BEVERLY HILLS, CA–Jeff Probst usually does more listening than talking at Survivor tribal councils.
On Sunday, he spoke up, telling critics an amazing story about how his Tikki torch first got lit on the long-running reality show.
The 50-year-old was before critics to promote his new daytime talk series, The Jeff Probst Show. Probst joins Katie Couric and Rikki Lake in the run to be the next Oprah in daytime, starting September 10.
Back in 1999, Probst was driving on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles, listening to this guy on the radio he thought was an Australian: Mark Burnett (actually from the U.K.). The wily executive producer was talking up this crazy TV show idea about how he was going to throw a dozen people on an island, start eliminating them one-by-one and have a jury of their peers vote one of them a million bucks.
Probst immediately got his agent on the phone. “I am so that guy for that show,” he told his agent. Probst had just missed out on another TV gig and was tired of being runner-up to Regis Philbin.
To stand out from the pack, Probst brazenly sent Burnett and CBS a message in a bottle. The note inside predicted Survivor would be the No. 1 show of the summer, would knock Who Wants to Be a Millionaire off its perch and that this was all due to the fabulous host–Jeff Probst.
It took a while to hear back, and Probst began to worry his little stunt had backfired. Then came the call that his name was on a very short list. Two finalists were asked to come in and meet Burnett: Probst and Phil Keoghan.
|EP Amy Coleman, Probst. Monty Brinton/CBS|
“We shook hands, I wished him good luck, and then Phil made the mistake of going in first,” said Probst, who knew he would “close the deal” if he could secure the last interview.
“Phil got The Amazing Race, so everything worked out,” he told critics.
The Kansas native opened Sunday’s session by sharing a lot of information about his new, L.A.-based set. Folks attending live tapings will be pampered heading in with massages, snacks and even makeup touch ups. He says he got the idea from visiting Jimmy Kimmel’s green room.
How will Probst juggle hosting Survivor plus a daily, daytime talk show? Burnett helped out by changing the Survivor schedule, shooting two editions over one April-May-June stretch. This allowed Probst to jump right into his own production schedule earlier this month.
He says his show will not remind viewers of Maury or Jerry. They’ll be no paternity tests, he promises.
Instead, viewers will learn more about him and meet his actress wife, Lisa Ann Russell. The two were married last December. He plans to pretty much be the same guy steering the conversation on those Survivor after-show town meetings. As he told the press, “What I’ve learned about human nature on Survivor is that you can’t change your core.”