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Probst's 'Survivor' skills prepare him for daytime talk

Published December 3, 2012 9:01 am

Television • Nobody gets voted off 'The Jeff Probst Show.'
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As weird as it sounds, hosting "Survivor" turned out to be the best training Jeff Probst could get for hosting a daytime talk show. At least for his brand of daytime talk show, that is, which features lots of interaction with the studio audience.

"In that sense, it's like tribal council," Probst said. "You are looking at body language, and you are including them in the show."

Since 2000, Probst has hosted 24 seasons of "Survivor" — and he'll continue to host and produce that show/ Through the first four seasons, it was decided he should remain neutral and just let the contestants play the game, he said. Also, he didn't host the "Survivor" finales/reunion shows — that job went to first Bryant Gumbel, then Rosie O'Donnell.

But in the midst of a "Survivor: Thailand" episode, "words got heated between a couple of people," Probst said. "I made some lippy comment, and the contestant responded back to me. And we got into a little bit of a fifth-grade shouting match."

The producers left it in the show, and "That's when it changed. The I'm-so-glad-you-said-that-because-that's-what-I-was-feeling moment happened, and from that point forward, I was free to say what I was thinking," Probst said.

On "Survivor," he tells contestants they can look at him as either an asset or an adversary. "It's up to you how you use my question," Probst said. "Some of you will use the question as an opportunity to bury yourself. Others will use it as a chance to bury someone else."

The executive producer of his talk show, Amy Coleman, admires Probst's interviewing skills. He has "the guts to ask the question that everybody wants to know the answer to. It makes the conversation real and authentic."

The guests on "The Jeff Probst Show," which launched in September, aren't trying to outwit, outplay and outlast anyone for a million dollars, so the vibe is different. But Probst is the same guy.

"I think my best skill as an interviewer is the basic one — I really listen," he said. "I am absolutely fascinated by people."

His talk-show role models are Oprah Winfrey, Phil Donahue and, believe it or not, Howard Stern, who he terms "under appreciated." "He keeps topics moving so quickly," Probst said. "He knows just when to interrupt. And while he may go a different route than you would go in daytime, his ability as an interviewer is something I've studied for years, and I think he's one of the best that's ever done it."

"The Jeff Probst Show" isn't, however, patterned on the work of Stern, Jerry Springer or Maury Povich. "I'm not interested in people fighting onstage," Probst said. "I'm not interested in paternity tests."

"The Jeff Probst Show" revolves around his interactions with his guests and audience members, learning about them and from them.

The formula hasn't caught on — the show is averaging less than a 1 ratings nationally. But if anyone knows about surviving, it's Probst. On the show, he builds on the key lesson he's learned on "Survivor," which is: "You can't change your core."

Probst said he's often asked why "Survivor" contestants make the same dumb moves as contestants on previous seasons.

"And it finally dawned on me," he said. "It's not question of is that a good move or not. It's a question of your nature. If you are a leader, you are going to lead. If you are a follower, you are going to follow.


'The Jeff Probst Show'

In Utah, the syndicated talk show airs weekdays at 1 p.m. on KJZZ-Channel 14.