'Survivor' Season 35: Jeff Probst Breaks Down the Tribe Swap

The executive producer and host also explains why he would want to invite the latest eliminated player back for a second chance.
Courtesy of Robert Voets/CBS
'Survivor'

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 four.

And just like that, the Heroes, Healers and Hustlers are no more.

Four episodes deep into the new Survivor season, with only three Tribal Councils out of the way, the tribes have been shaken up. The blue, yellow and red buffs remain, albeit with new men and women wearing the uniforms, and a new reason to remember the tribe names: Levu, Soko and Yawa, respectively. The tribe swap has become an expected part of the Survivor experience (the last time the game passed without a single swap was Survivor: South Pacific, more than 10 seasons ago), and based on how executive producer and host Jeff Probst describes the process, the twist doesn't look likely to go away anytime soon.

"Tribe swaps are always exciting because there is such uncertainty," Probst tells THR. "The buff draws are random. There is no way to control the moment. Tribe swaps are also a great metaphor for the entire game in this sense: You must always be prepared to change gears.

"There are three very different tribe vibes between the Heroes, Healers and Hustlers, so mixing things up will have a big impact on tribe dynamics," he adds, previewing how the swap will play out in the episodes ahead. "And even though the tribes will now have unique tribe names, there are still existing alliances that will now be tested. Is it in your best interest to stay true to your original group, or is this the time to make your move?"

The new tribes, for those trying to keep track:

Levu, formerly known as the Heroes:
• Former Heroes Alan Ball (more on him momentarily) and Ashley Nolan
• Former Healers Joe Mena and Desi Williams
• Former Hustler Devon Pinto

Soko, formerly known as the Healers:
• Former Heroes Chrissy Hofbeck and JP Hilsabeck
• Former Healer Roark Luskin
• Former Hustlers Ali Elliot and Ryan Ulrich

Yawa, formerly known as the Hustlers:
• Former Hero Ben Driebergen
• Former Healers Cole Medders, Jessica Johnston and Mike Zahalsky
• Former Hustler Lauren Rimmer

"The decision of when to swap has to be made long before the game begins since we have to design and build our challenges and that is impacted by two tribes versus three tribes and number of players in the game," Probst says about how this season's swap was designed. "I don't really care when we do it. We know the players are guessing every day what is going to happen, and that's become a fun part of the game — the brain drain. Survivor is one long, exhausting game of human poker, and you cannot ever rest."

In the case of all three new tribes, there are lone individuals representing their starting tribe, including surf instructor Devon Pinto, who found himself in the swing vote position when Levu lost the week's immunity challenge. From Probst's perspective, Survivors who find themselves stranded on a new tribe without any previously established allies shouldn't automatically feel like they're in the cross-hairs.

"It so often happens that there is one person on a tribe who is all alone," he says. "The immediate thought is, 'I'm screwed.' But from where I sit, that is a tremendous opportunity. Players want to play. A stray vote can turn the entire game. You aren't out until your torch is snuffed. I keep saying this, but it's true: You must play to win, because the odds of losing are so incredibly high. So if you play to win, then you pray for moments like this. Anything that changes the game creates a situation for other players to make mistakes."

Case in point: Alan Ball, blindsided at this week's Tribal Council, thanks to a perfect storm of twists. First, there's the tribe swap, which saw Alan stuck on Levu beach with Ashley Nolan as the only familiar quantity. Despite their strained relationship stemming from the season's first Tribal Council, Alan and Ashley worked together to vote with Devon against Joe Mena — except Devon was prevented from casting his vote, thanks to a vote-negater played cross-tribally by Jessica Johnston. The final nail in the coffin: Joe's immunity idol, which he successfully played on himself, ensuring Alan Ball's fall.

Here's how Probst viewed Alan in the preseason: "Alan came in the room and told us his story. First of all, his smile and the way he talks about his wife really charmed us. He jokingly talks about, 'Hey, man — happy wife? Happy life.' But when you go a little further, you realize that he means it: 'I want my wife to be happy. She has good advice for me. She always tells me things to look out for, tendencies that I have.' I found that very charming. Then when I heard his story about how much work it took for him to get into the NFL? He's already super good, but now he's trying to get to great, the highest level. He thought it was going to be easy, and it wasn't. He had to work. He was humbled. He got back in, dug in and said, 'I'm good enough to get there.' I really like that story. I think you see that play out a lot on Survivor. People go, 'I wonder if I'm capable of this,' and then they find out that they are."

Looking back on that assessment, here's how Probst views Alan now: "These are fun to read back. I think Alan is a super complicated guy, in the best way. I definitely believe he has a happy wife and a happy life. And I now know that the same competitive spirit that drove him to success in the NFL was with him on the island. He made a huge move early by creating a stir on his tribe with Ashley and JP. It's a decision that is easily debated, but what I really liked was he made a move. That's the guy that says, 'Throw me the ball.'"

And how's this for a kicker: Survivor fans may not have seen the last of Alan Ball.

"Alan is a great example of someone who we might invite back for a second chance season," says Probst. "Players often worry that if they get voted out early we will forget them. If they last long, they have a better chance of being remembered. But it's not about days played. It's about impact made. The first time Boston Rob played he was voted out seventh, and he still came back to play 758 more times."

Follow THR.com/Survivor for more interviews, recaps and columns all season long.

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