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Published: September 17, 2008Survivor: Gabon
Photo: Jeff Probst

Jeff Probst: The Survivalist

Filming Survivor in Gabon brought charging elephants, leopards in the catering tent, and the potential for new tourism to the central African nation.

Text by Andrew Burmon
Photograph courtesy of Jeffrey R. Staab / CBS

A cloud of malarial mosquitoes is never kind. Jeff Probst knows this, having spent the better part of three months inside one in Gabon to film the 17th season of Survivor. So before he takes the stage at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles to emcee the 2008 Emmy Awards this Sunday (September 21), Probst may spend a little extra time in the makeup room. Don’t blame him. Blame the Wonga-Wongue.

Probst has been living in the remote Wonga-Wongue Presidential Reserve, a tract of rain forest on the coast of the central African nation of Gabon. The park, which was established through the efforts of National Geographic's Explorer-in-Residence Mike Fay, attracted an advance team for Mark Burnett, the reality television hegemon. Untouched beaches, roaming gorillas, impenetrable jungle—if they could just get Probst and the cameras in place, the season was bound to be a success. But reality has a way of impeding Hollywood's best laid plans. The very inaccessibility that makes Wonga-Wongue a perfect place for a reserve also makes it the most difficult conceivable setting for a television show. After accidents, mishaps, and few close calls, it fell to Probst to get the production back on its feet. No easy task in knee-deep mud.

This Thursday, when Survivor: Gabon: Earth’s Last Eden finally debuts on CBS, audiences across America will probably be too caught up in another season of treachery and action to give a second thought to all that went into the show's production. That's just fine by Probst. It is supposed to look easy. ADVENTURE spoke with Probst about the 17th season while he was stationed in Libreville, Gabon.

ADVENTURE: What are your impressions of Gabon so far?

Jeff Probst: I never knew Africa looked like this. I was raised with the image of acacia trees and hot days. We’ve done a season in Kenya, so that was my impression. But here we have these wide-open green savannas, thick jungle, and we're sitting right on the coast. In retrospect, Kenya feels like going to the zoo. The animals here aren't acclimatized to Range Rovers, so when you come across a family of elephants, it's a big damn deal. Some of the people have seen the surfing hippos, but I haven't yet.

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