Born and raised in Wichita, Kansas, “I was never a foreign exchange student and didn’t even have a passport until ‘Survivor,’ ” says Probst, 52. The show has been “a life-changing experience.”
Since the competitive reality series debuted on CBS in 2000, the Emmy-winning host and executive producer hasn’t stopped traveling all over the world.
“I’ve been underwater at 60 feet with a shark and found myself sitting out in an Africa game reserve with zebras running past me,” says Probst. “I really began to understand simultaneously how unique I am and how I’m one grain of sand in this giant beach we live on. It really did help shape me.”
The 28th “Survivor” season finale airs live on Wednesday, May 21.
The cast and crew work hard, shooting two seasons of the CBS series over 78 days of the 95 days they’re on location.
Anytime there’s a break, “we play hard,” says Probst. And where they get to play is pretty spectacular. Probst shared his top 10 favorite spots in the world with CNN, some of which are places the show took him. Others may surprise you.
Anytime he had a break during shooting “Survivor” seasons 10 and 16 on Palau, an island nation in the western Pacific Ocean, Probst headed to the water to scuba dive.
“Of all the places we traveled, if you’re into ocean and scuba diving or just snorkeling, it’s one of the greatest spots in the world,” he says.
Blue Corner, a popular (and advanced) diving spot where you can descend at least 20 feet and clip onto a rock, is a favorite dive. “You don’t go anywhere,” he says. “The entire sea world goes past you, and it’s the most amazing aquarium in the world.”
Another favorite spot is Jellyfish Lake, the home of hundreds of thousands of jellyfish that have lost the need to sting because they don’t have to fight predators. “You’re swimming with these jellyfish, and it’s like being on a psychedelic trip,” he says.
Stargazing and waking up to wildlife outside his tent at the Shaba National Reserve in Kenya were two of Probst’s favorite memories of season three. “You’ve never seen stars like you see in Africa,” he says. “There’s no ambient light … when you really see what’s up there, it’s mind-blowing.”
He’d head back into his tent to sleep. Come morning, he would open his tent zipper one click at a time. “You didn’t want to scare off the wildlife that you hoped was waiting outside your tent. It was not uncommon to find zebra and giraffes.”
“A lion chased a zebra through our protective fence into camp and killed the zebra, and two other lions came to help with the kill,” he says.
3. Cook Islands
Looking for a remote desert island? “Survivor” location scouts found a perfect spot in the Cook Islands in the South Pacific for season 13.
The Polynesian culture of the islands celebrates the sea and offers a relaxed way of life. Known especially for coral reef lagoons, kayaking and beaches, the islands also offered Probst and the crew a chance to know the locals. “The majority of our crew lived with local families. You could eat (at work) or you could eat with them.”
Probst picked up a bit of the relaxed local attitude. “You can’t help but be impacted by a different lifestyle. You do realize there are lots of ways to live.”
4. Kona, Hawaii
Formerly a retreat for Hawaiian royalty, Kona is now the Probst family’s vacation spot during spring break. That’s because Probst married Lisa Russell, who had two children from a previous marriage, in 2011. They all often head to Kona when the children, Michael, 10, and Ava, 7, are on spring break.
“There’s something about Kona,” he says. “I feel so at home and grounded and connected to the earth (there). I love the weather and the water. It’s so peaceful. Lisa and I have talked about if we ever lived somewhere else, this would be the place.”
5. Amazon, Brazil
Every season in the Amazon, it rains so much that the water levels rise and drop by 40 feet in a matter of weeks, says Probst. The season six crew stayed at the Ariau Amazon Towers, a hotel built on stilts. When they arrived, there was no water around the hotel. During the shoot, it rained so much they ended up surrounded by water, by design.
Probst says the Amazon is the spookiest place he has been, and not just because of his childhood fear of crocodiles. “There are more insects and snakes and weird animals–I didn’t know what they were—than I’ve ever seen before. And there are piranha in the water.”
And those crocodiles? Traveling to the Tribal Council — the ceremony where players are eliminated — required traveling down a river in a skinny, motor-equipped canoe. “We would take these canoes, and I’d shine a flashlight on the shore and see pairs of red (crocodile) eyes dotting it,” he says. “I’d be almost petrified the canoe would tip over.”
Don’t worry about him, though. “I like being out of my comfort zone,” he says. “I don’t know that I would ever visit again, but it’s on the kids’ bucket list.” That means he’ll probably be back.
6. Australian outback
“Survivor” season two took the cast and crew into the outback, where Probst often woke to a family of kangaroos outside his tent. “We think of them as friendly, but know they are lethal and massive,” he says. “One could literally kill me with one kick to my head while yawning.”
Absorbing a bit of Australian culture, Probst also returned home to Los Angeles worrying less about everything. “Australians have a different way of living: ‘No worries’ comes from a place of truth. They don’t worry nearly as much about things as we do.”
“It’s had the greatest impact on my life, how I raise my kids and how the show works,” he says. “Anyone who has hung out in Australia knows what I mean. Of course I care and am competitive, but I am also going to do it while tossing back a beer.”
7. Vail, Colorado
Growing up in Kansas, Probst’s family piled into the family station wagon for an annual ski vacation in Vail, Colorado. There’s something about the Rockies that’s completely familiar to him, down to the expressions on his parents’ faces as they waited in line to rent skis.
“Our parents did that trip every year, and I can remember my dad telling me years later that family adventures and vacations are a lot of work … but they are never not worth it,” Probst says. “I can remember all the times we loaded up in our station wagon to drive through the snow-covered mountains so we could have family vacations.”
8. El Toro Bay, Samoa
When Probst performed his parents’ vow renewal ceremony for their 50th anniversary in Samoa in 2009, he had no idea he’d be returning for a similarly important event two years later.
That’s when he flew Lisa and her children to Samoa, where he was shooting season 19. When they arrived at El Toro Bay, he took Michael and Ava aside to let them know he was asking their mother to marry him and to ask for their help. The children quickly changed clothes and helped to lead her to Probst, who proposed. They married four months later.
9. Venice, California
While Probst spends a good amount of time traveling, he also very much appreciates what’s available in his own backyard of Los Angeles, especially the beaches.
“There’s such a fun vibe on the (Venice) boardwalk with some great people-watching,” he says. “All kinds of people show up: businessmen, surfers, moms, kids, all creating a crazy rhythm. The rings in Venice are a great little escape … I just chalk up and swing away.”
10. Around the world
You’d think Probst and his family would be tired of him traveling when he gets home from shooting halfway around the world. You’d be wrong.
Standing in front of the 10-foot by 6-foot map in their hallway, with pushpins marking where everyone has been, the family keeps talking about taking a month to go around the world. Where would they stop? For sure, Rome, London and Switzerland. The rest of the trip is still up in the air.
While he knows there’s plenty he hasn’t yet explored at home, “the other view is we have just one shot, and let’s say by plane, by train, by bus, by car, by scooter, by skateboard, we’re going to experience the world,” he says. “Do we learn something we want to bring back home? Or did we find we are perfectly happy with the way things are?”
Where do you think Jeff Probst and the cast and crew of “Survivor” should go next season? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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