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Jeff Probst calls seating two quitters on the 'Survivor' jury 'a tough pill to swallow'

December 2, 2010 |  3:29 pm

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We hear you, "Survivor" nation, and we feel your pain: No way, no how should NaOnka Mixon and Kelly Shinn be sitting on the jury that will pick this season's winner after they both up and quit -- for seemingly no good reason.

But there are reasons behind the jungle madness, and we'll get to those in a moment. But first, let's hear from host and executive producer Jeff Probst what it was like to lead that insane, precedent-setting Tribal Council.

"Invigorating! I love it," Probst said in an interview Thursday. "First of all because of the rain. Nothing makes me happier when I see the designs for Tribal Council and there’s no roof. So the rain, No. 1, was great. And No. 2, I love it when it’s not predictable. I love going into Tribal Council when there’s a huge question of what’s going to happen. You’re thinking as you go and reacting to what happened because we have another plan in place if they both decided to stay. Which is: guess what? Thanks to you guys, somebody’s going home, so take your pens out. From a show point of view, it doesn’t really matter. It’s all compelling."

The ever-controversial NaOnka and the unassuming Purple Kelly had been complaining for days that they were tired of the game and wanted to leave -- but that didn't set off any alarms for the show's producers.

"Almost every day, there’s someone in an interview who says I don’t know if I can do it anymore," Probst said. "It happens on a daily basis. So it doesn’t register really. It’s normal to feel that. It’s really hard. And when it starts pouring down rain and you’re left with a spoonful of rice, it’s not surprising that people say 'I don’t know.' So it’s not that big of a deal and, especially with NaOnka. At 9 in the morning, she’ll say one thing and at 10:30, she’s doing something completely different. So we didn’t really pay that much attention to it, because you just never know."

Before "Survivor: Nicaragua," only five people had quit the game, but three of them, says Probst, had his sympathy because of extenuating circumstances. Jenna Morasca left the "All-Stars" edition to be with her mother, who was dying. Sue Hawk also quit "All-Stars" because she couldn't tolerate another second with Richard Hatch. And the producers encouraged Kathy Sleckman to go home after she experienced serious mental difficulties.

"Those were all extenuating circumstances," Probst said. "There really haven't been many people who dropped it and said 'I'm done!' " The only two were Osten [Taylor] in Pearl Islands and Janu [Tornell] in Palau."

It's because of Tornell that the "Survivor" nation is seething today. Because producers allowed her to serve on the "Palau" jury, and this season is already in the jury-seating phase, the producers were forced to seat NaOnka and Purple Kelly on this jury.

"That was a tough pill for us to swallow too," Probst said. "But there was no other decision. The problem was that we had set a precedent. Janu was allowed to stay on the jury and she had a vote. If I’m say, Sash, and I’m in alliance with them and I make it to the end, and I lose by two votes, I'd have a pretty good case that if we did what we did before and let them stay, I would have won.

"So as much as we didn’t like it, it was the right thing to do," Probst said. "The question now is do we change the rules and tell people before the next season starts that if you quit, your prize is in jeopardy, and we reserve the right to keep you in the jury. Then it’s fair. Then we’re telling you upfront that if we don’t need you on the jury, you’re going home."

As mad as "Survivor" fans may be about it, no one was more upset than three castaways already serving on the jury, Probst said.

"The people on the jury are mad and rightly so," Probst said. "And they’re saying, 'Why don’t you put us back in the game?' But we can’t do that. We love the idea of somebody coming back in the game but that’s a rule you have to put in early. You can’t just change it in the middle of the season."

If anything good has come from the unexpected departures, it's that the outcome is going to be impossible to predict.

"I’m sure NaOnka and Purple Kelly got a bit of a rude welcome at Ponderosa, but this group did seem to recover quickly," Probst said. "It was nice to see a group of people that even though they’ll have some bitter things to say at the final Tribal, it feels like it’s setting up to have a finish where there’s a jury that’s actually going to reward the person who played the best and not penalize the person they hate the most. Which happens sometimes and is really disappointing. But I get the feeling that even though NaOnka is going to get a rude awakening when she arrives at Ponderosa, I don’t think the final vote will be informed in a way that will penalize the person that deserves to win."

The sole "Survivor" will be named on Dec. 19.

--Maria Elena Fernandez
Twitter.com/writerchica

Photo: Jeff Probst's face says it all, as he snuffs out the torch of the night's second quitter. Credit: CBS

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