Emmy secret revealed: Why 'Survivor' host Jeff Probst is unbeatable
Unless TV's current crop of reality hosts can find a way to step up their games, Jeff Probst will keep stomping over them at the Emmys. In the four years since the reality host category was created, the "Survivor" guru has triumphed every time, most recently at Saturday's Creative Arts ceremony. Every year, this is his award to lose, and the explanation for why that is so is simple: Probst takes hosting to the next level.
Just look at Probst's most recent Emmy-winning episode submission, titled "Rice Wars." After a fight breaks out at the contestant's camp over the consumption of rice, one survivor actually accuses another of racism. The discussion quickly grows heated, and when they all attend tribal council at the end of the episode, Probst oversees the argument with intelligence and grace. He takes the opportunity to act as the jungle therapist and allows the fighting contestants to find common ground. It's remarkable television to watch.
If you stack up Probst's work against the other contenders in the reality hosting field, you'll find it's like comparing Emmys to oranges. Three of this year's losing nominees — Ryan Seacrest ("American Idol"), Tom Bergeron ("Dancing With the Stars") and Cat Deeley ("So You Think You Can Dance") — are known for overseeing live shows and instructing viewers on what phone numbers to dial. They rarely if ever interact deeply with contestants, and they certainly never have to mediate between hungry, weak, feuding participants.
This year's other nominee was Phil Keoghan, who comes from Emmy magnet "The Amazing Race. "Even though that show won the top reality Emmy seven years in a row, Keoghan has yet to prevail. If Probst weren't in the running, Keoghan would have a good shot at the prize against the others. But as it stands now, the globe-trotting host spends most of his on-camera time telling contestants what place they're in or explaining the rules of challenges to the audience. Hardly riveting television, or even memorable.
Strange as it seems, Probst's biggest competition for this award is a man who's never even been nominated by the Emmys, though he did win the precusor Critics Choice Television Award in this same race. His name is Mike Rowe, and he gets down and dirty on Discovery Channel's aptly named "Dirty Jobs." On that show, Rowe travels America searching for — and participating in — some of the strangest, grimiest jobs you can think of, and he does it all with a sense of humor. Television critics see in Rowe the same thing that Emmy voters have seen in Probst the last four years: a host's ability to completely take control of unusual situations.
With "Survivor: South Pacific" starting up this week, Probst is about to oversee yet another season of network TV's longest-running reality show. If the other hosting candidates don't greatly improve this year, we can expect Probst to take the stage in 2012 to accept Emmy No. 5.
— Tom O'Neil
Photos: Jeff Probst in the "Rice Wars" episode of "Survivor." Photo credit: CBS.