Jeff Probst is the host of, Survivor, CBS's mega-hit reality television show, as well as Rock and Roll Jeopardy on VH1. Prior to that he was one of the hosts on FX; and prior to that he did the local garden show on KIRO–TV in Seattle in the mid-90's, which is when I first met him during a screening of his feature film directorial debut Trust Me, starring several colleagues from the Seattle theatre scene, including William Salyers, Jillian Armenante, Jamie Lopez and Adrian Latourelle. The movie had moxy and style but the plot was diffuse in that archetypically quirky adolescent road movie sort of way. Not surprising for a first try out, though a bit odd coming from a straight arrow television personality such as Jeff.

We kind of hit it off once he learned we had mutual friends and that I wrote scripts for the stage and sometimes for film. He came to see an early workshop of one of my plays at AHA! Theatre, and then sent me an email full of notes. Some were quite handy, some weren't. I replied defending certain parts of the play he thought I should change. He seemed shocked that I would defend my work, as if it weren't quite cricket somehow to accept certain notes and not others. It was the first time I sensed that he resented not being treated like the unquestionable and more successful older brother, which is how most people handled him.

Jeff moved to New York when his in-front-of-the-camera career took off after getting hired by FX . He continued to work on his screenwriting, though, even joining one of the many writers groups that exist in New York and Los Angeles to help the ubiquitous screenwriters who live in those cities hone their craft. He send me several drafts of something called Finder's Fee. After the fifth draft he sent, I told him I thought he should get off the shit pot and make it, since he clearly had the means to do so, if only as an independent. Again, he seemed shocked that I would dare to offer him advice, and he informed me that screenplays often went through twenty or more rewrites before getting made. Of course I knew this, and of course, I believed it to be absurd. To this day it strikes me as futile working so hard on something that producers, a director and finally, and most importantly, an editor are only going to remake with their vision in mind, not yours. (Hollywood, it seems, is a constant razor's-edge-ride between not being too naïve, while staying just naïve enough to believe in your own project's unique importance as well as your own unique importance to it.)

A few years passed. I moved to New York; Probst moved to Los Angeles. And some time in the Spring of 2000 he called to chat and let me know he'd be hosting a new show that set 12 people on a desert island and let them scrap among themselves to produce a winner. I congratulated him; said it sounded fun— a little weird and gimmicky— but fun. Again, he seemed put out that I wasn't totally gaga over the notion. Frankly, I kept it to myself that I thought it sounded like one of the worst ideas for a show I'd ever heard. I was sure it would tank. How wrong I was; and how right P. T. Barnum: "You'll never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."

The funny thing about Jeff, though, is, unlike Barnum, he doesn't see to really sit back and enjoy this fact. Case in point, a year or so later he was in New York with some mutual friends, and they were gracious enough to come see a play I wrote that happened at the time to be playing off-off Broadway. After the show, we all walked ten or so blocks to a bar in the theatre district. On the way I chatted with the pretty Asian chick Jeff brought. She seemed genuinely interested in my script, and being happily married, I assumed everyone knew I was no threat; but by the time we got to the place, I could tell Jeff was irritated that she'd spent so much time talking to me. Later, as about eight of us were jabbering over pitchers of beer I heard out of the corner of my ear Jeff saying to someone: "Yeah, he {meaning me} told me to stop writing."

I turned to him: "I never told you to stop writing, Jeff."

"Yeah you did. You told me to stop writing after I sent you a script for Finders Fee."

"No. I told you to stop writing and shoot-- to shit or get off the pot. I would never, never tell anyone to stop writing."

We left it at that. But thinking it over afterwards, I couldn't shake the feeling that Jeff resented me— supposing, I guess, that I looked down on him because I write plays and he writes movies and hosts blockbuster reality shows. In fact, I just wanted to shake him and say, "Every week you reach, for better or worse, 50 million people, whereas I'm lucky if I reach 50 people a night with my play that will only run for the next four weeks. Why should you ever feel threatened by me?"

The last I heard from Jeff was a year or so ago in a bcc email he must have sent to all his writer friends.

Here it is verbatim, since it speaks better for itself:

To: {bcc}
From: Jeff Probst
SUBJECT: help with Politically Incorrect topics :)

Doing Politically Incorrect on Thursday - so I'm sending this to you just in case you have a few minutes and want to share some pearls of wisdom with me that I will then take and make my own. I will take total credit for them and they will then become my pov from now on. Thank you.

1. The trend in workplaces is to allow mothers to take "flex-time" and leave the office to care for their young children. Is this fair?

2. "Space Tourist" Dennis Tito has returned from his trip. Do you applaud his choice? Should NASA have supported him? Did he spend his money wisely?

3. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has proposed the militarizing of space. In your opinion, is this a good idea?

4. The Canadian government has begun requiring tobacco companies to print on their cigarette packaging graphic images featuring the dangers cigarettes pose, such as a diseased mouth or a cancerous lung. Is this an acceptable tactic in the war on tobacco?

5. In the Bible, Jabez prays to God to "enlarge my territory." Some Christians have begun to use the prayer to ask God for material wealth. Is this appropriate?



Maybe I should feel lucky after all.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.