Jeff Probst
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The best kept secret in music

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Jeff Probst is not an idiot
The weather-beaten host of "Survivor" talks about his debut indie film, "Finder's Fee," and why no one takes him seriously.

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By Janelle Brown



May 8, 2002 | Jeff Probst, the beefcake host of "Survivor," is more than a weather-beaten brow, a pair of neatly pressed khakis and a smugly knowing grin. He's an independent film director.

Probst's debut as a writer/director, "Finder's Fee," is currently touring the independent film festival circuit, and it's a genuinely enjoyable film. "Finder's Fee" debuted at the Seattle Film Festival last spring, where it won the top award; it played again at the Sonoma Valley Film Festival in mid-April, where Probst won another award for being a "breakthrough director."


The movie tells the story of a broke guy in his 20s who discovers a wallet containing a winning lottery ticket worth $3 million and has to decide what to do. It features name actors like James Earl Jones and Robert Forster and is deftly written for a first feature. And even though the film was written and cast before Probst began working on "Survivor," "Finder's Fee" bears a certain resemblance to the TV show: Both ponder what happens to morals and integrity when confronted with large quantities of cold, hard cash.

In person, Probst is a good-natured, down-to-earth kind of guy with a peeling nose (thanks to all those sunny days in exotic locales) and a quick smile. And while he really, really wants to be taken seriously as an artist, he also possesses a sense of humor about the strange tension between being both a campy celebrity TV host and an indie director struggling to get film distribution. Salon caught up with Probst in Sonoma, Calif., and chatted with him about film world snobbery, the value of honesty and why Rudy really should have kicked Richard Hatch's butt.








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What were you doing in the days before "Survivor" and "Finders Fee"?

I basically started out in Seattle doing a local gardening show sponsored by a hardware store; really, it was a paid informercial. I sent a tape to an L.A. agent; six weeks later, I was living in New York working for FX networks, which in the beginning was a live network with a bunch of talent. I did that for a few years, and then "Access Hollywood" when that launched. Then I did "Rock 'n' Roll Jeopardy" for VH1.

After that, it was 18 months until "Survivor." I turned down nine jobs over 18 months, hoping for something better. Money was getting pretty low, I wondered whether I'd screwed up, and one day I heard Mark Burnett on the radio say, "I'm going to put 16 people on a deserted island and force them to live together." I was the first person to meet with Mark. He spent an hour and 45 minutes telling me why I didn't want this show, that I couldn't handle it, that I was a studio boy. I spent the last 15 minutes basically on my knees, ripping up my résumé and telling him not to count me out. He listened to me, said, "Thanks for being honest." And I thought, Kiss of death, I'm done.

I didn't hear anything for three months, and then I got the job.

Were you an outdoors kind of guy before "Survivor"?

No. Of course, I lied to Mark. "I grew up camping! Are you kidding? I'm from Kansas!" Then I realized that you don't camp in Kansas. But I think Burnett bought it.

I'd seen "Eco-Challenge," and I knew "Survivor" was going to look fantastic, and I was pretty sure that 16 people on an island forced to live together would be interesting. I didn't think it was going to be a hit, but from the very first hour of the show -- when Richard Hatch was sitting up in a tree in a power position looking down at everyone and saying, "We need to talk about this," and Susan Hawk walks by and says, "I don't know where you're from, but where I'm from we work while we talk" -- from that moment, I thought, Oh shit, this is really going to be interesting.

"Finder's Fee" was green-lit that first day of shooting.

So where did "Finder's Fee" fit in with all this? When did you decide you also wanted to be a director?

There's a natural assumption that because I'm now the host of a popular show that I suddenly got this movie dropped in my lap. But I'd actually been writing since 1994, going through screenplay books and trying to figure out structure. When I moved to New York with FX, I got into a writer's unit with an amazing instructor. In New York nobody talks about how much money will it make, and who will be in it: You talk about theme and character and structure.

I was working as a writer, and my goal was -- and still is -- to write first, direct my own stuff whenever possible and control my own creative destiny, ultimately.

