'Survivor' Host Jeff Probst Breaks Down the Season 35 Premiere

The Hollywood Reporter spoke with the executive producer and host at Tribal Council, moments after the first castaway was voted out.
Courtesy of CBS
Jeff Probst

[Warning: This story contains spoilers for the season premiere of CBS' Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers.]

As a wise man once said: "The game is afoot."

Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers is officially underway, with 18 brand-new castaways thrust into the middle of the Fijian sea, forced to slug it out against each other and contend with the elements, the twists and even the expectations that come with the theme, such as they are. Over the course of the first three days of the season, some headlines have emerged:

The Healers are dominating, winning both of the season's first two challenges, even if there is some trouble in paradise between Joe Mena and Mike Zahalsky;

• The Hustlers struggled to find their footing, even though bellhop Ryan Ulrich managed to find a hidden super idol during the opening marooning;

• Ryan and surf instructor Devon Pinto joined strategic forces over the discovery of the idol, and agreed to pass it along to Chrissy Hofbeck of the Heroes tribe;

The Heroes are a surprisingly messy group, with Alan Ball going ballistic against JP Hilsabeck and Ashley Nolan, so convinced that they have an idol that JP stripped naked to prove his innocence; and

• All of that madness wasn't enough to stop Katrina Radke from becoming the first one out of the season, sent packing after only three days in the game.

Moments after Katrina's elimination, I spoke with Jeff Probst at Tribal Council for an overview of what went wrong with the Heroes, and some of the other major moments from the first three days, closing out our visit to the Survivor shooting location — with the exception of an interview with Katrina the following morning, which you can read soon, and hear for yourself in the final episode of First One Out, our epic preseason podcast.

Listen to the final episode of First One Out in the player below.

With that, read on for my final conversation with Probst from the preseason.

Here we are at Tribal Council ... how do you feel?

We're off to a fantastic start. That's proof, I think when people see it, that there's no turning back on Survivor. People are playing. You can come into Tribal 100 percent safe and mess up your game. It looked like Alan almost did. It looked like he almost talked himself out of here tonight.

That was wild. I walked away from my interview with Alan very impressed. I felt like he was a very calm guy. That was the opposite of calm!

It's hard to know, at least for me, this early in, what everybody's truth is. Alan is very convinced he saw something. He thinks there's something up with Ashley and JP. He's also aware that by making that claim, he puts a target on his back, and he's self-aware enough to say, "You should probably get rid of me!" It was a really layered awareness that he had of what was going on, and absolutely entertaining. I think when Chrissy said, "The game is really still happening right now," that really summed it up. You can come into Tribal with a really good idea, and maybe you'll stick with it, but something like that happens with Alan, and suddenly everything's up in the air. And then Katrina says, "Look! There's an opening! It shouldn't be me!" I think the audience, going into that Tribal, will be as uncertain as we all are were. I wasn't sure who was going home.

I felt pretty sure it was Katrina at the start, but once Alan spoke up...

You also have JP, who did not defend himself once, despite 15 questions from me! That was really curious to me. Here's a guy who's being linked in with Ashley, a conspiracy, and he doesn't say anything. The entire Tribal was about that, and he just had these sports cliches. I don't know if that's his game, either. For all I know, he's back at camp going, "I'm never going to play anything other than this jock sort of role, but here's what's really happening." Or maybe he didn't get it at all. And then you have Ben in the corner, super bright, clearly. Great personality. Trying to keep it jovial. "Hey, it's all good! We'll figure it out!" And then maybe the brightest of the bunch, Chrissy, who expertly digested everything that was happening and spit it out in about 10 words.

She's a great talker, and I was impressed with Ben as well, who seems like a backbone for this group as well.

That's how we felt when we met him. It's weird how some people just have that. You look to Ben and you go, "I trust you. I think you can get me out of some jams. I'm going to be loyal to you." I think Ben's in for a while. It's fascinating that you and I would agree he's here for a while, when the fact that we both agree should make him a target on some level, and yet, I don't think anybody's going to get rid of him for a while. If Chrissy can not give away how bright she is with her vocabulary and her critical thinking and her conceptual awareness, she could be here for a while now.

Is she the person you're most worried about next on the tribe, the person most at risk in the group?

After tonight? I don't know. I think Alan's accusations may do some damage. How can you listen to him and not on some level go, "What did he see?" Because he's pretty sure he saw something! And then you have JP who is being silent. "Why aren't you talking, dude? Why aren't you defending yourself?" That's why I was so surprised he didn't. So I don't know on this tribe. I think it's up in the air. If we had another Tribal right now, it would be interesting. But what a first episode!

Do you feel it when you have a great episode?

Yeah. It's not even that we look at it ... because I agree with you, but we look at it and say, 'We chose well. We chose good people.' Everything is connected to the people, and that's [casting director Lynne Spillman] and everyone who works so hard to try to figure this out. I'm just so excited with these people. I really am! I feel badly that Katrina was first out, but looking at it, if I was voting on what you guys should do? I think they made the right choice. She wasn't fitting in. She could probably fit in on a different tribe really well, but in this group, her mojo wasn't gelling, and unfortunately, you can't swap. If Katrina could have mutinied, she might still be in this game. But this tribe can be strong if they can get it together.

