Is blood really thicker than water? That's the question Survivor will seek to answer in its 27th Season, which pits 10 returning players against their children, siblings and significant others.
"We've talked for years about, could we do a loved ones scenario? But we just never felt like we had the right people," host Jeff Probst tells TVGuide.com. "I think people will be surprised that the notion, 'Could I vote out one of my loved ones?' comes into play. There seems to be a lot of people thinking, 'Oh, I could never vote out my loved one.' But I don't know."
The family members will eventually compete against each other on opposing tribes — but not before they're lulled into a false sense of security, thanks to the show's new "Day Zero" concept. Instead of the typical 39 days on an island, the Blood vs. Water contestants will play for 39.5 days, spending the first night paired off with their loved ones before the game officially starts the next morning. (More on that in our Q&A below.)
Also making a return this season is Redemption Island, where players who have been voted out can fight their way back into the game by participating in a contest with other castoffs. In an additional twist, players have the option of taking their loved one's place if they've been sent to Redemption Island. "Rupert may have the opportunity to swap spots with his wife," Probst explains. "Will he? Or will his own greed want to play again, and he'll find a way to get out of it? It is a put up or shut up opportunity on Survivor. If you really want your loved one to have this experience, swap spots at Redemption Island with them. They're back in the game and you're out."
Check out our full Q&A with Probst below for answers to more burning questions about Survivor: Blood vs. Water, and check out a "Meet the Contestants" video below:
Where does Blood vs. Water rank in the Survivor canon?
Jeff Probst: I've stopped [ranking seasons]. I learned last year, all I do is set myself up for people to say "You're wrong." Blood vs. Water is good. I'll be surprised if the majority of the audience does not walk away and say, "That was a good season."
Are there any benefits to playing the game with loved ones?
Probst: I think the only thing that makes it a little easier is knowing that not too far away on another island is your loved one, and that somehow, emotionally, you know that they understand what you're going through, and they know that you understand what they're going through. You have this little bond, so that when you see each other at challenges or at Redemption Island arena, you can look at each other with a little nod and say, "I'm still here, and I know you're still there and we love each other." That's about the only thing that's easier, just knowing your loved one is there. Everything else about the game is more difficult.
How did bringing back Redemption Island affect the game?
Probst: So, when you think about Redemption Island, there's a few things that factor into the vote. First is, we could just vote the weakest person out of our tribe. That would probably make the most sense. Unless we want to vote somebody out of our tribe with the idea that maybe their loved one will swap spots, and we can get them out of the game on the other tribe, that would be a good trade. So if we can vote out Monica Culpepper to get rid of Brad Culpepper, let's do it. Then the other layer is — wait a minute — my wife is on Redemption Island. I don't want to vote this guy out, because he'll go beat my wife at Redemption. So now I want to keep him, so my wife can survive. So, those layers completely change the game. Now you don't just have alliances. You have alliances, but you also have individuals worried about their loved ones, and you have competing interests for who you're going to vote out and why.
Explain the reasoning behind Day Zero.
Probst: Couples are dropped off at 10 different spots at various islands with nothing. You can survive for the night, but it's not going to be pleasant. And what it is going to do, it's going to give you a chance to advise your loved one on how to play. Because this is what it's going to be like. Those bugs crawling over you? Get used to it. If it rains, this is normal. If it's really hot, that's how it goes. The sounds you hear in the jungle when it's pitch black ... you've got to get used to it and keep your wits about you, because people do get freaked out. They start to hear monkeys or snakes and all kinds of other animals. So, it had a couple of agendas. One was to scare them, one was to get them comfortable. One was to let the loved ones bond. And the other was, they didn't know that they were playing against each other. So we also thought this might cement in their head that they're going to be playing together. So when we strip them apart, it will really hurt.
How did contestants react when they found out they were going to be playing against their loved ones?
Probst: Brutal. I'm sure in the back of their minds, everybody had contemplated this. But when they finally heard me say, "Loved ones over here, Survivors over here," you could just feel the energy drain as your [loved one] became your enemy. And we have some great rivalries. ... If you think you're going to make it to the end, you've not been watching Survivor. Nobody's going to let loved ones go deep into the end.
Did any returning players dramatically alter their strategy from their previous outings?
Probst: I don't think so. Actually, that's a good question because now that I think about it, one of the most enjoyable things out of the gate is watching the personalities emerge, especially from the returning players. You can almost predict. Here's Aras, who's going to say, "All right, shall we all get together and sit down around the fire and talk about what we want to do?" And there's Colton in the corner, with his hands folded across his chest saying "Screw that. I'm here to play my game." And there's Rupert up in a tree going, (doing his best Rupert impression), "I'll just be up here getting coconuts for everyone. Don't worry about me." And that is part of the fun because the experienced players, what they bring into it is, they're not nervous in those first few days, so their personalities just come straight out. And if you've cast it right, you're going to have some fun, you're going to have a lot of conflict, and you're going to have a few surprises.
Candice and John replaced RC and Craig, who were pulled at the last minute, right?
Probst: Yeah, and it was really a sad situation because we love RC. She gave up a lot the first time to get out there, and she gave up a lot the second time. I know her dad did as well. It illustrates once again that Survivor is 100% authentic. It was very hot out there, extremely hot, and her dad's blood pressure was rising. And we were monitoring it, and the doctors were working with him, but it got to a point where it was just too risky. ... We always err on the side of caution. And the hard part was, her dad knew it, and he agreed. And RC was really loving. She said, "Dad, it's ok. It's heartbreaking, but it's heartbreaking for us as a father/daughter, and that's ok."
What do you think is the standout trait of Blood vs. Water?
Probst: The one overriding thing is the emotion. This whole season surprised me, because there were all these twists that you and I just talked about. ... You're looking across at the other mat at a challenge and you see my wife, my brother, my daughter. My enemy. And the only way I get further is if they don't. How do you handle that?
Survivor premieres Wednesday at 8/7c on CBS.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)