‘Jeff Probst,’ here’s a talker who delivers
Longtime reality show host excels in getting people to open up
October 1, 2012
When syndicators are looking for a celebrity to host a daytime talk show, they usually want someone who's relatable, or funny, or inspiring. They often forget to find someone who can talk. Specifically, a host should be able to pose pointed questions and react intelligently to the answers.
After hosting "Survivor" for 25 seasons, Jeff Probst has honed those skills. In every episode he manages to draw out surprising or damning responses from the contestants at the tribal councils. Although those segments benefit from editing, he has also revealed surprising glibness and wit in the live series finales.
Probst's verbal facility is the chief strength of his new syndicated daytime talk show "The Jeff Probst Show." When he gets an interesting guest or subject, the show takes off. When the guest is inarticulate or the subject fails to gel, Probst spins things a little harder. The show makes a day at home a little less dull.
When Probst doesn't have a celebrity as guest, he builds the episode around a loose theme. Last Wednesday's episode asked viewers whether they could live like some people with odd lifestyles.
The first guest was a married woman who said that everything she has bought in the last five years has been secondhand. (Probst didn't ask if that includes food.) She also said she spent only $159 on her wedding. The second segment featured four former college friends who have been sharing an apartment for the last 18 years. The third featured a woman living in an 84-square-foot house that she built herself.
Probst said the frugal guests were making him feel guilty about his own expenditures: "There's a part of me that's frustrated that I won't go try that," he told the woman in the tiny house. "Because I'm not gonna try that."
Thursday's episode was mostly devoted to the actor Jon Cryer. Probst got him to open up about his co-star Charlie Sheen's meltdown and about dry spells in his career — at one point, Newsweek called Cryer a "show killer." Probst shared his own anguish after he received scathing reviews for co-hosting the Emmys.
Cryer's wife, the entertainment reporter Lisa Joyner, came onstage and mentioned that when she and Cryer were first dating, she suspected he was gay.
Friday's episode had the general theme of cheating. Probst interviewed a woman who got a job by falsely claiming she had attended college, a man who sued the guy with whom his wife had an affair and, the farthest fetched of all, a man who robbed 10 banks after he lost his job as a commodities trader.
Probst worked hardest in this episode. The résumé inflater was inarticulate, so he kept framing her responses with vivid metaphors: Putting words in her mouth, he said that when her "web of lies" began to fall apart, she felt a "noose slowly tightening."
When the deceived husband's teenage daughter said she doesn't speak to her mother, the audience applauded. Probst explained that they were applauding her strength and not the general concept of cutting off family members. He also pointed out that in each story, the cheater wound up destroying a relationship with a loved one.
Each episode ended with two regular segments: "Guys on the Couch" and "Ambush Adventure." In the first, two average Joes answer women's questions about men. One woman asked whether men prefer a pretty face and a nice smile or a good body. Another asked if looking at Internet pornography counts as cheating.
In each of the three shows reviewed, a woman asked how to deal with a boyfriend who seemed reluctant to commit, and in all three cases, the panelists replied that the guy just wasn't that into her.
In the "Ambush Adventure," the woman has to accept or reject the adventure before she knows what it is. Though it sounds as if the show were offering a "Survivor"-like vacation — one woman hopefully asked whether she could bring a friend along — in all three episodes, Probst merely challenged the women who had asked about their commitment-phobe boyfriends to phone the men. One was told to break up with the guy; the others simply had to ask what's what.
The show makes a point of taking us behind the scenes. Leading up to the commercial breaks, the show sometimes plays outtakes or what would normally be off-camera moments. We saw Probst telling a woman how to rephrase her question about erectile dysfunction so that it could be aired on TV.
In an occasional segment called "The Jury," Probst discusses how the show went with his producers. One producer pointed out that none of the lifestyles in Wednesday's episode would work for people with children. Probst admitted he should have brought that up.
After Wednesday's first segment, Probst even asked the audience for a round of applause if they thought the segment was interesting. It's difficult to discern if they were being polite.
Still, that's a refreshing change from what seems to be an ironclad rule of daytime talk: Every segment must be presented as if it were hot news or something that could change your life.
One of the girlfriends in the segment about the guy's group house offered the insight that "expectations diminish joy." Probst never raises our expectations too high, but he delivers more than most of his daytime rivals.
Tags: Ambush Adventure, audience, charlie sheen, entertainment, jeff probst, jeff probst show review, Last Wednesday, Lisa Joyner, new syndicated talk shows, own, people, producer, raises, review jeff probst show, syndicated talk shows, talk show, the jeff probst show, tv, viewers
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