Move Over, Fantasy Football: Hollywood Writers Duking It Out in 'Survivor' Pools

Scribes battle for major stakes (think $8,000 dinners) in pools with execs, former contestants and even Jeff Probst.
From left: Probst, Penn, Watson, Kim, Cormac, Wibberley, Appelbaum, Marianne, Wibberley and Rosenberg.

Stakes are high for the May 24 season 36 finale of CBS' Survivor: Ghost Island, and not just for the contestants. Screenwriter superfans including husband-and-wife team Cormac and Marianne Wibberley, Leverage and Sleepy Hollow writer Albert Kim, Ready Player One wordsmith Zak Penn, The Bold Type's Sarah Watson, and Midnight Radio partners Jeff Pinkner, Andre Nemec, Scott Rosenberg and Josh Appelbaum have been watching and betting on the reality stalwart for years.

"Our pool was born out of the Alias writers room in the early 2000s," says Appelbaum. Adds Rosenberg of the pool, which also includes actress Lindy Booth: "There's a $200 buy-in — the winner gets all the cash. Second place picks a restaurant. The loser, the first who gets knocked out, has to pay for the dinner," and the tab has run as high as $8,000.

"Our pool is all done online on a chat board plus trash talking on Twitter," explain the Wibberleys via email, adding, "which we can't do this year since we are losing so badly."

It’s not the first time the duo have done poorly in their picks. Kim recalls one year when he pulled out a win out from under the Wibberleys’ feet in the last week of the season, sparking something of an intense rivalry. “They made it their mission for the next few seasons to beat me,” said Kim. “I think at one point one of their pool names was ‘Take Albert Kim Down.’ “

Penn invites up to 25 guests to his house to watch — from Flight writer John Gatins to The Bye Bye Man scribe Jonathan Penner, also a three-time contestant on the show. Contestants Tyler Fredrickson and Max Dawson also have joined.

But only Rosenberg's group boasts the host. "On March 14, 2011 — I know it was then because I keep a journal — I discovered my friend Todd Garner was friends with Probst," he recalls. At the next dinner, "in walks Jeff Probst, and everybody just shit their pants." Probst, who has remained a member of the group, says "these dinners are a blast but not for the faint of heart."

Says Probst of the group, "I honestly don’t know what it is they enjoy about Survivor, but I damn sure know what I get out of it — in addition to the five-star dinners, their flattering commentary about our storytelling is the single highest form of praise."

Probst also belongs to a viewing group that includes writers Scott Neustadter, Tim Dowling and Ali Adler, plus execs Hannah Minghella and Amanda Palley. And he says he's fielded pitches for the show from the likes of Jimmy Fallon and Tyler Perry; the latter's idea for "filthier" swimwear even made it onto the screen. "Next season we aren't giving them swimming suits at all, just a sewing kit," jokes Probst. "Another one of his ideas."

A version of this story first appeared in the May 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.