EW recently revealed that the cast members for Survivor: Winners at War (which premieres Feb. 12 on CBS) all will be receiving $25,000 guarantees in addition to the standard $10,000 appearance fee for the live reunion show as well as whatever prize money they may earn along the way (starting with $2,500 for the first one voted out). That was incentive enough to draw back many winners Jeff Probst worried would not return to play again.
But what the players did not know until they showed up on the beach was that the prize money for winning the season would be doubled to $2 million. How did a prize amount twice as nice come to pass? We asked Probst while out on location during day 1 of filming, and he was happy to give all credit to the network.
“The $2 million prize was all CBS, says the host and showrunner. “The truth is, Kelly Kahl is the guy at CBS who back in season 2 moved Survivor to go up against Friends. And we beat Friends in the ratings and his career was really made in that moment. He’s been invested in Survivor forever. And he has given us free rein to do what we want for a long time. And this season he said, ‘Can you try to make winners happen? And can we give them a $2 million prize?’”
Probst’s initial reaction to that request may surprise you. “And again, to show my stupidity as a producer,” Probst laughs, “I said, ‘I don’t really know if $2 million will make any difference. They’re still going to say yes.’ And he looked at me like, ‘Clearly you’ve lost track of life. It’s another million dollars!'”
If there was any doubt as to how the contestants would feel about that, it was erased when the host made the announcement during the day 1 marooning: “You saw it out there today. We said $2 million, and a few of them jumped up so high they’re still floating somewhere. It was a brilliant idea. All I’m going to do is sit and watch it all play out.”
As a side note, when I interviewed the cast of Survivor: All-Stars before filming began on season 8 back in 2003, many of the returning players then assumed the prize money was going to be doubled to $2 million. It wasn’t. When I spoke to the Winners at War cast before filming of season 40, however, only one contestant mentioned the possibility of a $2 million prize, and it was someone that also appeared on All-Stars: Ethan Zohn. This time, he was right.
Watch the video at the top of the post to see Probst talk about the $2 million prize. For more Survivor articles, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss, and for exclusive season 40 photos and video, follow me on Instagram @thedaltonross.