Jeff Probst Explains How Survivor Keeps on Surviving in a Changing TV Landscape

Now 45 seasons in, the CBS unscripted series continues to find new fans on streaming

In the age of Peak TV, when thousands of shows compete for ratings across hundreds of platforms, there are no immunity idols. But for 45 seasons and counting, Survivor has never been voted off the island.

Though linear TV doesn’t deliver the numbers like Survivor’s Season 1 finale in 2000, which drew more than 51 million live viewers, according to the Wall Street Journal, the series is finding new audiences on streaming TV, with viewership of the first two installments of Survivor 45’s new 90-minute episodes increasing 83% when compared to the first two episodes of Season 43.

For Survivor’s host and showrunner Jeff Probst, the reason for the show’s longevity and success is simple: “We just kept adapting.”

“First of all, you don’t know you’re going to be doing 45 seasons, so you don’t think that way,” Probst said recently at Adweek’s Convergent TV Summit West. “Instead, I’ve always said—at least in my time as showrunner—to get to Season 24, we got to get through Season 23, so let’s just make Season 23 great.”

Jeff Probst explains how Survivor avoided a product placement failure:

However, the road to greatness wasn’t always smooth. For instance, during the Adweek panel, Probst explained how the series avoided a major product placement failure in Season 1 with Budweiser. The show was offering one cold beer as a reward, and contestants weren’t happy.

“We go, ‘Oh my god. The sponsors are here!’ Today, we would say, ‘Fine, stay there. Don’t play. We don’t really care. See you at Tribal Council.’ There’s no holding us hostage now,” Probst said. “But the show had not even aired.”

Keeping the fire burning

Despite any hiccups along the way, Survivor forged ahead, adding new twists to keep the series exciting for players and viewers, at least until Season 40: Winners at War.

Probst said Season 40 was always “designed to be the end” of the old format, as the host felt the series’ creative was “done.”

“The players were just too sophisticated. They understood the game,” Probst said. “In fact, when I wrote the very first treatment for Survivor 41, it started with, ‘The blood of the last battle,’ and that we were going to start episode one of Season 41 with some shots we had of the oldest shelter in Survivor 40 with the fire burning out.”

Though the original plan wasn’t followed after the pandemic delayed production, the show ultimately came back in Season 41 with new creative, as players competed in a slimmed-down 26-day challenge instead of the usual 39-day game; however, Probst also noticed an audience change as well.

Audience members at CTV West showing their love for Survivor.

Whether through Paramount’s streaming services or Netflix and Hulu, fans were flocking to Survivor for binge-able comfort, with Probst noting, “A lot of people to keep telling me to this day I discovered Survivor during Covid.”

Today, the series continues to find new fans through streaming as well as different formats, including Probst’s On Fire podcast. And with more and more fans flocking to Survivor as a communal, appointment TV experience, Probst just has one question.

“Honestly, this is the true question I have,” Probst said. “Why aren’t more people watching it?”

Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on CBS and the day after on Paramount+.

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