Plus skincare secrets from the sunniest man in the world.
Tomorrow, Survivor will premiere its thirty-sixth season. When it does, Jeff Probst will be the host for the thirty-sixth time. Which means that if you played that game where you spin a globe super fast and wait to see what country your finger stops on, Jeff Probst has probably spent the night there. (And no, he doesn’t sleep in the Four Seasons. Or so he says.) It also means that the 56-year-old—who spends four months a year filming—has collected more than a few travel tips (and stories) from all corners of the globe. Here he shares the one thing you should always have on you, staying in shape on remote islands, and, most importantly, what he does to keep his skin looking so damn good in all that sun.
How often do you get asked for travel advice?
I think because Survivor has a travel element to it, people assume I must be an expert at traveling. Which I’m not sure is true. But I have definitely learned to be a better traveler as a result of traveling so much.
So what have you learned?
Always have cash, because it doesn’t matter if you’re in the United States or a foreign country: a $20 bill can come in very handy in a lot of different situations. It can be a thank you. It can be a tip to make your trip better. Or It can be a straight up bribe. I hit the ATM at every airport and I put maybe $40 in my right pocket, [and] a $20 in my back pocket. It’s amazing, the power of that. I don’t think people tip very often. And I’ve learned that you can get a lot for very little.
So let’s hear about a time a $20 got you out of a jam.
In Nicaragua, it was one of the few times that we had a real city that we could go get a cup of coffee or go to a restaurant. That’s very unusual for us. We are usually isolated on an island. And that particular location had some issues with our crew driving to a restaurant and getting stopped randomly by the Nicaraguan police. Even though we all have cell phones and we have a big security team, there are those moments where you might be alone and you could show your badge and say, “I’m from Survivor,” and plead your case all your want—or, as I’ve learned, you can pull out a $20 and say, “I’m sorry. My bad.” And they go, “Great. Have a good day.” So long as you’re not in physical danger, and it is just a shake down, take my $20. I want to get on with my day.
And at hotels, especially if you’re staying in a place you’re not familiar with, I walk up to the front desk, I pull out $20, I say, “I’m here to check in and anything you can tell me to help my stay would be appreciated.” And it is amazing how many times they will upgrade you, or they’ll say, “Let me know if you need a restaurant.” It’s just proven to me to be a very cheap way to make my trip a lot more enjoyable.
How often are you actually on the road in any given year?
The biggest misconception is that I’m gone all the time. And that’s because Survivor is on almost all year round but we shoot the show in very concentrated periods. Each season shoots for 39 days. If you’re there a week early, it’s like 7-8 weeks for each shoot. So over the summer, I’m gone almost four months. But that’s it. Then I’m home.
People probably see you on TV and then see you in real life, and expect you to be more sun kissed than you actually are.
It’s funny you mention that. I have photos of me and some of the guys I work with from the early years of Survivor. We’re all shirtless, no hats, and I didn’t even know what sunscreen was. I did an interview and the way the reporter introduced the article was by saying, “I sat down with the sun weathered host of Survivor.” And it hit me: “Oh my god. I’m sun weathered.” That’s a nice way of saying: Beat up. Old. Wrinkly.
I was on an island just a few years ago and I was kicking the soccer ball around with some local kids who watched the show. One kid came up and said, “You’re the whitest guy I’ve ever seen.” And he was so shocked, because he expected me to be super tan all the time. But I wear this thick, white, goopy stuff on my face. It’s not attractive. I’m the least attractive in life when I’m on location on Survivor. Ugly sun hats that look like I’m 90 and fishing in a lake somewhere.
The 10-Step Skincare Routine That’ll Change Your Face Forever
When I told people I was interviewing Jeff Probst, two people, separately, told me I had to ask about your incredible skin. What is your grooming secret?
I don’t have a grooming secret. Once or twice a year I will do some sort of face laser, which is not as severe as it sounds. One of them is called Fraxel, a wand that they just sort of run over your face. It t leaves you red for about three days. But it brings all of the sun damage to the surface. And by the seventh day, it all flakes off, and it’s like you have a brand new face. Here’s the thing: I’ve been shooting Survivor for 20 years and my skin looks better than it ever has. You can reverse the damage.
You’re in great shape but you’re on these remote islands, so I’m curious what you do for fitness—or is it all stuff you do off-location?
Well, it’s pretty much the same on location as it is off. I work out 4 to 5 days a week. And there’s nothing revolutionary about my workout: push ups, pull ups, squats, deadlifts. It really is old school, trying to maintain some level of muscle mass because as you get older, you start losing it. So when I’m on location I travel with a small gym. Literally just odds and ends of pieces that I’ve bought over the years and put on the—we have these big containers that we send through the ocean from location to location.
