The 32nd season of Survivor is so brutal that anyone who still believes the show is staged will have their suspicions put to rest for good, according to host Jeff Probst. "This season is going to put a pin in that," Probst tells TVGuide.com. "The fourth episode is epic. It's pretty full-on, and it's exciting because we tell the story in a new way. We let the audience sort of see behind the scenes of what's happening. To the few who still may think that we're a show that isn't real - which drives me nuts, because of all the scripted 'unscripted' shows - it will answer once again any questions about whether or not this show is real."
For Survivor: Kaoh Rong, the show is resurrecting the Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty theme that made its debut in Survivor: Cagayan. But Probst says the two seasons couldn't be more different - with one exception, relating to the notoriously dysfunctional Brains tribe from Cagayan. "I wouldn't even compare them," he says. "There is one similarity that's glaring from the beginning, and that is with the Brains tribe. It appears that when you take a group of really smart people and only smart people, and there's no one else in that group, they make really bad decisions. ... Six extremely high IQs, but basic common-sense decisions of how to get along and work together elude them."
Season 32 is also, according to Probst, the most physically punishing season the show has seen to date. And, in addition to the challenges posed by the heat, producers are making it even more difficult for players to access immunity idols this season. At least one contestant will be forced to quit for medical reasons. "The heat is brutal," Probst stresses. "Just using myself as a guidepost. I was exhausted, and I wasn't doing anything. I'd get on the boat [after challenges] going, 'Oh my God, I'm overheated, I'm kind of lightheaded. I need food.' And I would think, I've only been there for four hours. This is crazy."
Here's Probst's take on the individual contestants:
Peter Baggenstos, 32: The ER doctor may have a hard time making the adjustment from real life to Survivor life, Probst hints. "The question with Peter will center around hubris," Probst says. "Can he figure out how others see him? Because in his circle, he's a good-looking, smart doctor. That opens a lot of doors. But on Survivor, those are all obstacles. It's the antithesis of your normal social life. Going in, that's the big question. Does he realize that he has a target on his back because of all of his qualities?"
Aubry Braco, 29: Probst describes the social media marketer as the female version of fan favorite John Cochran. "I think people are really going to take to Aubry," he says. "She really is a fish out of water. This is not an environment she ever thought she would end up in, and yet she loved the show so much she was compelled to try it. And right out of the gate, she's pretty open about saying, 'I'm overwhelmed.'"
Joseph Del Campo, 72: Joe landed a spot on the show by sending an audition tape to Probst's house. But despite the invasion of privacy, Probst has only positive things to say about the septuagenarian. "I love Joe," he notes. "He's a 72-year-old retired FBI hostage negotiator, and [in his audition tape] he was in his backyard doing Survivor-like challenges. He had built these structures. He was super fit, really charismatic. It was as fast a 'yes' for me as anyone we've had."
Neal Gottlieb, 37: Neal, an entrepreneur who started an ice cream company, may be easily underestimated by the other players - which would be a huge mistake, Probst warns. "Neal is a very bright guy, but plays it down. He comes across as this sort of silly guy who wears these loud clothes, and you don't know what to make of him," according to Probst. "But then you start talking to him a little more, and you realize he's way smarter than he wants to let you know. I think that's his game out of the gate is, 'I'm just going to hang out, let other people make some decisions and get a lay of the land.' Which is a great approach."
Elisabeth Markham, 27: Elisabeth earned her place on the Brains tribe by getting a perfect score on her SATs. But other players' perceptions of her may be her downfall. "She also could have been on the Beauty tribe. Beautiful woman, but incredibly smart," Probst notes. "She may have the toughest go of figuring out how people are seeing her. ... Liz is going to quickly have to realize, I'm beautiful and I'm smart. Those are not qualities that people look at and go, 'I really like you.' They look at them and go, 'I'm getting rid of you.'"
Debbie Wanner, 49: One of the more polarizing players on Season 32, Debbie - a chemist who has had a number of careers, including working at Red Lobster - is sure to leave an impression, for better or worse, according to Probst. "Debbie's going to go down as one of the biggest characters, and I think the question out of the gate will be, do you love her or does she drive you crazy? It'll be one or the other," Probst says. "I love her. I love how big she is with her stories and her experiences. ... [Debbie is] a woman who sees herself in the most flattering way, and I really adored that about her. She doesn't play down or say, 'Well, I kinda did this.' She says, 'No, I was very good at this. I'm very good at this. I'm super experienced at this.' But on Survivor, if you're going to talk it, you have to be able to walk it. And that will be her test early on, when she says she can make fire."
Cydney Gillon, 23: Probst says the bodybuilder is probably the fittest woman who's ever competed on Survivor, but that's not her only strength. "She is beautiful," he says. "Her body is sculpted. There's no question she's Brawn. She's full-on. She earns it. She'll tell you what her daily routine is, and it's hardcore. ... But [she's] also a surprisingly savvy player, because she starts out very quiet. In the first few minutes, you wonder if she knows what's going on at all. And then as things start to evolve, you realize, OK, she's ready for this game."
