Jeff Probst Reveals Why One Iconic 'Survivor' Challenge Hasn't Returned


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WARNING! The following article contains spoilers for Survivor 46 Episode 11. Please do not scroll any further if you do not want to learn the events of this week’s episode.

Over 46 seasons of Survivor, we have seen hundreds of challenges come and go. Some become permanent mainstays; “Simmotion,” which debuted in Tocantins back in 2009, is now a staple for Final Immunity Challenges. Others have become one and dones, lost to the annals of nearly 25 years of history (pour one out for the “Battleship” challenge from 2007’s Fiji). And still, there are others that appeared in a fair bit of seasons, but suddenly disappeared from the show altogether with no explanation.

Luckily for us, Jeff Probst does have an explanation for one of them. In talking about the latest episode of Season 46 on “On Fire: The Official Survivor Podcast,” Season 45 winner Dee Valladares was asked by producer Jay Wolff if there were any challenges she wished she could bring home off the island to play. Dee did have an answer, but surprisingly, it wasn’t of a challenge she played.

“There is one nonphysical challenge that I love,” she said. And I have a quick story time. When my cast got back from Fiji and we got together for the first time, we decided to play ‘Touchy Subjects’ with each other.” 

“Touchy Subjects” debuted over 20 years back in Survivor: The Amazon in 2003. In the challenge, the castaways would fill out a survey ahead of time, answering superlative questions about their competitors. The queries range from the positive (“Who would you trust with your life?”) to the negative (“Who is the biggest poser?”) to even the strategic (“Who mistakenly thinks they’re running the game?”). For the challenge itself, the players would then try to guess who the majority answered for each question.

On top of that, most iterations of “Touchy Subjects” were played with an elimination element. Anyone who got a question right got to assign a strike to another player; three strikes and they were eliminated from winning. “Touchy Subjects” was played seven (AKA several) times in Survivor history, with its last iteration in One World in 2012. And, when asked if he would consider bringing it back in the “new era,” Probst touched upon why the challenge was retired in the first place.

Related: Everything to Know About Survivor 46

“I think doing ‘Touchy Subjects’ today would be a calculated risk for us,” Probst said. “Because it can reveal so much information that it might steal some of the mystery for what is going to play out. So I think you’d have to reimagine it in the new era.”

He then went on to propose, on the fly, how “Touchy Subjects” might work in the modern iteration of the show. “Maybe, at the merge, [we] say, ‘Okay, here’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna do a check-in, and we’re gonna play ‘Touchy Subjects.’ And you are all going to see where you stand in this tribe right now so that you can then figure out what you need to do to change where you are in the group so you can stay alive in this game.'”

“What is fun about that idea,” he continued, “is we’re leaning into the unpredictable uncertainty and ever-changing alliances of the new era. To say, ‘You’re not dead because they voted you most annoying. But this isn’t looking good in terms of winning the game if you get to the end.’ And then it becomes something where the player can say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know I was so annoying,’ and start to change their behavior. Maybe there’s something there I’ll take that back to the team.”

Probst’s point about “Touchy Subjects” possibly forecasting how the rest of the game would go does have historical roots. For example, in six versions of the challenge, the question, “Who would you trust with your life?” was asked. Of the people who were picked, four of them made the finals, and three of them went on to win the season. However, if a season like Survivor 46 has proven anything, it’s that contestants in the new era are willing to turn things with the changing of the wind. Not to mention, to Dee’s point on the podcast, given Season 46’s brazen honesty about their annoyance with some of their cast members and situations, it would have made for great entertainment.

Related: Jeff Probst Announces Returning Players for Survivor Season 50

While Probst is now entertaining bringing one element of old-school Survivor into the new era, there is one that he is refusing to even consider. At the end of “On Fire,” he was asked about the “Rites of Passage” segment that used to air during Survivor finales. The sequence, which aired in every one of Survivor‘s first 21 seasons, had the final three or four players honoring their fallen comrades on the way to their Final Immunity Challenge. They would typically stop by their torch and memorialize them in a few words. The viewers would then be treated to a snippet of the contestant’s voice, as they speak from beyond the Survivor grave to look back on their experience. The scene would then end with all of the players’ spirits being laid to rest.

“I hated the Rites of Passage,” Probst admitted. “You could see the player struggling to say anything that was in any way kind or interesting. It’s why I never liked it from a storytelling standpoint, because it didn’t move our story forward. And it was coming at the climax of the show. And it didn’t provide any information about the players that were still in the game. And I think that’s just where the show was, where the game was, the types of people that were playing the game. But in that era, it didn’t serve any function. If you decided you really wanted to hear people talking about the players who were no longer in the game, you would design something that, in the process, would give you information about the player still in the game. That would be the point. They’re the ones still playing.”

“And I gotta say, even hearing me just say that, it’s of zero interest right now,” Probst laughed. “I don’t like the Rites of Passage. I hope we never do it again. And I’ve never missed it.”

While Probst is clearly out on seeing the return of the Rites of Passage any time soon, it seems the door may be open for more old-school elements of Survivor to take root in the new era.

Next, check out the photos, bios, and interviews with the cast of Survivor 46.


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