Even though we’re going into shooting our 19th year, [and] our 36th season is starting to air, and it’s a global hit, our TV show, production-wise, does not look like that on the ground. We don’t have trailers. We don’t live in fancy hotels. We live in makeshift housing sometimes; we’ve been in tents for many different seasons. And my gym is the same way. It’s a collection of odd bits and pieces, but it’s all I need. And it gets the job done. And there are lots of days I don’t want to work out. 40% of the time I walk in and go, almost anywhere else I’d rather be than this place. But the phrase that goes through my head is this: It is a fact that it is easier to stay in shape than it is to get in shape. So once you get in shape, stay in shape. That’s my motto.
People always wonder if you’re crashing at the Four Seasons while the contestants are camping out in tents, but it sounds like that’s not the case.
In the beginning—in the South China Sea, Malaysia, Australia, Africa, Marquesas Islands, Thailand, the Amazon—these are wildly exotic locations. We were in the middle of them, living in single-person tents. Everybody was in the same size tent. [Executive Producer] Mark Burnett was in the same size tent as me. I was in the same size tent as the marine guys. The tents were truly miserable to live in. Because it’s 115 degrees and you have nowhere to go. There is no air conditioning. You have this hot nylon tent.
But the most beautiful part was every morning you would hear people unzip their tents one click at a time, because waiting outside was either a group of kangaroos in Australia, or, in Africa, you might find zebra, giraffes, elephants, gazelles—we were in the middle of it all. And it was magical! I remember in Kenya, at night, taking my little cot out of my tent and looking at the stars. There’s not a single bit of ambient light anywhere. It’s just the sky. And the stars looked so close that it looked like if you got a really good running start you could reach up and grab them. Those days were like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.
Did you ever get in any sort of dangerous situations being that exposed?
Oh yeah. Africa had a lot of issues. We made the [contestants’] shelter out of elephant dung and acacia branches, because that’s how the Samburu warriors did it. So they lived in this sort of protected area, but it was just sticks and elephant poop. That was it. And in the second or third episode, there’s a lion outside of their shelter. We had 125 armed local guys with rifles watching the perimeters just in case something crazy went down with animals. And every day, there were stories. There was a zebra that was being chased by a pride of lions and it crashed through this small aluminum gate we had, crushed the gate, and then the lions caught the zebra and dragged it away. It was like watching Nat Geo. You’re watching nature. And it’s ferocious! And then you’d go, “Oh okay, we have to go shoot a challenge.” [laughs]
We were in the Amazon where there were more insects and weird things than anywhere we’ve ever been. But the craziest thing was this giant anaconda that our wildlife guys caught. And I’ve seen some big snakes in my time on Survivor. I don’t know how long it was, I’m gonna exaggerate and get it wrong. It was gigantic.
Where do you stand on checked bags?
I’m of two thoughts on checked baggage: if you can avoid it, avoid it. Because I’ve never been to an airport where it’s fast or easy to get your luggage. But if you’re going to check a bag, then pack whatever you want. I’ve never understood people making fun of each other—”Wow, looks like you packed your whole house in that bag there, Jeffrey.” Well, if I’m packing a bag what different does it make!
What’s the first thing you do when you come home from an extended trip like that?
I walk in the door and I yell, “I’m home, I’m home, I’m home.” And it’s my way of identifying to myself that I’m home. Because I miss it so much and I’m so happy to be home, it doesn’t matter if the kids are here or not, I literally go, [screams] “I’M HOME! I’M HOME! I’M HOME!” And it feels so good. And what’s amazing is, two days later, it’s like I never left. But that first night, I just walk around, I look in my closet, I go, “Oh yeah, there’s all my stuff. What’s in the fridge? Ooo yeah, I’m gonna have some of this to drink. Oh, potato chips! I’m going to have the whole bag.” You’d think I was being held captive somewhere.
How hard is it to keep the winner a secret?
Not at all. It’s not hard. I’ve learned how to really compartmentalize. But the secret advantage I have is that even if I did accidentally tell somebody the winner, I would just simply follow it up with: “Or am I just bullshitting you?” You’re never really gonna get yourself in trouble.
Your kids are probably like, “Who was it, Dad? Who was it??”
No, no, no. Clearly, you don’t have children. Because if you had children you would know this fact: no child cares what their parents do at all. I could be around 20 kids and 18 of them are Survivor addicts. But the two who don’t care? Mine. I think that means you’re being a good parent, if they see you as a parent, and not as your job.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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