Knife-wielding “Survivor” host Jeff Probst admits 'I was too soft on players'

The host says his episode 2 move was a response to fan criticism.

Warning to all future Survivor players: Jeff Probst carries a knife. And he will use it.

That fun — and somewhat frightening — fact came out on Wednesday’s episode of Survivor 46 after the Nami tribe returned the immunity idol they had won at the previous challenge back to the host before the start of the second immunity competition. But they had made a little alteration, adding an orange headband to the idol figure.

This led to some playful back and forth between the tribe and Probst, with the host actually taking out a knife and cutting the makeshift buff off the idol. What inspired Probst to wield such a deadly weapon? Turns out it was both a bit of fun and a response to fan feedback that the host had gotten too nice and too safe.

<p>Robert Voets/CBS</p> Jeff Probst on 'Survivor 46'

Robert Voets/CBS

Jeff Probst on 'Survivor 46'

When it comes to going at it with contestants, “I love it when players banter with me,” Probst says on the latest episode of his On Fire With Jeff Probst podcast. “Number one, it makes me feel like I'm part of the fun. And I'm also okay with negotiating. I'm good with it all!”

But there was another message Probst wanted to deliver, and this one was to viewers. “As far as the knife, yeah, that's a little playful response to the criticism that I’ve become a little too soft in recent seasons. And look, I've said it many times, I'm going to say it again: When we came back after the pandemic, I will own it: I wanted Survivor to be fun, and I wanted to make a show that we felt families would feel safe to watch and would help distract you from everything we were going through.”

However, the host acknowledges that the pendulum may have swung a little too far in that direction. “I hear you, I'm listening. I do have an edge. Ask the people I work with. I got an edge, and I do know that I was too soft last season on our two quitters.”

Probst had a visceral reaction to Hannah Rose and Sean Edwards both quitting Survivor 45, even announcing that quitters would no longer get their torch snuffed at Tribal Council. “That was really the moment that I really kind of saw it,” Probst says on the podcast. “It broke my back. I was too soft. I see it.”

<p>Robert Voets/CBS</p> Jeff Probst on 'Survivor 46'

Robert Voets/CBS

Jeff Probst on 'Survivor 46'

Those words mirror what Probst has told EW about bringing a little spice back to the show — something we also saw at the first episode's Tribal Council. Of course, this doesn’t mean the host is going to show up at challenges and start pushing people into mud for no reason. There are limits to his newfound edge. “It's not like I just suddenly start dressing in all black and I'm the villain," he laughs. "You have to have the opportunity to play. And that's why I really like that the Nami tribe put a piece of yellow cloth on the idol. That was fun, and it gave me an opportunity to play.”

On a previous new era season, the entire incident may have gone down differently. “Remember, I could have handled that in a very different way,” he continues on the podcast. “I could have said, ‘I like the confidence, and since you are the only tribe that's won it, I say it just stays on until somebody else wins it and they can do what they want.’ But instead, I took the guidance of the fans and I pulled out my knife. So for future players, feel free to bring it all. The show is a living, breathing thing.”

And the host is a living, breathing thing as well — and one who says he listens to fan reaction on twists, too. “I also have said I went too far with ‘Change History' [a.k.a. the Hourglass twist]. I did. That was all me. And I heard that criticism and we got rid of it. So I can change. I am malleable. You can mold me.”

To hear the Probst talk more about episode 2 of Survivor 46, check out the On Fire podcast with cohosts Dee Valladares and Jay Wolff.

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