Is your long-term goal to be more of a film director than a TV host?

Long-term, yeah. But I'm not one of these guys who says, "Now I'm on a really hot show, better quit soon before I get label - Salon.com


'Survivor' at ease,
despite Katrina



By RICHARD HUFF
DAILY NEWS TV EDITOR


'Survivor' is comforting,' says host Jeff Probst.


A scene from the season premiere.

CBS rolls out "Survivor: Guatemala" tonight and host Jeff Probst is not worried about airing the show, which requires contestants to survive on their own, so close to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
"I can't stress it enough, I believe when the music starts and you see the images, the snakes and the ants, and the scenery," Probst told reporters earlier this week, viewers will say, "this feels okay."

Probst said that after 9/11, when CBS was getting ready to launch "Survivor: Africa," it was hard to promote the show. He understood, he said, how people could then find a show call "Survivor" a bit insensitive.

That was then. "Survivor" is now part of the TV landscape and a known quantity.

"I feel now 'Survivor' is familiar, and 'Survivor' is comforting," he said. "Nobody in their right mind is going to think 'Survivor' is about surviving. It's technically a game show."

Probst said there was nothing he could recall that occurred during the filming of "Survivor" that would require the producers to rethink in light of the Katrina tragedy.

"It's 16 goofballs trying not to get voted out of a game show," he said. "It would never compare to something like Katrina."

This year's show is set among the ruins and the rainforests in Guatemala, creating what Probst said have been the most difficult conditions yet.

It all gets started for the players with an 11-mile trek to the game site. Triple-digit temperatures were a regular occurrence. On top of that, there are the bugs and alligators. And in another twist, two players from past shows are brought back to play the game.

Probst wouldn't say who, but "Survivor" fan sites have speculated they are "Survivor: Palau" cast members Stephanie LaGrossa and Bobby Jon Drinkard.

Bringing in the two previous players is a way to keep the show fresh, without losing the core format of the series.

"We've talked about, not doing an all-stars, but interjecting two former people to see if they would be easy voteoffs," he said.

"The idea is not to have them come back and say, 'Good luck,'" he said, "but to have them come back and participate in a way that you have to decide whether they're a threat or they're an asset."

As for Probst, who is dating "Survivor: Vanuatu" player Julie Berry, the future with "Survivor" is a big question. He has signed on for the 12th edition, yet to be filmed, but he's unsure beyond that.

"I don't want to be the David Caruso of reality," he said. "I'm not an idiot. But six years of being away, it does sometimes make you think. ... Signing another long-term deal would be hard, just hard. I want to start a family."

Originally published on September 15, 2005

- NY Daily News


Where in the world is Jeff Probst? Good question. We don't know, and he won't tell us—as host of hit reality program Survivor he prides himself on keeping details of upcoming locations top secret. Probst has come a long way since his days hosting VH1's Rock and Roll Jeopardy. Since trading questions for challenges, he has braved a deserted island in the South Pacific, crocodiles in Australia, and arid flatlands in Africa. And while his life as host is bound to be easier than that of the contestants, in no way has it been all mai tais and Four Seasons. Probst gives T+L a look behind the always-rolling cameras to see what life as a Survivor is really like—fish heads, squiggly worms, and all.

1) Looking back, which season would you say stands out as best? Why?
The first season of Survivor will always stand out as the best simply because we were creating something brand-new from the ground up. We were all virgins in a sense, both the production team and the Survivors. We were on the island of Pulau Tiga, a two-by-five-mile deserted island near Borneo in the middle of the South China Sea. We were thousands of miles from home. Our crew was very small, and we had one phone line between 80 of us. We had no e-mail and absolutely no amenities. A local Malaysian family did the cooking, which consisted of fish heads and eel nearly every single night. They meant well, but let me tell you, it got old fast. There were monkeys and monitor lizards and rats and all kinds of bugs and insects. It was the first time I truly realized "I am not the center of the universe." It was such an awakening to spend two months on a remote island completely aware that this "home" belonged to the animals and not us. From a professional point of view, it was simply the most fantastic experience ever—watching the show unfold before our eyes, creating and adapting as we went along, and all the while wondering if anyone back home would even be interested. Adrenaline and enthusiasm are what got most of us through those two months.

