'Survivor' Season 35: Jeff Probst Previews the Healers Tribe

The Healers Tribe
Courtesy of Robert Voets/CBS

The Healers, wearing yellow buffs and formally known as Soko, include a wilderness therapy guide, a physical therapist, a nurse practitioner, a probation officer, a urologist and a social worker. As Probst mentioned, it was the discovery of the Healers tribe that led to the theme of the season, and he's excited to watch a group of people traditionally viewed as selfless stepping into one of the most selfish games on the planet.

"We thought how fun would it be to have a group of people who, their whole lives, have received gratitude, but they receive it because they literally put other people first," says Probst. "They're going to dedicate their lives to helping you heal a wound. A physical wound, an emotional wound. That's a very special type of person, and not one who at first glance you would think would want to play a devilish game like Survivor, where you have to injure people emotionally sometimes and deceive them while looking them in their face and saying, 'I love you! Trust me!' While your alliance partner is sharpening the blade."

Welcome to the Survivor: Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers preseason! The Hollywood Reporter's Josh Wigler reports from his exclusive visit to the show's shooting location in Fiji, where he interviewed host Jeff Probst, as well as the 18 new castaways battling it out for the $1 million prize.

Click here to make sure you're all caught up on our stories from the island, including our weekly podcast series First One Out, an in-depth look at all of the new players, culminating in an interview with the first person voted out of the season.

First, we met the Heroes. Now let's meet one of their rival tribes: the Healers, formally known as Soko.

Wearing yellow, the Healers tribe includes a lineup of individuals with the shared goal of healing others in their professional lives. Out here on Survivor, however, they're fixing to do some damage. According to executive producer and host Jeff Probst, Season 35's theme only came into focus after he and his colleagues stumbled upon the idea of the Healers tribe, saying: "About halfway through [the casting process], we had a football hero, a doctor, a nurse practitioner, a bellhop and a fisher. I just kept looking at the cards and trying to figure out what it was, and 'healer' was the word that really broke it. You could see 'heroes,' and you could see 'hustlers.' Finding the 'h' word, that came later. 'Healers' was the one that broke it. We pitched it to CBS, but they wanted the name to ring. You go, 'Oh, God. OK. I get it.' Once we finally went, 'Heroes and Healers and Hustlers,' then we had it."

Listen to the podcast below for the third episode of First One Out, which focuses on the Healers:

Here are the six men and women destined to start Season 35 from Healers Beach:

Cole Medders, a 24-year-old wilderness therapy guide from Little Rock, Arkansas
Desi Williams, a 27-year-old physical therapist from Newport News, Virginia
Jessica Johnston, a 29-year-old nurse practitioner from Louisville, Kentucky
Joe Mena, a 34-year-old probation officer from Tolland, Connecticut
Mike Zahalsky, a 43-year-old urologist from Parkland, Florida
• and Roark Luskin, a 27-year-old social worker from Santa Monica, California

In the coming days, we'll stop down for a closer look at each of the Healers. In the meantime, here are Probst's thoughts on the six contestants. 

Tell me about the Healers tribe, the group that made this whole theme click.

We thought, how fun would it be to have a group of people who, their whole lives, have received gratitude, but they receive it because they literally put other people first? They're going to dedicate their lives to helping you heal a wound. A physical wound, an emotional wound. That's a very special type of person, and not one who at first glance you would think would want to play a devilish game like Survivor, where you have to injure people emotionally sometimes and deceive them while looking them in their face and saying, "I love you! Trust me!" While your alliance partner is sharpening the blade. I like this group, because they're all true givers and healers. And yet, as we talked with them, they're all fans, and they all said to a person, "I'm fully able to separate. I know I'm a good person back home." That will definitely get you blindsided out here.

Tell me about Cole.

Hard not to like Cole. I think he's going to be a favorite. I think kids will really like him. He is that kind of older kid you would want to hang out with on the weekend, or you would love if he were your big brother. It's pretty cool that he's decided to take his love of the outdoors and turn it into something positive by helping at risk kids maybe find inspiration or another path to life or a way to forgive themselves and move forward. I think he's 24, and that's a pretty mature point of view [for that age]. He has this big grin, and he's a good-looking kid. When he talks, you kind of find yourself going, "Man, you have a lot of good qualities!"

