Jeff Probst Explains the Exciting Twists behind 'Survivor: Island of the Idols'
Jeff Probst shares what to expect in the upcoming season of survivor.
With Survivor filming for seasons 41 and 42 delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, EW is reaching back into the reality show's past. We sent a Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire to a batch of former players to fill out with their thoughts about their time on the show as well as updates on what they've been up to since. Each weekday, EW will post the answers from a different player.
Much has been made of the gender disparity in winners when it comes to Survivor. Just last year, we wrote in-depth about the widening gender gap among sole Survivors. While the show's first 25 seasons could not have been any more even, with 13 men and 12 women taking home the $1 million prize, since then it has been anything but. Twelve of the last 15 seasons — including each of the last six — have been won by men.
And while we went into many of the theories as to why men keep winning over women, Elaine Stott — fresh off her Island of the Idols experience and rewatching every Survivor season twice — thinks she has pinpointed another disadvantage plaguing women in the game. "The one thing I would change about the show would be where we sit at Tribal Council!" she says. "I think we should be able to rotate seats and everyone get the opportunity to sit in the back row."
Elaine explains why she and the vast majority of women end up stuck in front most of the time: "Usually what happens is women typically sit in the front row and men in the back. If you watch past seasons, women are in the front row 90 percent of the time. I'm assuming it's because of height issues and men are typically taller, so they put them behind us shorter girls. The logic makes sense, but I don't think it's fair! On my season I was the shortest person on my cast, and I never sat in the back row one time."
How does seating at Tribal Council impact the game? In a pretty significant way, according to season 39's ninth-place finisher. "The difference is that when you sit in the back, you can whisper or give glances or just communicate undetected by other players, which I think is a huge advantage," Elaine says. "When you're in the front row, those kinds of things are way more noticeable and harder to do. It may seem insignificant, but I really think it makes a big difference. I think by making the height of the seats adjustable, us shorter girls could sit in the back row and be allowed the opportunity to do those shady things at Tribal without fear of being seen."
That's just one of the insights Elaine dispenses in her epic Quarantine Questionnaire. She also explains how she almost got bit on the face by a shark, gives a candid account of the struggles Survivor players often experience reconnecting with loved ones back home, and reveals that her own tribe may be expanding soon.
Robert Voets/CBS Elaine Stott in 'Survivor: Island of the Idols'
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you've been up to since appearing on Survivor.
ELAINE STOTT: Since the show, I spend the majority of my time working on my farm taking care of the place. It's been my full-time job since coming back home. It might sound crazy to some, but I love it. Ain't nothing like it in the world, and it's my happy place for sure. When I ain't busy doing that, I'm hanging with my family. Me and my fiancé, Tonya, got hitched back in September and I couldn't be happier. Right now, we are actually in the process of becoming foster parents, which we're both super-excited about. It's something we've talked about for a while now, so it's a little surreal that it's actually about to happen and I can't wait. I'm a firm believer in paying it forward, and what better way to do that then helping kids in need by giving them a loving home!
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
The thing I'm proudest about is not ever giving up on the dream to be on the show in the first place. I wanted to be on Survivor since the very first season. I tried out four times over a span of 20 years, starting in my 20s. There was just something always in the back of my head telling me that I was supposed to be on it and that one day it would happen.
Because of that little flame deep down inside, the dream stayed alive despite everything. I couldn't tell you how many times over the years that people would say I was crazy or that it just wasn't going to happen. I guess being stubborn as a mule paid off, and I definitely got the last laugh on all those naysayers. It just goes to show you to never give up on your dreams. It's like my man Jeff says, "You gotta dig deep" and keep fighting to make it happen!
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
Honestly, I try not to live in the land of should've, could've, would've. I really don't think it's healthy to beat yourself up over things you cannot change. But for the sake of this conversation, I guess we can go there. I think regret and season 39 go hand in hand for a lot of obvious reasons. But if we are just talking strictly from a game perspective, my biggest regrets are two-part.
One, if I could've beat Lauren in that immunity challenge after the family visit, she would've went home and I think my position in the game would've improved greatly. Pulling that move off would've put a huge target on Noura's back after betraying her alliance. I think I then could've used that against her to survive at least another vote to get me to the final six.
The second part is once Lauren saved herself and the plan switched to voting for Tommy, I regret not being able to convince Dean to flip. I tried to tell him that no one was beating Tommy at final Tribal because of how well he played socially, but mister D.K. Chillin wasn't hearing any of it. In Dean's mind, I was still considered to be the biggest threat left in the game and figured I was just trying to save my own neck. He really couldn't see the fox in the henhouse, so to speak. He could've added a huge move to his résumé by voting out Tommy and still had me around to be a shield for him or vote out. Not being able to make that hard sell to Dean was a big mistake, and it sent me packing just three nights later.
CBS Elaine Stott in 'Survivor: Island of the Idols'
What's something that will blow fans' minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
I don't know how mind-blowing it is, but it scared me to death, so it's definitely worth sharing. It's funny as hell after the fact, but in the moment, it was terrifying. Me and Aaron Meredith were out spearfishing just off the reef at Vokai beach, and I was almost bit in the face by a 5-foot shark! They didn't get any footage of it because they were just filming us from the beach and not in the water, so that's why it wasn't on the show.
