Case study: @JeffProbst and the Survivor virtual living room

Before I write anything about Survivor, let me get a few things out of the way. Yes, Survivor is still on the air. Yes, people still watch it. And yes, I am one of those people who have seen every episode of every season and will continue to watch until it goes off the air.

The tribe has spoken

*image courtesy of

One of the biggest reasons I’ve tuned in for 23 seasons is the host, Jeff Probst. He’s probably most well-known for delivering lines like “the tribe has spoken” while wearing his go-to outfit: khaki pants, blue button down shirt and a hat. But he’s more than just a catchphrase. He’s really, really good at his job. For example, during one tribal council last season a situation escalated and accusations of racism were thrown out. I was incredibly uncomfortable watching from home so I can’t imagine how tense it was around the fire. Probst handled the situation brilliantly.

If I sound like a fan girl, it’s because I am. In the last year, I’ve been really impressed with his decision to join Twitter and connect with fans in what he calls the “virtual living room.” Probst joined Twitter on his own accord and started live-tweeting during episodes as they aired last season. His tweets provided a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the world of Survivor, 140 characters at a time.

The response was overwhelming. CBS quickly took notice and capitalized on promoting Probst’s Twitter handle and encouraging fans to live-tweet along with him. This season Probst has upped the ante and added Tout to his social media repertoire. He uses Tout to expand his comments beyond the Twitter character limit. During commercial breaks, he posts 15- to 30-second video responses to questions from fans. The videos give a more personal feel to the virtual living room experience and a few fans each week get a shout out from the man himself. Pretty cool for us Survivor buffs.

I don’t have any exact data, but I would guess Probst’s social media efforts have helped combat the DVR effect. Obviously networks make money off of advertisers so they want viewers to watch live rather than DVR a show and skip over the commercials. I personally have changed my viewing habits and try to watch the show live whenever possible so I can experience it along with Probst. Of course the question remains to be answered whether or not Probst’s live-tweeting has resulted in new viewers or just made existing viewers more loyal. While the networks are ratings-driven, I truly believe Probst is in it to have fun and connect with anyone who shares his passion for Survivor.

Whether or not you are a Survivor fan, the virtual living room Probst has created is a great case study about the use of live-tweeting to connect with viewers and potentially combat the DVR effect. And it further reinforces Probst’s enthusiasm and dedication to the show and its followers.

Do you think live-tweeting can impact viewers’ behavior? Have you seen other examples where this tool has been implemented effectively? And more importantly, what’s your favorite Jeff Probst catchphrase? Cast your vote!


6 thoughts on “Case study: @JeffProbst and the Survivor virtual living room

  1. While I don’t watch Survivor, nor follow Probst on Twitter, you have an interesting post as always, Mel. I lean towards the idea Probst’s work on Twitter only sucks Survivor buffs in more. (Well, maybe it grabs more fringe/casual Survivor followers, but I think they are likely to consider themselves watchers of Survivor fans anyway.)

    I think one of many reasons American Idol has been so popular is because of the interaction it has with its fans; people feel like they are contributing to the program by texting their favorite performers. (So lame….) My initial thought is “live-tweeting” in the (pre-recorded) Survivor context only affects viewing habits of those folks that are Survivor buffs AND “contributors” to Twitter. (I am more of an observer/gather and only sporadically tweet my own thoughts, as you know.) If I am a fringe/casual fan of Survivor, I can still DVR the show and just read what Probst had to say later. So, live-tweeting is great for the big fan, but I doubt it attracts new followers.

    The best use of live-tweeting is during sporting events. I especially love it during games I may not be able to watch live (looking at you Lions v. Cowboys, or many Manchester City games). It’s great to see how people react to great plays, blunders and the emotions that sports conjure in people. Of course, I would be watching these games anyway. But, the more I think about it, live-tweets do affect actual viewership.

    If I see tweets that a game is getting interesting, or crazy things are happening, I am likely to turn the channel to watch that particular game (if possible). I’ve personally done this with college football games that I was not watching (i.e., Notre Dame v. Michigan), and during Major League Baseball’s amazing final night of the regular season last week.

    I think this also works in the news realm. If you see something crazy is going on (like, Bin Laden being killed), I think you are likely to turn on Fox, CNN, MSNBC, etc. (Well, maybe not Fox if you are a Commie, or MSNBC if you are a Fascist! Lol.)

    My sports and news examples may be unique compared to other television programs. Most TV I watch are syndicated shows, so I can’t contribute much to the conversation about how live-tweeting can impact viewership of other current, popular programs!

    • I completely agree about the impact of live-tweeting during sports games. As my followers well know, I am constantly tweeting during NFL games. I love the interaction with other fans and it really does feel like a virtual living room – like we’re all on the “couch” together cheering on the Colts (or whoever is playing at the time). And in situations where I can’t watch the game but I can follow tweets, it helps me feel like I am right there with them.

      In your case, with City being overseas and the games not always being shown here, I can definitely see how it would help you feel more connected to the team and your fellow fans.

      Also, you should probably start blogging because your comment was about as long as my original post 🙂

  2. Nice post Melanie. I try not to follow celebrities on Twitter, but I might have to make an exception for Probst. You are right – he is incredibly good at his job. I usually DVR just about everything, sometimes even sporting events and then I avoid Twitter and Facebook until I’ve seen the show/event I’ve recorded.

    I haven’t seen Probst’s tweets and stuff, but I will check it out, even though I’ll still watch via DVR. (I’m not at home on Wednesdays during Survivor and with a 2-year-old, DVRs are essential!)

    My favorite catchphrase: “[Insert tribe name], I’ve got nothing for ya.”

    • Thanks for the comment Ryan! I have a lot of favorite Probst-isms but I have to say I love his running commentary during the challenges the most. There was one in particular where a player was getting annoyed with Jeff’s comments and Jeff said something along the lines of “and Jonathan is getting frustrated with me” as part of his play-by-play analysis. It was hilarious and a good example of how much the host makes the show.

  3. Such a good post! Love your take on the marketing/advertising side of things. It’s a really smart way to use social media – having it actually be relevant AND interactive.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts Lisa! As a Survivor fan and a self-professed Twitter addict, I thought it made for an interesting case example. I’m sure we’ll see more and more examples like this as social media continues to provide an easy way to engage audiences.

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