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‘Survivor’ Host Jeff Probst Admits He Had a Gender Bias in Early Seasons: ‘I’m Very Much Aware of It Now’

Living and learning. Jeff Probst admitted during the Survivor: Winners at War finale that he now realizes he had a gender bias in early seasons of the CBS reality show.

Related: ‘Survivor: Winners at War’ Cast Members Then and Now

During Tribal Council on the Wednesday, May 13, episode, contestant Sarah Lacina explained that she felt her efforts in the competition were not recognized in the same way as her “Cops ‘R’ Us” ally, Tony Vlachos, due to her gender.

“If a woman in this game lies or cheats or steals, she’s fake and phony and a bitch,” a visibly emotional Sarah, 35, explained. “If a guy does it, it’s good gameplay. … It’s a gender bias. It holds me back. It holds other women back from playing the game the way we should be playing the game.”

After Jeff, 58, praised the “beautiful” and “powerful” cultural shift in the game’s later seasons, he asked Tony, 46, and Ben Driebergen to share their thoughts on Sarah’s comments.

“I see it in real life. I see it in my work place. I see it everywhere,” the Jersey City, New Jersey, police officer said. The Marine Corps veteran, 37, added, “I know that women can do anything that a man can do, especially in Survivor. … I think everyone needs to respect women because they’re all our mothers and they’re our daughters, and that’s what we’ve got to sit back and realize.”

Survivor Jeff Probst Admits He Had a Gender Bias in Early Seasons
Jeff Probst on the three-hour season finale of Survivor. CBS

Related: Biggest ‘Survivor’ Controversies Through the Years

The TV host agreed, telling the cast, “I am certain if I look back at all of the comments I have made over 20 years, I would find the exact same bias in me — who I call by last names. Guys have different relationships with each other, and I might not know how to have that relationship with a woman.”

He continued, “I’ll definitely own the fact that I don’t think I saw it when Survivor started, and I don’t think I even knew I was supposed to look for it. But I’m very much aware of it now, and I’m grateful that we can open up and investigate, even though it comes with crisis or it comes with hardship or it comes with some tears. Whatever it is, it’s out there and it’s being talked about.”

Sarah then joked, “You can start calling me Lacina,” which put a smile on Jeff’s face.

Related: ‘Survivor: Winners at War’ Cast Reveals All

After the finale aired, the Emmy winner opened up to Entertainment Weekly about his decision to address his past bias and include the moment in the three-hour episode.

“I’ve been with Survivor for 20 years and I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way,” he told the magazine. “I also hope that I’ve changed, grown and matured throughout the years. I’m not the same person I was when I started with the show in 2000. I’ve learned so much from these players. These kinds of personal moments with the players come up from time to time where I feel it’s appropriate for me to inject my own story into the game. Gender bias is something that has become such an important topic that this one felt it was timely and relevant for many reasons. I’m grateful to Sarah for bringing up the topic. It gave me the opportunity to address my own life lessons!”

Tony won the $2 million grand prize at the end of Wednesday’s finale, defeating Natalie Anderson and Michele Fitzgerald.

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