RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Now we'll hear about some folks who've made a career out of creating extreme challenges. We're talking about the team behind the reality show "Survivor." Tonight on CBS is the premiere of "Survivor: Samoa." It's the 19th time host Jeff Probst is taking tribes of contestants to a gorgeous, remote location where they will vote each other off - until one of them wins a million dollars. Reporter Andy Dehnart went to Samoa with the "Survivor" team and has this report.
ANDY DEHNART: "Survivor" challenges can be giant obstacle courses, violent brawls, complex puzzles, or blindfolded mazes. Host Jeff Probst says they're a critical part of the show.
Mr. JEFF PROBST (Host, "Survivor"): These are games that look kind of basic and funny looking and they're made from wood, and there's some paint on them, put a little fire. But when you add $1 million and you say you're tribe red and you're tribe black, instantly you have adversaries, and you have something to fight for.
DEHNART: Their winners get prizes or safety from being voted out, and the challenges create drama.
Mr. PROBST: If somebody's down and they win, they get excited, that's great. If somebody's happy and they lose and they disintegrate, that's better.
DEHNART: It all started months before the show tapes, when challenge producer John Kirhoffer and his team went to Samoa's to scout locations from a helicopter. Back in their LA office, they brainstorm ideas, sketch concepts and create mock-ups. John Kirhoffer can predict exactly how his challengers will test and provoke the contestants.
Mr. DAVE BURRIS (Executive Producer, "Survivor: Samoa"): John looks like a camp counselor. He acts like a camp counselor with sort of a sadistic streak, but he's actually sort of a genius.
DEHNART: That's executive producer Dave Burris. He oversees the show and the roughly 350 person international crew, from the challenge team's brainstorming in LA to construction on location.
(Soundbite of power saw)
DEHNART: In Samoa, the art department is set up near a rocky beach that's surrounded by jungle. It's like a rugged Santa's workshop and there's stuff everywhere. Shelves are lined with supplies and paint, and piles of lumber and log lie nearby and carpenters sweat underneath tents. Tonight's debut episode of "Survivor: Samoa" has an immunity challenge that was built to be epic but simple. Kirhoffer explains.
Mr. KIRHOFFER: So it's kind of like three stages 0 you know, get over the wall, pull the chest up, and then a puzzle.
DEHNART: After the wall, ramp and chest are built, painted and assembled, the crew is not finished. They run through the challenge themselves, rehearsing it to make sure it works.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Man: Morning, guys…
DEHNART: When the 20 contestants finally show up on day three of production, they stare at what the challenge team has created for them. The course is set up between coconut palm trees wrapped in bright yellow and purple fabric. Here's how it will sound on TV tonight.
Mr. PROBST: You will use that rope to pull a heavy crate to the finish platform, where the four remaining tribe members disassemble the crate…
DEHNART: On TV, they'll take off running seconds later, but at the shoot in Samoa, the cameras are turned off. The tribes are separated, and Jeff Probst has a long, private conversation with each tribe as they walk along the course.
Mr. PROBST: And we let them ask any questions they have, and side by side with me is John Kirhoffer, the challenge producer, making sure I'm not doing something wrong or forgetting something, and also our CBS standards and practices person, and his job is to make sure that I say the same thing to both tribes.
DEHNART: Finally, after months of planning, five weeks of construction and the work of more than 50 people, the survivors are ready to go.
(Soundbite of shouting)
DEHNART: It took them about half an hour to run the challenge but it will be on TV for just two minutes. The hard work, extensive planning and attention to detail on the challenges are a critical part of "Survivor"'s success.
Mr. PROBST: We have money to make these things look good.
DEHNART: Host Jeff Probst again.
Mr. PROBST: And I watch some of these other reality shows and think, oh my God, I mean, they're doing it literally with tin cans and some string, and there's a little red flag they got at Home Depot. Now we build everything out here, and that's why it looks so good and that's why it feels so good, and they're epic.
DEHNART: Two challenges tonight, about two dozen more to go in "Survivor"'s 19th season.
For NPR News, I'm Andy Dehnart.
MONTAGNE: Get a sneak peek of "Survivor: Samoa." It's at our Web site, npr.org.
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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