After offering higher appearance fees and a promise that nobody would be off the show after three days, Survivor was able to assemble a truly spectacular cast for its 40th anniversary season and all-champions edition, Winners at War (which premieres Feb. 12 on CBS).
The most notable omission is, of course, Richard Hatch, who won the very first season of the show as more than 51 million people watched. When asked by Mara Reinstein of Us Weekly while on location during filming why Hatch was a no show, host Jeff Probst said, “Given his history on our show, it did not seem appropriate.”
Winners at War began filming just a few weeks after the Island of the Idols season, which featured the first contestant ever, Dan Spilo, removed for incidents involving unwanted touching. Hatch — who often appeared naked during his two seasons on the show — was part of an incident in Survivor: All-Stars in which he ran a challenge nude and was accused by Sue Hawk of intentionally rubbing against her during a challenge (which Hatch has denied). “I didn’t feel comfortable having him out on the show and representing a show that is for families,” Probst told Us Weekly.
With big names like Ethan, Parvati, Yul, Kim, Sandra, Rob, and Amber in the mix for season 40, I asked the host if there was anyone the show wanted to get but couldn’t. “I can tell you that of all the people we wanted,” says the host, “I would say Cochran is the only one that would have been on the list [where] if he had said yes would probably have a spot on the show.”
That’s not a big surprise, as Probst has often mentioned Caramoan champ John Cochran as one of his favorite winners. But the host then took us through the method behind the Winners at War casting thought process madness. “We had an idea,” the host says. “And the idea was this: Here’s how we came up with our 20. Once we started getting momentum and realized this could happen, then we took a big step back and said: Okay, let’s imagine we can get anybody — totally rechange our thinking. What do we want? And what we wanted was to taste a little of every era of Survivor.”
The same way the show likes to cast different types of personalities so they don’t have too much of the same flavor, Probst says casting folks from all different eras was important. “That’s what you really want, he says. “So when we got Amber and Ethan, you have the founding fathers, those original players. The OGs. And then you get Rob and Sandra. And then you get Yul and Danni. And then you get all the way up to Wendell and Nick, and now you’ve got it. Here it is. This is a composite of everybody that’s played and won, and won’t it be fun to see where the game is right now? Because years ago, you would have said, ‘Old school players can’t win anymore, the game’s too fast.’ I don’t think so.”
Probst then gave his impressions of what he saw from the cast as he welcomed them to the start of the game. “The thing that I noticed when they walked up to me on the sandspit today — even though I’ve been thinking about them and studying them, talking to them — when I saw all twenty together, one thought struck me: All twenty of these people have it together. You just look at them and go, nobody’s lost it. Even people who haven’t played in twenty years. Amber looks a little older, but you talk to her and she’s the same person. Her attitude is the same. ‘Go ahead, overlook me. People still don’t give me credit for winning All-Stars. Please give me a second chance to do that again.’”
Probst says that continued down the line. “As I went down the row, I thought, man, I feel like there’s a common trait in these 20 and it’s that they’re current. They’re just of the moment. It feels very fresh. You don’t look at that group and go, ‘Well, that clearly must be an old-time player.’ You don’t look at Ethan and go, ‘Well, he’s got to be from an early season.’ There’s nothing to indicate that. So, to me, that says that for whatever reason this group, they could all win. They’ll be adapting. They’ll be assessing and figuring it out and if players don’t realize that alliances are moving like that that may hurt them, but I think they do. They’ve all been studying the game since they got the call.”
And they all answered it. Except John Cochran.
To watch Probst talk about the cast they got and couldn’t get, watch the video at the top of the post. For more Survivor articles, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss, and for exclusive season 40 photos, follow him on Instagram @thedaltonross.