What's your take on Desi?

Here's how we discovered Desi. [Casting director] Lynne Spillman brought her in. She sat down. Everybody was captivated by her beauty. It's hard not to be, especially with men in the room. Then she starts talking, and you forget about her beauty, and you go, "Oh, my God, you are über-smart." Not smart like a bookworm, but smart about life: "I've been through some stuff." And then she says, "Oh, yeah, I've been in pageants, so there's a whole world of pageantry..." She starts talking about that, and you realize once again why the pageant world applies to Survivor so often. She describes this crazy world backstage where you're trying to one-up each other, then — I don't know how we missed this — but the day before we started shooting, we check in with them, and she comes in in a tank top, and everyone goes, "Oh, my God, you're ripped." She said, "What do you mean?" No one saw her that way. We got so lost in her brain and all this other stuff. She could blow people away because there's nowhere she's vulnerable. And yet, you and I both know that we could go to Tribal in two nights and suddenly it's, "Desi, Desi, Desi ... first person voted out of Survivor: Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers is Desi!"

What's your take on Nurse Jessica?

Jessica came in, and she's so charming. She shares her story of her life. It's complicated, and inspirational, and she's a caregiver, and she's really kooky in the greatest way, because she's aware of her kookiness. And she self-examines in front of you. She'll go, "Oh, I don't know, let me think about that for a minute. You're making me think about something I haven't thought about before. I gotta think about this. Wow, that's really crazy!" But it's like watching a mad scientist work their own stuff out right in front of you, and she's not embarrassed about it. She's really open. If you last long enough for people to see her truth, I think she's going to become really attractive, not just physically, but as a human. I think a lot of people are going to really feel like there's a vulnerable, honest, authentic human. I want to watch her play.

Talk to me about Joe, who, when talking to him about being a probation officer, really viewed it in a granular way as a job. I would love to get your take on Joe as a Healer.

Joe is interesting, because Joe could have also been a Hustler, and we talked about that. But one thing that struck me about him is when Joe came in, I knew he was a probation officer, and I had an image of a probation officer as sort of a mean guy who holds you accountable, and I've watched too many movies. What Joe said is, "No, I'm a guy helping people transition. They're on probation. This is a period of being tested. You have to show me you're doing the right thing. If you don't, there's a consequence." But I feel that as a healer, I would want that in my probation officer, if I were ever in a probation situation! Someone who says, "I'm an aid, but I have to hold you accountable." That's what you want. It's like good therapy. "I'm here, but I'm not going to tell you what you want to hear. I'm going to tell you what I see." To me, Joe is a healer. What I like about Joe is he's a healer who has been around the block. As a probation officer, he's not just sitting in a pretty office. It's being out there and dealing with some people who have been through some stuff. I think Joe is going to have a great read on people. I have high hopes for Joe. He's very likable, and he's the kind of guy who does well on Survivor. He's that East Coast blue collar. "I'll dig up that idol in the middle of the night, don't you worry, Jeffrey."

Talk to me about Doctor Mike.

Doctor Mike is a homerun. Doctor Mike was on about one and a half seconds after he sat down. Doctor Mike ... I think he would be okay with me saying this: He's an underdog, when you look at him. He doesn't look like the prototype for the person that's on our show. But Doctor Mike is surprisingly confident about himself in all areas of life. He knows he's a very good doctor, he talks about his relationship being amazing, and he also says, "I can start fire in under a minute, so I'm going to surprise people out there." And man, he is witty. He's very funny. He has a lot of sexual innuendo with his job as a urologist. I think there are a lot of women especially who will think he's very charming. 

How about Roark, the final person on the Healers tribe?

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. 

Click through the gallery below for photos of the Healers, as well as the Heroes and Hustlers.

Keep checking THR.com/Survivor for more coverage of the Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers preseason.