'Survivor' Season 35: Jeff Probst Discusses How to Choose Enemies

The executive producer and host weighs in on the difficult decision made in this week's 'Survivor.'
Robert Voets/CBS

Welcome to The Hollywood Reporter's Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers regular season coverage! Every week, we're bringing you exit interviews with the latest person voted out, recaps from THR's very own Dan Fienberg and weekly check-ins with executive producer and host Jeff Probst. Bookmark our season 35 one-stop shop to make sure you don't miss out on any of it.

Warning: Spoilers ahead for season 35, episode five.

You're at a fork in the road. No matter which path you pick, a bridge behind you will burn. No turning back. The hounds of war howl in the distance, closing in on your position fast. Time's running out. A choice must be made — but how do you decide which path to select? How do you choose the right bridge to burn? 

How do you choose your enemy?

Former Hustler and current Soko tribe member Ryan Ulrich faced a version of that dilemma on this week's Survivor, as the clock counted down toward Tribal Council. Following a loss at the fifth immunity challenge, Ryan found himself at the crossroads of a very difficult decision: vote for Roark Luskin, the lone original Healer on the tribe, and risk drawing the ire of his former fellow Hustler and longtime ally Ali Elliott; or vote for Chrissy Hofbeck, Ryan's first cross-tribal partner, an alliance he secretly built during the first three days of the game when he gifted Chrissy with a secret super idol. 

Vote out the Healer, and risk burning a bridge with one of your closest fellow Hustlers, not to mention Roark's five original tribe members still standing in her wake. Vote out the Hero, and burn the bridge you've spent the past two weeks building in secret. No matter Ryan's choice, he's closing one door forever, and potentially creating new enemies in the process. How do you make the right move under those circumstances? How do you decide whom to disappoint?

"I love this question," says Jeff Probst, executive producer and host, when asked to weigh in on Ryan's dilemma. "I learn so much about myself through watching others play Survivor. I imagine a lot of fans feel the same. What I love about the question is that for me, it isn't really about which alliance you choose — the real question is how do you move forward once you make the decision."

Indeed, Ryan made his choice, teaming up with Chrissy and JP Hilsabeck to vote Roark out of the tribe — and now it's a question of how he moves forward from here.

"Ryan had two very different paths," Probst says. "We will never know what would have happened had he gone with Ali instead of Chrissy. But what we do know is that he chose Chrissy. He thought through it, evaluated pros and cons and he made his move. Now what? For me, I would probably go 'all in' with Chrissy. He has worked hard to earn her trust going back to day three when he sent her the idol. That doesn't mean I put on blinders — Survivor is all about the double cross and at some point I may have to get rid of Chrissy — but for the moment I am in."

Ryan deciding he's in on Chrissy means lights out for Roark, the first Healer voted out of season 35 — someone Chrissy identified as one of the most strategic minds in the game. It's an early fall for the longtime Survivor fan, who shouted out Survivor: Panama as her favorite season in the days leading up to the game. It's also a bit of a surprise considering what Ryan said about Roark in the preseason: "She's probably the person I would want to work with the most. She just seems really sweet, really nice, and someone who really loves the game. I think it's a big deal for her to be out here."

So much for that.

For his part, here's how Probst viewed Roark in the preseason: "Roark is really unique. I call Roark quirky, or even unusual. She would say, 'I'm as normal as they are.' But I don't think so. I think she's so zoned into what she does and loves helping people so much psychologically that I feel like Roark lives on another level. 'I'm always reading people. I'm reading your mind right now, Jeff. I could tell you things about your childhood that you don't even know.' I find that fascinating. Roark is the kind of person I want to have a beer with, because I love people who have that insight into the human psyche. I think on Survivor, it's either going to break her or make her. Roark might be [reading] this thinking, 'What on Earth is he talking about?' But I think Roark could come off as so unique that people might go, 'I'm not sure,' or so interesting that people will gravitate towards her. To me, that would come down to her reading the room and going, 'Which part of my personality do I put forth?' Because she's so complex, that she could go a few different ways."

How has Probst's assessment of Roark changed in light of her exit?

"I still feel all of what I said and I still think Roark would be awesome on a road trip," Probst says. "But I'm going to add something I didn't see. She was a very smart, strategic player and I do think that scared people off. It's interesting how we are able to read people, sometimes based on things we can't even pinpoint. It's hard to disguise intellect. It comes out in your vocabulary, your sentence structure, your thought process. Even people who don't have the same capacity for it can see it in others, and on Survivor, it's a scary thing. People who can 'talk' are dangerous. They can persuade, and you fear they can read your mind. I think Roark got had because people were afraid to let her go very far."

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