2) What's usually in your suitcase?
For my trip to the Marquesas Islands, in the South Pacific: Plenty of PowerBars, a collection of The Best American Short Stories for 2001, an autobiography by the director John Cassavetes, a Walkman and assorted CD's ranging from Mark Cohn to Alanis to Eminem, a pad of paper, and plenty of pencils and pens.

3) If you could only bring one item for survival, what would it be?
A magnifying glass.

4) What are your living quarters like?
We build a tent city at each Survivor location. Our crew now totals 300-plus, so our production team constructs a huge campsite, where we all live. Everybody has their own tent, all the same size with a sleeping cot. There are a few shower stalls and a bank of toilets. We also set up a makeshift Internet café so the crew can stay in touch with loved ones back home, but everybody's favorite part of camp is the bar. We have plenty of beer, a dart board, and pool table. That's about it. It's glorified camping, but the few amenities make a big difference in day-to-day living. We learned from the first Survivor that if we want to keep our crew coming back we have to make the time on location tolerable.

5) Which locale has been your favorite and why?
Africa was the best and the worst at the same time. It was the worst locale because the conditions were absolutely miserable. It was unbearably hot, there was no water source, and the dust was so bad that it was ruining computers and editing equipment and making many members of our crew very sick. In fact, the dust became such a problem that we took drastic measures to combat the situation. We took our own sewage, put it in a water truck and sprayed it around camp in an attempt to temporarily wet down the dry dirt. That was the ugly side. On the other hand, it was my favorite locale, because of all the wonderful experiences. Every day in Kenya was a safari. I saw every kind of animal in its natural habitat and I witnessed so many things I had only read about. The people of Kenya had been so good to us that we wanted to do something good for Kenya before leaving, so we partnered the Wamba Hospital, a local AIDS hospital, with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation [EGPAF]. I just found out this morning that this partnership has made them an official Call To Action site and that means that they will receive financial support, HIV test kits, medicine, other supplies, and counseling for the life of the hospital, thanks to EGPAF. That was one of my most memorable and most impacting experiences.

6) What's the most unusual experience you've had while on assignment?
On each Survivor I have some sort of slightly unusual experience. • Survivor one: I was standing in the ocean during a challenge and was bitten in the nether regions by a jellyfish. Try explaining that one to the nurse. • Survivor Outback: I unknowingly relieved myself on an electric fence in the middle of the night. T - Travel & Leisure


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Jeff Probst is currently the host of the Emmy Award-winning series SURVIVOR. Additionally, Probst serves as host of VH1's Rock and Roll Jeopardy, which is now in its fourth successful season. Probst helmed several programs for the FX Network, including SoundFX and BackChat. He traveled around the world as a correspondent for the syndicated entertainment news show Access Hollywood, conducting celebrity interviews all over the world. Prior to that, he hosted a variety of shows for KIRO-TV, the CBS affiliate in Seattle.

Probst made his directorial debut on Finder's Fee, a feature film from his own original screenplay, which won the prestigious Golden Space Needle Award for best picture at the Seattle International Film Festival. The psychological thriller, starring James Earl Jones, Oscar nominee Robert Forster, Erik Palladino (ER), Matthew Lillard (Scream, She's All That), Ryan Reynolds (Two Guys And A Girl), Dash Mihok (Thin Red Line, Perfect Storm) and Carly Pope (Popular), is about a well-intentioned street artist who finds a wallet that contains a winning lottery ticket worth $6 million and ends up trapped inside a New York City apartment with the wallet's rightful owner. Finder's Fee was the closing night film entry at the Seattle International Film Festival, as well as the MethodFest Festival in Pasadena, where James Earl Jones was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award in conjunction with his performance in Probst's feature film. Jeff Probst, a native of Wichita, Kansas, currently lives in Los Angeles when not traveling the world for SURVIVOR.