When "Survivor" host (and torch-snuffer) Jeff Probst married Lisa Ann Russell last December, he got more than just a new wife — he also instantly became a stepfather to her two children with ex Mark-Paul Gosselaar, 8-year-old Michael and Ava, 6. It was this new role that inspired him to want to make the world a better place. And what better way to do so than with a daytime talk show ("The Jeff Probst Show," which debuts today in syndication) that reflects his philosophy: Life is an adventure, so make the most of it. After years of trying to develop the right kind of program, "It really started to shift when I got married and Lisa, my wife, brought in these two amazing kids who started calling me dad," Probst tells omg! from Yahoo!. "All of a sudden, my world opened so much wider and my world became so much more immense, and that combined with technology and the fact that we are living in a bona fide cultural revolution, that the globe is transforming, is what made me decide I want to be a part of the conversation."
Instead of featuring big celebrity interviews like Katie Couric is on her new daytime gab fest, Probst is focusing on inspiring stories from regular people that will move his audience. "I liken it to when you have a dinner party and you have 10 people over, and after dinner's over, a few of them leave, and the others stay behind," the 50-year-old explains. "This is the kind of conversation you have with those who stay behind. It bounces from one thing to another. And at the end of the night, you've talked about all kinds of things, and there's a theme to them. You're like, 'Wow, tonight was all about love, that's crazy all the stories that came out.'"
Each episode will have one common theme that unites all the stories covered. For example, one episode could include several features inspired by the word "bank": a bank teller, a bank robber, and a piggy bank. "I'm just looking for stories that engage you in some way, excite you, enrage you, or inspire you or educate you," notes Probst, who sent candy gift baskets to his fellow talk show competitors — Couric, Ricki Lake, and Steve Harvey — wishing them "sweet" success. "The attention span today, not only of myself but the audience, is so short that if you try to do one hour on the same topic you're never going to get out of the gate." Other segments include "Guys on the Couch," where men answer women's dating questions, and "Ambush Adventure," in which audience members are challenged to step outside their comfort zones by agreeing to do something to change their life before Probst tells them what it will be. (In one "Ambush Adventure," he makes a woman call her ex-boyfriend live on TV and ask him why he dumped her!) "If you say yes, you must complete the adventure," he explains. "If you don't, you disappoint not only me, but yourself."
"The Jeff Probst Show" is a family affair. Not only was it inspired by his stepchildren, but his new wife even works on the show as a talent coordinator. "She greets all the guests," says Probst. "And that was important to me because I want people to know I'm fully investing in this show. My wife works on it, and you'll get to know my wife, and hopefully she makes an impression that lets you know that you're in good hands and you're not ever going to be exploited or treated poorly. That we're good people trying to do an entertaining show, and that's it. Then, we decided we should put a camera up in her office and have her pipe in every so often … She's not a co-host, she's working her job, but she has opinions every so often."
In addition to his new talk show and new family, Probst is also juggling his hosting duties on "Survivor," which debuts its 25th season — yes, 25th season! — on September 19. Luckily for him, it tapes in the summer, while "The Jeff Probst Show" is set for the fall so they dovetail nicely. The past two summers since he and Russell got together, Probst has made the reality competition "a family adventure," bringing along Michael and Ava for taping. "They love it," he shares. "It is one of the greatest playgrounds any kid could ever imagine, to be on the set of 'Survivor' where you have challenges you can participate in, and you have a gigantic art department where you can go paint and build things, and then you have the ocean where you can learn to scuba dive or snorkel or get in a boat or just play in the water. And these kids just do it all. They attack it with zest, which reminds me of how lucky I am to have this job."
Michael and Ava have also reminded Probst how lucky he is to be their stepfather. The children, who call him "Dad," "do touching things all the time," he gushes. "And I love learning how to be a parent. I love that bond with them. They were young enough [when he and Russell got together in 2010], and they had been raised with such love in their life that they were open to another dad, and that is what was beautiful. They saw me as more love, there's nothing but goodness." Probst adds that he and Russell will likely not have children of their own. "There is not a part of me that is not fulfilled with these two little ones."