'Survivor: Ghost Island' Host Jeff Probst Explains the Latest "Do or Die" Twist

"I listened to my gut and we went for it," the executive producer tells THR about crafting the double-elimination episode, which claimed a fan-favorite castaway's torch.
CBS

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

Who remembers Michelle Yi?

No one? Nobody? Quick history lesson, then.

A contestant featured on Survivor: Fiji (the first of many times the reality series would film in the South Pacific island country), Michelle was an upbeat social player who was voted out at the start of the merge, via an untraditional twist: For one night only, the merge tribe was split into two competing teams, with the losing group heading straight to Tribal Council after the challenge with no time to strategize. Michelle was the person sent home, cemented in the show's lore as one of the players most clearly burned by a twist.

For the first time since that episode, which aired more than 10 years ago, a similar twist played out on Survivor: Ghost Island, where members of the merged Lavita tribe were split into two competing groups. This time, both "tribes" were forced to vote someone out at two ensuing Tribal Councils, with one individual in each group immune from the vote. It's far from the first time Survivor has delivered a double-elimination episode, but it's certainly the first time such an episode has played out in this fashion — one with eerie similarities to the first Fiji season, albeit with much more time to strategize between the challenge and vote.

"In a season with 20 players we have to have at least one double-elimination episode and they are never easy, because the structure is different," executive producer and host Jeff Probst tells The Hollywood Reporter. "The idea came from executive producer Matt Van Wagenen. It was a fresh way to surprise the players and give us a new structure but the same result of two people going home. After 36 seasons, any new idea is an idea worth trying. I thought it played really well and we may do it again. The key to our game is staying ahead of the players and that gets tougher each season. They study our history and begin to anticipate what might be coming next."

Here's what came next: two Tribal Councils with very different tones. In the first Tribal of the evening, members of the group asked to rush through the conversation with Probst, eager to get to the vote. After the relatively minimal discourse, Donathan Hurley played a hidden immunity idol on himself — an ultimately needless gesture, as the majority of the group had cast their votes for Jenna Bowman.

For his part, Probst was struck by the rushed pace the players (including Donathan, Jenna, Sebastian Noel, Angela Perkins and Chelsea Townsend) insisted on: "Every season has an overall feel about it and this season was always pushing forward, driving harder and playing more aggressively. So, when the first group showed up and after just a few minutes said, 'Let's vote,' it just felt right, so we did. I would never normally do that. The producer in me would want to explore the story and get more material to work with, but in this case I listened to my own gut and we went for it. Those are fun moments because it's a reminder that we are always 'live.' Even though we are technically shooting the show and coming back to Los Angeles to edit, we shoot it in the same way you would shoot a live show. So you get what you get. I want to do more do-or-die moments on the show. More all-in type of twists."

The second Tribal Council, meanwhile, moved at a breakneck pace. Sturdy allies Domenick Abbate and Wendell Holland started whispering to each other in the middle of the event, causing paranoia among the others in the group: Kellyn Bechtold, Laurel Johnson and Michael Yerger. Kellyn wound up using a hidden advantage she found earlier in the game, and Michael's bluff about having an idol he never truly possessed didn't quite pan out; the fan-favorite teenager was ultimately sent home, with no more tricks in his bag.

"I think Michael knew he was in trouble because the target on him was huge," says Probst. "But an equally interesting story was Kellyn's determination to make her own move and further her own game by using her extra vote. As a result, she wasted it, she didn't take out Laurel, and now she has to try and repair the damage. And Ghost Island has a returning relic. Add it to the list."

With two more torches snuffed and two new players added to the jury bench, it's time for Probst to take one last look at Jenna and Michael, both of whom began the game as members of the Malolo tribe. Now, only two Malolos remain: Donathan and Laurel.

Here's what Probst said about Jenna before the game: "Jenna is another one I really root for going into this. She's looking at her life right now and saying, 'How can I make it better? How can I be a better person? How can I represent who I am better to the world?' One of the things we talked about is just how she comes across with her smile. She's been working on that! She's said, 'My dating life has changed. Everything's getting better.' I always think if you have momentum coming into the show from a point of growth, that could be really advantageous — unless you start walking around trying to help everyone else grow, in which case you become a preacher, and nobody wants that."

Here's what Probst thinks about Jenna now: "I really liked Jenna pregame and the more she played the more I understood what it was I found appealing. It's her confidence. Like any of us, she wants to work on parts of herself, but she has a very quiet calm about her. She doesn't get riled too easily. Even when she is upset, she uses a measured tone to express it. I also liked her sense of humor. She seemed to appreciate even the driest of humor."

Here's what Probst said about Michael before the game: "He lives his life as a 23-year-old. We're not saying, sometimes he buys beer. He lives his life, in his career, as 23. Nobody ages up! Mostly they'll go, 'I'm actually 32,' and then you look on their Facebook page and they're 70! I'm impressed, going into this. Michael carries himself, for the most part, not like an 18-year-old. I don't think anyone is going to think he's 18. He's physically strong. He's a good-looking guy. He's super likable. The only thing that would concern me for Michael is that he really is only 18. You can't have the maturity of a 23-year-old when you're 18. You can fake it like you do, and maybe you're ahead of the game a little, but he is an 18-year-old kid. I'm curious how that's going to go."

Here's what Probst thinks about Michael now: "Well, even with the pregame praise I underestimated him by at least a decade. Rarely if ever, has a player been this universally popular this fast. Michael is up there with the most liked Survivors of all time. Even as I write this, it's still hard to believe those were the actions of an 18-year old. I root for him. I fully expect and hope he will play again. I hope doors open for him as a result of this, not that he needs our help. He's really an amazing young man."

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

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 (coming soon)
• 9th place: Michael Yerger (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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