'Survivor' Host Jeff Probst on Big Moves and Small Edits

The veteran executive producer weighs in on the latest 'Ghost Island' move and offers a behind-the-scenes look at a certain player's portrayal.
CBS Entertainment

[This story contains spoilers for the latest episode of CBS' Survivor Ghost Island.]

Another week of Survivor, another player cut down on the way to the million dollar prize — and this week, the blood runs purple.

In an episode all about family, thanks to the reliably emotional loved ones visit challenge, the apparent majority alliance of Survivor Ghost Island finally fractured: the purple-buffed Naviti tribe. The dominant duo of Domenick Abbate and Wendell Holland (along with Sebastian "Sea Bass" Noel) went to war against their former tribe mates Kellyn Bechtold, Angela Perkins and Chelsea Townsend, all of whom started the game together on Naviti beach. In particular, Kellyn was the lead cheerleader of the "Naviti Strong" movement; ironically enough, a different cheerleader became the person ousted in the battle: Chelsea, the EMT and professional NFL cheerleader who won multiple individual immunity challenges this season yet received only a small amount of air time. 

(Much more on that subject in a few paragraphs from now, by the way.)

Chelsea's downfall came at the hands of Laurel Johnson and Donathan Hurley, the only two members of the original Malolo tribe still in the game. Having played together from the very beginning, Laurel and Donathan found themselves in a swing position this week, with the opportunity to team up with the Naviti women and turn the tide against Domenick and Wendell, an obviously dangerous pair for a litany of reasons, their combined two immunity idols (and two fake idols) among them. Laurel and Donathan have been secretly aligned with Domenick and Wendell throughout the game, but the optics on that have not been in their favor. 

"It was clear to me that Dom and Wendell as a pair had control," juror Jenna Bowman previously told THR, which should make the situation obvious: if Laurel and Donathan want to make it to the final Tribal Council with a compelling case to win, they need to turn their backs on Domenick and Wendell.

But this week, when presented with an open opportunity to take out Wendell (or even Sebastian if they feared Wendell playing an immunity idol; Domenick, for his part, was immune due to a challenge victory), Laurel and Donathan stuck to their secret squad, voting out Chelsea. While the decision certainly helps their advancement toward the final stage of the game, is it time to call it on the two sole surviving Malolos' shot at winning, or is there still time left on the clock?

"One of the most difficult aspects of Survivor at this point in its evolution is building a resume strong enough to impress the jury," says host and executive producer Jeff Probst, weighing in with his thoughts on Laurel and Donathan's decision this week. "Donathan and Laurel have done a great job of digging out of the hole they were in and creating a strong alliance. That should be worthy of a fair amount of resume credit should they make it to the end. But is it flashy enough? That's the real question."

"What makes Survivor so unique is the jury is composed of people you played with and ultimately voted out of the game, so they have a certain amount of insight into the truth," Probst continues. "Therefore, you have to be able to gauge what it is the jury will find impressive and give it to them, but you have to do it without risking your own game. That's what Donathan and Laurel are facing. They want to make a big move and take control but they risk losing everything. It's fun and very easy to arm-chair quarterback, but the players I think the audience respects most are those that play to win, not stay safe and get further in the game."

With that in mind, Probst lays much of the credit for Donathan and Laurel's decision this week at the feet of their secret allies: "Dom and Wendell seem to be driving the ship right now and if you want to make a move, the move is to take at least one of them out of the game. That's a move the jury would respect. But saying it and doing it are very different things. Dom and Wendell are playing a very strong game. They are managing their alliance very well and keeping a tight reign on things."

The casualty of Domenick and Wendell's ironclad grasp on the game is Chelsea, someone who seemed to be at the center of strategic conversations and certainly produced dominant performances in the challenges — and yet, viewers barely heard a whisper from her all season long. Indeed, Chelsea's confessional count in the post-merge period of the season clocks in at exactly one, just in time for her exit episode. 

In the past several weeks, Survivor fans who engage the show online have been weighing in on Chelsea's "purple edit," a term given to players with extremely low visibility on the show. (Shout out to Survivor Nicaragua veteran "Purple" Kelly Shinn, the namesake of the term; also, who had a "Purple Kelly shout-out on The Hollywood Reporter in 2018" on their Survivor bingo card?) With her torch now snuffed, Probst himself is here to weigh in on what we saw from Chelsea this season — or didn't see, as it were.

First, here are Probst's thoughts on Chelsea from the preseason: "If she flamed out fast, I would be bummed for her, but not surprised. If she ran an alliance, I also wouldn't be surprised. It comes down to this: how much of her EMT training and experience can she apply to this game? She says, 'People see me as a young and pretty woman, and they forget that I'm in life-or-death situations. I'm not going to be the one panicking when the vote's coming, or in the middle of a challenge, or if we can't get the fire going.' If that's true, then those are some really amazing skills. But as we've all seen, it's one thing to say it, and another thing to do it."

And here's Probst's reaction to his initial read on Chelsea, with some added commentary on how she was portrayed on the show: 

"I think Chelsea is an even nicer person than my first impression. She's also even more physically skilled than I anticipated. In those two areas she really impressed. As for why we haven't seen more from Chelsea, it's really just an unfortunate situation where there are only so many minutes in an episode and the story was being driven more by others. That is not to say in any way that Chelsea was not involved in strategy. I know enough to know that every player on some level is controlling their destiny, especially in their perception of the moves they are making and how those moves are impacting the game. One of the caveats of starting a season with 20 players is you will not have enough time for everybody's story to be told and that is what is happening this season. There are a few players who were really taking charge and so those players tend to be featured more in the interviews. We say this to every player before the game starts. Your best bet is to play your first time as though you are playing your second time. The most common post-game complaints center around, 'I wish I had played harder and made my moves sooner.' I feel for Chelsea and any player who gives their heart to this game but doesn't feel adequately represented. If there is anything to be taken from a situation like this, I think it falls in the world of 'make it impossible for us to not notice.'"

More from Chelsea coming in our exit interview posting to THR.com/Survivor this Thursday morning.

Weekly Probst-mortems:

• Week 1: Gonzalez and Jacob's exits, explained
• Week 2: The return of James Clement's idol
• Week 3: Michael's "double idol" gamble
• Week 4: Ending Stephanie's dreams
• Week 5: Probst on James' elimination
• Week 6: The return of three iconic artifacts
• Week 7: The Noble One's bogus journey
• Week 8: Probst on Libby's elimination
• Week 9: The anatomy of a brazen and risky move
• Week 10: The double elimination twist, explained
Week 11: Big moves and small edits

Weekly exit interviews:
• 20th place: Stephanie Gonzalez
• 19th place: Jacob Derwin
• 18th place: Morgan Ricke
• 17th place: Brendan Shapiro
• 16th place: Stephanie Johnson
• 15th place: James Lim
• 14th place: Bradley Kleihege
• 13th place: Chris Noble
• 12th place: Libby Vincek
• 11th place: Desiree Afuye
• 10th place: Jenna Bowman
• 9th place: Michael Yerger
• 8th place: Chelsea Townsend (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

 

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