The shark came out of nowhere and was within six inches of my face before I knew what was going on. It all happened so fast, all I could think of doing was to just start punching and stabbing at it with my spear as fast as I could and get the hell out of there. That was the day I learned just how big of a chicken Aaron was. He was Scooby-creeping as fast as he could out of the water leaving me to die. I would give anything to have footage of that. Aaron will tell ya that he legit thought I was being eaten and wasn't sticking around to be dessert. Needless to say, from that day forward me and Aaron never went spearfishing again.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
No complaints from this old busted can of biscuits about the edit. I think they done a good job as far as I'm concerned.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
Coming back home was by far the hardest part of the whole experience for me. It really does take some time to readjust back into your life. It's crazy because that wasn't even something I thought about when making the choice to go. I was more worried about quitting smoking cold-turkey and how that was going to affect me. Or the fact that I'm a busted can of biscuits and was going have to go without eating for a while. I never struggled with either of those things while I was on the island, which was a complete surprise to me. I had no idea that the real struggle would be when I came back home.
It's not really something I can explain, but emotionally, it was very hard. I found myself spending hours talking to my castmates every day, and not interacting with my family and friends at all. It was as though the people I had just shared this amazing experience with were more important than the loved ones I was playing for in the first place. It took a while to find my footing and work through all those emotions. The fact I have amazing wife who was patient enough to put up with my craziness until I figured it all out was my saving grace. I think that the toll that Survivor takes on you lasts long after the cameras stop rolling.
CBS Jeff Probst and the cast of 'Survivor: Island of the Idols'
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
I know there are some people from my season that would say yes to this question, but not me. I'm a firm believer in making the best out of every situation, whether it's good or bad. So for that reason alone, I have no regrets. For me, even in the worst situations I'm going to try and see the light, so to speak. Not everyone is that way, but that's how I chose to look at it. For me, life is about growing as a person and trying to learn from your mistakes and do better. I really believe my season helped me do just that. Good or bad, I'm a better person to have played on IOI and I wouldn't change that for anything!
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
I still talk to a lot of people from my season on a regular basis. Almost the entire cast was invited to my wedding in September, but unfortunately because of the pandemic a few of them couldn't make it. However, Jamal, Jack, Elizabeth, Aaron, Janet, Karishma, Kellee, Molly, Dean, and Chelsea were all able to come and spend the weekend on the farm with us. It was awesome having them there, and my main man Dean actually officiated the whole thing! He did amazing, and I couldn't have asked for anything better. Even though we are all from different walks of life, we share this crazy experience that brings us all together. I'm blessed to have meet all of them and they all know they can holler at this old redneck anytime, I'll always be there.
Do you still watch Survivor, and, if so, what's your favorite season you were not on and why?
Yeah, I'm still a huge fan of the show and I watch every episode! Since the pandemic hit and Survivor isn't filming, I've actually rewatched every season twice just this past year. I feel like I have a little different perspective now that I've played myself, so it's really fun to rewatch with that kind of insight. As far as picking a favorite season, that's so hard do. I love so many of them that I literally give a different answer every time I'm asked this question. So for this time around, I'm gonna have to pick Cagayan. I just loved Tony's shenanigans on my TV. One of the greatest scenes ever was when he dropped the speaking llama thing. I almost lost it! I could watch his crazy ass all day every day and it would never get old. But it wasn't just him. I think the whole season was amazing! It had a lot of awesome players and great gameplay. It's definitely one of the best seasons in my mind.
Who's one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
There are so many players that I would love to play with. Tony of course would be one just for the sheer entertainment of it, but I'm not sure I could be in an alliance with him because I would never trust him. I'd love to play with Keith Nale. I just love that guy, and know he would be someone I could definitely trust 100 percent. Tasha Fox, who I think is super-underrated, would be another person I'd love to play with. I think she's an amazing player on all levels, and she is definitely a triple threat in the game. I would love to be in an alliance with someone like her and have those skills on my side.
I really could go on and on naming players, but I'll close it out with adding Cirie Fields to the list. I think she is one of the best players to ever play and not win. I know it sounds crazy, but I'd love to play with her and do what I could to help her to the end and finally win the damn thing. She totally deserves it!
Robert Voets/CBS Jeff Probst and the cast of 'Survivor: Island of the Idols'
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
The one thing I would change about the show would be where we sit at Tribal Council! I think we should be able to rotate seats and everyone get the opportunity to sit in the back row. Usually what happens is women typically sit in the front row and men in the back. If you watch past seasons, women are in the front row 90 percent of the time. I'm assuming it's because of height issues and men are typically taller, so they put them behind us shorter girls. The logic makes sense, but I don't think it's fair! On my season I was the shortest person on my cast, and I never sat in the back row one time.
The difference is that when you sit in the back, you can whisper or give glances or just communicate undetected by other players, which I think is a huge advantage. When you're in the front row, those kinds of things are way more noticeable and harder to do. It may seem insignificant, but I really think it makes a big difference. I think by making the height of the seats adjustable, us shorter girls could sit in the back row and be allowed the opportunity to do those shady things at Tribal without fear of being seen.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
Hell yeah, I'd love to play again! First time around I was in a weird headspace because I had just lost my mom. At that time, the journey become way more important than the prize. So it was kinda like I was half in and half out of the game because I had so much on my mind. I'd love to get another chance just to be able to focus on the game and see how well I can do. I don't know if the outcome would be much different, but I'd love the opportunity to find out!