Pop Culture

‘Survivor’ host Jeff Probst isn’t omniscient

Wondering about how a certain reality show pulled something off? Have a question about a certain contestant?

Whether it's “Survivor,” “American Idol,” “The Apprentice,” “Real World” or another show, send in your questions. Andy Dehnart, msnbc.com's Television Editor and creator of Reality Blurred, will try to answer them.

Q: I've noticed on "Survivor," during the Tribal Council, that (host) Jeff Probst seems to know a lot of what's going on during that day/two-day time between councils. Is someone spying on the teams and feeding him questions? He seems to ask very contestant-appropriate questions to put them on the hot seat. Brad, Pittsburgh

A: Someone does spy on the contestants. As much fun as it would be to imagine Jeff Probst hiding in the bushes, watching the teams, it's not him. Instead, the show's producers are constantly present when the tribes are at their beaches and elsewhere. They're also the people who interview the cast one on one, so they know everything.

They share information with Jeff so he's aware of what's going on before Tribal Council. That's how he knows what to ask about beyond what he's witnessed at the challenges. However, the producers don't necessarily tell Jeff everything, so he isn't at risk of spilling a major secret. They do, however, give him an idea of the narrative arc of the past three days — each episode — so he can ask questions that viewers might be asking in their living rooms.

In addition, Jeff talks to the cast for much longer than we see on TV, sometimes for an hour or more, so the questions we see on TV may be follow-ups or responses to revelations that come from other contestants. Any of that would be, of course, fair game.

Jeff has talked about his Tribal Council role in interviews in the past. During the Fiji season, he told the AP that there's "a fine line I walk. The line is being a moderator on the show and being an instigator. That fine line is when you start influencing the game too much. It's always a judgment call. It's never really any formal discussion about it. We all know that line. There's a lot of trust in me to not step over it. I'm sure at times I do, and I have. I'm sure there are times when I've been too heavy-handed or hard on somebody. I usually can justify it in my head."

And during the China season, he said that he wouldn't ever intentionally reveal secrets. Producers, he told AOL, will "tell me like that their camp burnt down or whatever, but I don't always know a lot of stuff. I think that's what gives me the freedom to ask questions with reckless abandonment ... if you're dumb enough to tell me something certainly I'm going to take it. But I would never, if I knew something about somebody, I would never out them ever."

Q: How are the celebrities selected to participate in "Dancing With the Stars"? Are the previous seasons of "Dancing With the Stars" coming out on DVD anytime soon? — Blanca, Sacramento, Calif.

A: Unlike other reality shows where potential cast members send in videotapes or attend open casting calls, celebrities don't go through the same process. Instead, producers consider which celebrities would be good and offer them (or their agents) positions on the show. Sometimes, it works in reverse, as celebrities or quasi-celebrities express interest in the show and approach the producers.

Heather Mills was actually cast as the result of an incorrect rumor. A tabloid reported that she had been cast for the show, which she had not. In the show's official book, its executive producer, Conrad Green, said, "We read a false story in a British tabloid ... that got us thinking that she would be a great story, and really inspiring to watch. ... We put out an offer and were astonished when she said yes."

By the way, the sixth season's cast was recently announced, and includes Adam Carolla, Cristian De La Fuente, Shannon Elizabeth, Steve Guttenberg, Penn Jillette, Mario, Marlee Matlin, Priscilla Presley, Monica Seles, Jason Taylor, Marissa Jaret Winokur and Kristi Yamaguchi. The new season debuts next Monday.

As to your other question, there are no plans right now for "Dancing" seasons to be released on DVD. However, there is a "Dancing With the Stars: Cardio Dance" DVD that features Maksim Chmerkovskiy, Ashly Costa and Kym Johnson teaching dances from the show. There are also instructional DVDs from judge Len Goodman ("Dance With Len Goodman") and Alec Mazo and Edyta Sliwinska ("Dancing Like the Pros").

Q: Why didn't Tommy Hilfiger's "The Cut" return for another season? I thought it was one of the most interesting realty programs on TV. — Deb G., Groton, N.Y.

A: The CBS reality show aired in the summer of 2005, and since the show featured designers, the show was at first thought to be a clone of "Project Runway." But it turned out to be a bad clone of "The Apprentice," with a bland host in Tommy Hilfiger. In other words, not many people liked the show has much as you did.

The series was low-rated and wasn't critically acclaimed, so it wasn't renewed. While the show debuted with 6.59 million viewers, it lost a million viewers by its second episode, and then another half million fled by the time the third episode aired.

CBS tried to help the show by moving it around the schedule, but it performed badly in both its first two timeslots, so it was finally moved to Friday nights, where bad TV shows go to die.

is a writer and teacher who publishes , a daily summary of reality TV news.

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