Darnell Hamilton, 27: Probst thinks that Darnell, a postal worker who came from humble beginnings, will be a fan favorite. "I love that Darnell made it onto the show," Probst says. "You would never think a guy who kind of grew up on the streets would ever end up on a show like Survivor. And he did. ... Plus he's very funny. He's a great storyteller, a straight-shooter."
Alecia Holden, 24: Alecia could easily fit in on either the Beauty tribe or the Brawn tribe, Probst says, but was placed in the latter because her father is a boxing promoter. But the real estate agent's no-nonsense attitude may come back to bite her. "She grew up in the world of boxing," he explains. "She grew up in a brawny family, where toughness was an attribute, and she saw it in guys. ... She doesn't take any lip from anybody. She gets off to a tough start, in terms of dynamics, and then has to see if she can recover in time to survive."
Kyle Jason, 31: Jason is an ex-military bounty hunter who describes himself as "ruthless" in his day job, but also a family man. "His attitude toward life is really interesting," Probst says. "He says, 'I'm tatted up. I look scary. And yet I take my girls to school every morning.'" But look for him to take the game as seriously as he takes his career. "His approach to the game is very aggressive," Probst says. "He gathers people around and says, 'This. Is. What. We're. Doing.' With emphasis. If those kind of personalities get in control, it can change the tenor of the game. Or if they're taken out of the game, then you lose that aggression. But he definitely has a presence."
Jennifer Lanzetti, 38: Jenny has a tough experience in Episode 1 when she discovers a worm rooting around in her ear. Luckily, she's a "very tough chick," according to Probst. "She's had a lot of life experiences for a relatively young woman, and she works in what is traditionally a man's world, in construction," he says. "She runs jobs. She has a lot of people working for her. So she's a natural leader on a tribe with a lot of strong men."
Scot Pollard, 40: The former NBA player is a softie when it comes to his home life, but also a fierce competitor. "He has two sides to his personality," Probst says. You get him talking about his family and he'll tear up, and then you start talking about the NBA and he'll tell you, 'The reason I made it is I worked harder than anyone else. I have brothers in my family who were better than I was, but nobody out-worked me.'"
Michele Fitzgerald, 24: Probst compares Michelle to Parvati Shallow and says she's "a quintessential Survivor Beauty tribe member, in that doors have opened for her her entire life because of how she looks, and she knows that. ... She fully knows why you might keep her around early on, and she knows how to use that. And that's a big key to this game, is getting a good start."
Anna Khait, 26: Like Michelle, Ana also knows how to use her looks to her advantage. "Ana is a poker player who certainly talks a good game early on about using her beauty in a world that's typically dominated by men. She says, 'I'm well aware that there are guys that I'm playing poker with who are looking at my boobs. I can't believe they are, and yet I'll push 'em up, because if I know that you're looking at me sexually, I've got you,'" Probst says. "That's fantastic. You talk about getting somebody like Michelle and Ana teaming up - smart, beautiful women teaming up? They could run the game."
Nick Maiorano, 30: Personal trainer Nick is willing to embrace his role as the villain of Season 32. "He's not necessarily the guy you want to bring home to mom," Probst notes. "He will tell you, 'I am a villain. And I'm aware that I'm good-looking. And I know how to use that just like a beautiful woman does. I'm also strong and I'm super-smart, so stay out of my way or I'm going to run you over.'"
Caleb Reynolds, 28: Some viewers may already be familiar with Beast Mode Cowboy, who finished in fourth place on Big Brother 16. But Probst wasn't - and was hesitant to cast him on Survivor at first. "The story for me with Caleb is, I didn't want him on the show. CBS asked us to meet him. They said he was really popular on Big Brother. And I thought, ugh, OK, I'll meet him. I only met him for about 20 minutes, and my reaction was, I don't know if he's all that,'" Probst admits. But since then he's done a 180. "I've rarely been as wrong as I was about Caleb," Probst says. "I fell in love with Caleb. He is such a likable guy, so earnest. Nobody's going to work harder or stay out on a challenge longer than Caleb. He will not let you outlast him. He became one of my favorites."
Julia Sokolowski, 19: A "diamond in the rough," according to Probst, Julia was cast on the show was she was only 18. "When she walked in and sat down, everybody went, 'Oh my God, you're amazing,'" he says. "Because she's only been on the planet 18 years, and she's going to be playing the game with people in their 50s, 70s. Sometimes I don't think people fully appreciate what an advantage life experience is on Survivor." Clearly Julia does - she opts to keep her age a secret during the game. Probst hopes she inspires other young fans. "She does herself really proud and hopefully is a great example for other 18-year-olds thinking, 'Could I do it?' Yes, you could."
Tai Trang, 51: Even though he was only seen in approximately three seconds of a promo for this season, Tai became an immediate fan favorite during the Season 31 finale. "Hall of Fame after one season. People are going to love Tai," Probst predicts. "He's this 50-year-old gay gardener from Vietnam who is so charming, and he loves every living thing and believes every living thing should be treated the same." He also develops a pretty strong bromance with Caleb that Probst says is also pretty enjoyable to watch.
Survivor: Kaoh Rong premieres Wednesday at 8/7c on CBS. Who are you rooting for?