Do you think Katrina sensed she was in danger tonight?

Yes. I think she knew she made an early mistake. She acknowledged that she came out of the gate really fast. I don't know about any of that, but I can see how that could have happened, just by the way she talks, because she's really engaging, and she wants to connect, and maybe she over-connected. She went too far to try to get to know people. That's what it sounds like according to Chrissy, but apparently she owned it. It's a terrible spot to be in. It's like you're in front of a judge, and they're going to sentence you, and there's nothing you can do about it. That's sort of what's happening here. There are other people, and if they want you out, there isn't anything you can do about it. Everything she sacrificed to be here, for three days, and she walked away from Tribal. I'm sure she's upset, or mad, or both.

What's wild about your analogy is that she's the person standing in front of the judge, and it's her court date, but a crime broke out in the middle of her trial! Arrest this man!

That's funny. (Laughs.) And you're right! Get him, and I'll walk out the back of the court room!

I wish she had thrown someone under the bus. Tribal was ready to go to the vote, and Katrina had something to say, and she didn't take it all the way. I think it would have been a great time to take a stand.

Well, I asked her: "If not you, then who?" At this point on Survivor, the players would say who. They would tell you exactly who and why. Here's why, and here's what's going to happen if we don't, and here's what's going to happen with me if you keep me. All of that. But everyone has a different strategy. It's easy for you and me. We sit here and we talk. And neither one of us has spent a damn day in the jungle!

What are your thoughts on the Hustlers tribe, based on these first three days?

I like the Hustlers! I really liked today, how even after the Healers completely dominated — again — Devon and Ali just kept going [at the challenge], even though they weren't necessarily getting along, and not agreeing. Ali seemed a little perturbed at times. When it was over, she was so joyful. That's what you expect from the Hustlers tribe. You keep your head down, you pay no attention to what Probst is saying, you're going to get this thing, and you're going to figure it out. The big surprise is the Healers tribe. Nobody would have predicted [their dominance], not just because they're passionate about putting other people first. You take a look at that tribe and you wonder, "I don't think they're going to dominate." They're dominating! They've won both challenges! The Heroes haven't, the Hustlers haven't ... it's pretty impressive.

The Healers were third to the puzzle today, too. Didn't even have a choice.

Yeah, that was a cool element of the challenge. Your order of arrival dictated your ability to choose your fate. They were left with the last table maze, and they were the last group to get all the way to the top of that tall tower, and last to get started, and first to finish. How many times can you say it? You come on Survivor, you're in dead last, and you end up winning. You can't ever give up. You can't ever quit on Survivor, ever. Even at Tribal tonight! Katrina was still sort of alive there for a minute!

What's happening next? What does Day 4 look like?

We're early. Typically in the first couple of episodes, we'll just do one combined reward and immunity challenge. Tomorrow, the Heroes will be dealing with the aftermath of tonight. I'm sure they're dealing with it right now at camp. Then they'll go to bed, wake up, and either they'll gel, or Alan will start talking again and who knows. The other two tribes? This is where you're really trying to improve your shelter. We forget about that when we're watching the show, that they are actually living in the jungle right now. Whatever shelter they have ... it could rain right now, in one minute. That's what they should be doing right now. They should be fishing, they should be trying to figure out a good water system, and then they'll have another challenge and another Tribal, and then by about episode four, we start really kicking into gear with two challenges per episode.

How are you feeling about the season so far?

The best ever. This is the best, ever! (Laughs.) Look, it's hard to know. You usually judge it not just by the producers on the beach, but the rest of the crew making the show. When you see camera guys going, "This is great. I can't believe what I'm looking at through the lens." And then you go to Tribal and see the guys who built this place, and they're invested in the Tribal, that's usually a good sign, that they like these people. We had six people here tonight, and being completely candid, I would say five of the six were phenomenal, and Katrina ended up on the outside. I think that influenced how she handled herself tonight. But pretty interesting people. I think we're in for a really fun season. I think we're going to see that theme play out: Heroes, Healers and Hustlers, as we go on, how their social dynamics will change based on who they are as humans.

Do you think the theme is having a psychological impact on the players? 

One hundred percent. I think the Healers are thinking, "We might actually be gods! We're Healers, and we're dominating on Survivor! We're even better than we thought!" The Heroes came into the game, and they admitted it tonight, thinking that they're unbeatable as Heroes, and then they got their asses kicked, so now they're going home going, "Wow. Not used to this." I think the Hustlers tribe is right where they should be, right in the middle going, "We're just fine. This is what we always do. People overlook us, and guess who's there at the end? We are, just like the Blue Collars. See you guys at the Final Three."

Follow THR.com/Survivor all season long for more coverage of Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers.