on it. Was it that damn Legacy Advantage that did her in? She got what she thought was an advantage, but it turned out to be a curse."

The curses will continue to clash in the weeks ahead on Survivor Ghost Island. In the meantime, check THR.com/Survivor for continuing coverage, including recaps from Dan Fienberg and exit interviews with the players as they're voted off the island.

Weekly Probst-mortems:
Week 1: Gonzalez and Jacob's exits, explained
Week 2: The return of James Clement's idol

Weekly exit interviews:
20th place: Stephanie Gonzalez
19th place: Jacob Derwin
18th place: Morgan Ricke (coming soon)

Preseason player profiles:
• Angela Perkins
• Bradley Kleihege
• Brendan Shapiro
• Chelsea Townsend
• Chris Noble
• Desiree Afuye
• Domenick Abbate
• Donathan Hurley
• Jacob Derwin
• James Lim
• Jenna Bowman
• Kellyn Bechtold
• Laurel Johnson
• Libby Vincek
• Michael Yerger
• Morgan Ricke
• Sebastian Noel
• Stephanie Gonzalez
• Stephanie Johnson
• Wendell Holland