9:00pm PT by Josh Wigler
'Survivor' Season 35: Jeff Probst on the Evolution of the Power Couple
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.
Much ado has been made about the power of one. But in terms of this week's Survivor, it's all about the power of two.
The concept of power couples was the theme of the week in the second episode of Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers, which saw multiple pairings forming up or resolidifying across the three tribes. Over at Heroes beach, there was fallout from the first Tribal Council that sent Katrina Radke packing, in which Alan Ball accused JP Hilsabeck and Ashley Nolan of being a twosome. They're not, by their own admission. However, there's a new set of two within the Heroes tribe: actual actuary Chrissy Hofbeck and former Marine Ben Driebergen. Meanwhile, at the Hustlers tribe, bellhop Ryan Ulrich and surf instructor Devon Pinto reconfirmed their solid status with one another, concealing their close-knit relationship from the rest of their group. Finally, there's the Healers tribe, with Cole Medders linked to two possible couples: a strategic partnership with Joe Mena, the two of them in cahoots over finding an immunity idol; and a potentially romantic partnership with Jessica Johnston, the growing attraction between the mountaineer and nurse practitioner increasingly impossible to ignore.
In short, there are various two-headed partnerships in the works at this early stage of the Survivor season — and while the concept isn't exactly novel, it's one that's becoming increasingly topical as castaways consider the more meta aspects of the game.
"Choosing one person to partner with in the game of Survivor is, in and of itself, not a new idea," executive producer and host Jeff Probst tells The Hollywood Reporter, on the subject of this season's prolific number of power couples. "It goes back to Richard and Rudy in season one. My reaction to what you're picking up on is the more layered and often more aggressive nature of how Survivor is being played today. For example, Alan is using the notion of a 'power couple' as an offensive weapon by labeling two people — Ashley and JP — in the hopes that he either gets information from them or puts a target on their back. It's an interesting move."
"Ryan and Devon are almost the exact opposite," he continues. "They are covertly forming a power couple as a way to protect each other and as long as nobody finds out, it could work. The partnership of Jessica and Cole is the most dangerous of all, for both them and the other players because it is founded in emotion and not strategy. When you develop feelings for someone inside of a game like Survivor, it really complicates things, because you aren't able to think as clearly. It doesn't mean it can't work and become a powerful tool, it's just more complicated. But when you make that relationship public, you really ramp up the degree of difficulty."
Probst sees another danger in romantic relationships forming while in the Survivor trenches: "the unconscious bias other players form, because they see two people who are openly relying on each other for support. Survivor can be extremely lonely, and to have someone special to lean on is a powerful advantage, and can cause even more resentment."
In the parallel universe in which Probst was a castaway, instead of the master of ceremonies, how would he view the notion of power couples?
"If I played the game, I would take the Ryan and Devon approach," he says. "Find that one person you believe complements your game and your style and stick with them. Once we reached the jury phase, I would add a subtle layer of threat along the lines of, 'If you betray me, you will not get my vote and I will work hard at Final Tribal to make sure you don't get anybody else's vote either. And being totally transparent, unless I had solid proof that you were betraying me, I would roll the dice and stay loyal to you.' That is my definition of a true power couple."
Of course, not everyone winds up with their special someone on Survivor, strategic or star-crossed or otherwise — and by the design of the game, one person always finds themselves completely alone at the end of each episode. In the case of the second hour of Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers, that person was Simone Nguyen of the Hustlers tribe, famous for her colorful assessments of her fellow castaways in the preseason, for her fear of going to the bathroom in the great outdoors (achievement unlocked in that regard at least) and for her trip to Fiji marking her first time out of the country.
Here's how Probst assessed Simone in the preseason: "Simone is at a crossroads. It's okay to want to think through things and analyze situations, but you can't let people see you do that. Like that phrase, you never want to let them see you sweat. You have to do that while you're laying in the hammock and eating a banana. You have to analyze with a smile on your face. People read each other. If you're in the corner and you're going, 'I see these two, and I see these four,' then you're out. I hope Simone is not out early, but I fear she might be. I really liked her. I was charmed by her. But now I'm seeing the intensity of the game catch up to her."
"This is fun," Probst says now, reflecting on his preseason comments. Here's what he thinks of Simone now, having snuffed her torch on night six: "I think my assessment was pretty close. It was one of two things. Either Simone just didn't have the sense of urgency and the stakes didn't seem as high for her, or the game was emotionally overwhelming and she shut down a bit. I was definitely right in saying Simone is a kind person and I think she enjoyed her time on Survivor. I don't even think she cares that much that she was voted off. That does not extend to anyone else left in the game. The 16 remaining players all care deeply. There are no more easy votes."
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