'Survivor: Ghost Island': Jeff Probst Breaks Down the Season Premiere

Survivor 36 Promo Jeff Probst 2 - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of CBS

[This story contains full spoilers for the season premiere of Survivor: Ghost Island.]

Best. Tribe. Ever.

Such is the assessment of one Jacob Derwin, the singer-songwriter from Long Island, New York, a lifelong Survivor super fan and blogger turned temporary Survivor player. After a loss at the first immunity challenge of the season, Jacob declared that his group, the orange-buffed Malolo tribe, was among the very best in Survivor lore — a lore that extends across 36 seasons and almost two decades. Big words, to be sure, and words that were apparently uttered as a means of getting the rival players over at Naviti to send Jacob over to Ghost Island, the spooky new location from which the season derives its theme and name.

Mission accomplished, if only for a time. Jacob was Malolo's consensus target for the first vote, but his banishment to Ghost Island extended his life in the game for one more round. Instead, Stephanie Gonzalez became the first one out of the season, with Jacob sent packing shortly thereafter.

Hear more from Gonzalez and Jacob in the final episode of First One Out: Ghost Zero, our preseason podcast series:

While on location for the first three days of the season, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Probst mere minutes after the first Tribal Council concluded. Here's what he said about the season's very first blindside, Jacob's big display of bravado, the developing story behind Donathan Hurley, the target that seems to be growing on Brendan Shapiro's back, and one last look at the first and second ones out of the season.

How do you feel about the first Tribal Council?

It's not that I feel happy, but we're off and running. It was a cool Tribal, in that you saw somebody get up and argue their case and start whispering. I don't think it'll happen at every Tribal, but I like the fact that players now realize, it's OK. You're not doing anything wrong. If you're worried, you should get up and talk to the people you're worried about or in cahoots with. What if they do have a bad bit of information? Maybe it really is just miscommunication. Or maybe you really are in trouble and you're trying to sway them. That's what I would do.

Is the whispering at Tribal Council here to stay?

What I continue to learn from this game is that it just takes one person, and then it's fine to do. Somebody had the courage to say, "I'm not OK. I'm standing up and I'm going to do this." Then everybody else goes, "Oh, good, OK, I just didn't want to be the first." I keep trying to remind myself, don't be afraid to be the first. Be the first! Don't let the opportunity go by, because you're worried that someone is going to judge you, or it's going to be weird because nobody's done it. Do it! If you need to stand in the voting confessional for 10 minutes while you try to decide? Stand there for 10 minutes! Nobody's going to rush you!

How lucky was Jacob to be sent to Ghost Island first? Are you happy with him as the first representative of the season's theme?

I'm happy that he's the first guy on Ghost Island, in that it was clearly a game-changing moment for him. Whether he knows it or not, whether he's perceptive enough to realize, dude, they're serious. Do you realize you're in trouble? I don't know! I like that he's out there, but most of these people are super fans, so I think anybody who went to Ghost Island would have gotten a kick to be the first to actually go out there. The bigger question for Jacob is… what does he really think? Tonight, it's starting to rain, as you and I are talking. He's sleeping underneath the torch snuffers. Does he really believe that we believe that this was all a big con and setup, or is he thinking, "Oh, my god, I'm in so much more trouble than I thought! I'm sleeping under 30-some snuffers, and I barely escaped it!" And here's the great part: What if Malolo loses again and Jacob is sent back to Ghost Island, and they can't get rid of the one guy they want to get rid of? [Wigler's note: So much for that.]

Do you think Malolo is truly one of the best tribes in Survivor history, Jeff?

That was one of the top 20 things said in a first episode ever, for sure. He said it with such reverence: "I know for a fact that we're one of the best tribes in Survivor history." (Laughs.) Are they? Donathan said, "No, you have to earn it." I think that's the truth. 

What did you think of Donathan at Tribal Council tonight? Do you think he was truly nervous or was he putting o some kind of show for the vote? And what did you make of him opening up about his story to you? 

I don't think Donathan was fronting a single thing. That's the reason he's on the show. We met him, and he said, "Look, coming into casting in Los Angeles is my first time going anywhere, and going to Fiji would be my first time needing a passport." What I didn't know about Donathan, what he didn't share with me at least in casting, was how low his self-confidence was and how little self-esteem he has because of people in his life who apparently have been hard on him. I think that makes him really rootable. This is what I'm talking about when I say the reason Survivor is still interesting is we get people on the show who are willing to be vulnerable enough to let us watch them grow, suffer, succeed and fail. You can't not root for Donathan. He's a likable kid who has had a lot of things he's had to go through. But on the flip side, you can't let Donathan go long into the game. If he's a liability, he may have to go. It's complicated.

When Gonzalez left Tribal Council, she turned to the tribe and said: "Seven sheep, one lion." In her final words, she identified Brendan as the lion. Do you see him as a lion within this group? They certainly elected him their leader right off the bat.

For sure; 100 percent. I look at Brendan and think, "What would I do if that was my label?" I think you have to own it a little bit and try to say it means nothing. "I'm happy to lead, but don't let me get suckered into the leadership role." It's tricky… you can't not be who you are. Brendan can't not be a really charismatic and athletic and gifted orator. He is that! I don't know what you do if you're him. You are the lion right now.

What are your thoughts on Gonzalez as the first one out?

Bummed for Gonzalez. Man, she left a family business. There's so much people do to get out here. When she walked into Tribal, I do not think she saw it coming. Clearly, she got worried at the end, which is why she started whispering. She seems like she has a good attitude. I'm always impressed when people can do the show, get voted out first and still find a way to make it a good experience.

Months after this conversation, with the Survivor premiere looming, Probst took one last look at Jacob Derwin, the second one out of the season. Here's what Probst said about Jacob in the preseason:

"He's a very likable guy. He's very fun to be around. He had a great audition tape. When we met in person, I found him really engaging. I hope he does OK. He had a big reaction when we [revealed the Ghost Island theme at the marooning]. His eyes got wide. That's the kind of excitement that makes me excited, when people are in it, on it and they're willing to say, 'I'm down with that! Let's go do it!' I think Jacob is probably going to make friends fast. I would love to see him go deep in the game."

And here's what Probst thinks about Jacob after the fact:

"Well, I think my instincts about Jacob being excited to play Survivor were spot on. And he is a likable person. What I didn't anticipate was him being so excited that he ended up overplaying his hand a whole lot. He just went too far too fast and he couldn't recover. I wish for Jacob that he didn't feel the need to be first to Ghost Island as he might have been able to establish an alliance and play the game he loves a bit longer. But he did and as a result, that may be his only distinction, the first player to ever visit Ghost Island."

What did you make of the first episode of Survivor: Ghost Island? Sound off in the comments section below, and keep checking THR.com/Survivor for more coverage, including interviews with Gonzalez and Jacob.

Catch up on all of our preseason interviews:

• 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