One of the much-hyped twists on CBS' Survivor: Fiji, which kicks off tonight at 8 pm/ET, is having one group of contestants lounge in the lap of luxury while another is left with the bare minimum of supplies and no food. Cool concept, but it sounds oddly familiar, because, say, The Apprentice: Los Angeles is employing a similar idea this season. And both shows share Mark Burnett as an executive producer. Just a coinkidink? Survivor host Jeff Probst insists that that is absolutely the case. "Mark runs his shows very independently," he tells TVGuide.com. "I can tell you that this was an idea that was born organically from us, because I was sitting there as we discussed it and decided to do it."
That said, "We were a little surprised to find out that The Apprentice was doing it," Probst admits. "But after watching the first episode of Apprentice, they are very different worlds and very different methods of executing the same idea."
Previewing Fiji's first moments, Probst says, "All 19 people arrive on the beach together with no information. I come over in a sea plane and drop a package, with blueprints for building a massive shelter. There's a map to help them find this stash of wood and tools and lumber, a sink, they have a living room, a kitchen.... It is a beautiful place they are going to build. We have them build it, and then they find out that they'll be divided into two tribes and square off. The winning tribe gets the beautiful beach; the losing tribe gets sent to a new beach with a pot and a machete and water that you can't drink if you don't have fire."
Why the new haves-versus-have-nots twist? "The idea was to create disparity between the two tribes. You can't help but pull a little bit for the tribe that has nothing. What surprised me," says Probst, "was how quickly there was a sense of entitlement on the winning tribe. In addition to winning the shelter, they got the biggest housewarming gift we've ever given. I'm talking a couch, hammocks, all kinds of cutlery and plates and napkins, a sewing machine.... You see the winning tribe and one of the members saying, 'How bad is it that we have more food here than some of the people watching us at home have in their refrigerator?' Cut to the other tribe where they are on their hands and knees literally licking leaves to get drops of water. It is the hardest I've seen a group probably since Africa."
So if one tribe is already stripped of any perks, will Exile Island really be any different? "There is one difference on Exile Island — it has literally thousands of deadly sea snakes," he excitedly notes. "You see that play out in Episode 2, when the person on Exile has a run-in with a snake. It is very clear that they exist, and that it is a problem."
But at least if they fight off snakes, it means a chance to find the immunity idol, right? Not so fast, says Probst, detailing other new wrinkles. "This time when they get to Exile Island, the first clue will tell them that the idol is not on Exile Island, it is back at camp. And back at camp, how do you look for an idol when you are living with other people? It complicates that."
"The other big change with the idol — and this time I believe we figured it out — is that you must play the idol after the tribe has voted, but before I read the votes," Probst explains. "So when you go to tribal council, you take all the information you have from the beach and living with people. Then after they've voted, you've got to make that call if you have the idol. "
The result of that tweak? "The idol gets played more than once this season," says Probst. "It is not a season of Yul holding onto it until the end."
Don't miss TV Guide's interview with the brunette beauty who bailed on Survivor: Fiji at the last minute, hence the "odd" cast of 19!
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