Survivor started its 16th season—which kicked off Thurs., Feb. 7 on CBS—with quite a twist.
There's Erik, Joel, Alexis, Mary and openly gay Chet. They are joined by five other die-hard Survivor fans.
Then there are James, Jonathan, Ozzy, Yao-Man, Cirie and Ami, a lesbian. They have done the Survivor gig once before.
It's Survivor: Micronesia, Fans vs. Favorites.
'We wanted people that would be enamored when they discovered that they were playing against some of the favorite people to ever play Survivor, and then we hoped that that [ admiration ] would turn into animosity. And it did,' said Survivor host Jeff Probst.
Ultimately, 'The fans wanted to be sure that a fan won the game, and the favorites wanted to be certain that, no matter what, a favorite won the game.'Read more story below....
After all, the ultimate Survivor, once again, walks away with $1 million.
The favorites certainly have the experience edge, but the mystery of the fans could be key. 'I think the advantage that the fans have is, they can become whoever they want to be and they're not a known quantity,' Probst said.
The fans' roster includes Kathleen, who has applied to be on the show seven times; and Jason, who aspires to be Ozzy. 'Jason is from the Virgin Islands and really fancies himself [ as ] Ozzy Junior, and that's all he can talk about, [ saying ] , 'I can't wait to meet Ozzy' almost like he has a man-crush on Ozzy,' Probst said.
Survivor has been renewed by CBS for at least two more seasons after this new version, in was announced in late January.
'For me, all you'd really have to do is step inside my shoes for a single moment and you'd understand why I'm still on Survivor,' Probst said. 'I travel the world. I get to host and produce one of the most fascinating shows on television. And I get paid more money than any college dropout should ever dream of making. And when I'm not working, I have a lot of time to think about what a great life I have.
'I think the reason Survivor is still on the air and has endured is great storytelling.'
Probst confirmed that CBS officials wanted other past participants to return, such as Shane and Yul, but could not find a spot among the 10 favorites for them. And, executives wanted other favorites to return, but they refused, such as Tom and Courtney.
'You will see that the Survivors took a physical beating like we've never had before. Nothing compares to how tough it was for them this time. And you will see that play out on the show,' Probst said.
Plus, Probst confirmed that there are 'two love affairs that play a big part in this season, all the way to the end. We have some of the most intimate footage we've ever had of a love affair developing and consummating, quote unquote.'
Jeff Probst on lesbian favorite Ami: 'Ami was invited back for this season because of her approach to the game. We love people who know how to play the game and will do what it takes to win. Those people are the ones who can turn the game on its head with one move.
'Ami has strong opinions, she understands strategy and she is not afraid to betray her alliance if it will get her further in the game. You have an idea coming in that if she can manage to form a female alliance she will. Ami brings an oddly appealing combination of 'butterflies and rainbows' merged with a 'black widow' that will turn on you when necessary.
'Like all of the returning favorites, her biggest challenge is to come up with a new way to play the game. People know how she played last time so she has to mix it up.'
Jeff Probst on gay fan Chet: 'What appealed to us about Chet was his outspoken nature. He works in the beauty pageant world, where he has been very successful. When we met him in casting, he was confident to the point of obnoxious. He shared stories of the lengths and depths he has gone to to help one of his girls win a pageant. His stories were hilarious and a bit disturbing, which made him a perfect candidate for Survivor!
'Chet knows how to stir up trouble and seems to enjoy it. We always need a few people like Chet to keep the game interesting!
'Chet certainly didn't hide the fact that he is gay and I'm not sure being gay really had any impact. I don't think people care too much about your sexuality; they're more concerned with your contribution. What are you doing to make it worth keeping you around?
'The big question surrounding Chet is, can he back up his words with action? It's very, very difficult to do [ it on ] this show. We've been on so long I think viewers sometimes lose sight of the fact that this is real. If Chet can make it thru the first three to six days, he may last a while.'