Two Survivor contestants have admitted that they manufactured harassment complaints in order to get a third contestant, who earnestly reported harassment, kicked off the show—all as an entire production team filmed the incidents and did nothing. While both of the women who made the false allegations have apologized for using sexual assault as a strategy for winning a game show, producers insist that they believed their decision to avoid interfering was the right call. But no one involved has acknowledged or apologized for the fact that a woman was goaded into reporting harassment and then punished for reporting while the man she accused was allowed to apologize and continue playing the game.
Survivor is a long-running CBS game show in which contestants stranded on a remote island lie to and manipulate one another for the chance of winning money. However, contestant Kellee Kim says she was not just playing the game when she accused a fellow contestant, Dan Spilo, of unwanted touching, including resting his hand on her knee, stroking her hair, and wrapping an arm around her while she slept. Kim’s complaints about Spilo began in the first week; the show is now on its eighth week.
Unfortunately, two other contestants, Missy Byrd and Elizabeth Beisel, used the harassment Kim reported as an opportunity to get Kim eliminated from the game. Byrd and Beisel told Kim that they had similar experiences with Spilo, when, in fact, they had not, giving Kim the false impression that she had allies:
“This isn’t just one person, it’s a pattern,” Kim said in a confessional interview. “It takes five people to be like, ‘Man, the way I’m feeling about this is actually real. It’s not in my head. I’m not overreacting to it.’”
Kim then complained to producers, who say they issued a “warning” to Spilo, though the terms of the warning were not disclosed. In an elimination ceremony, Byrd and Beisel helped to vote Kim off the island. The episode aired on Wednesday. On Thursday night, both issued apologies for getting too “caught up in gameplay,” following outrage from fans who correctly complained about sexual harassment being used as a tactic to bully a contestant off a game show.
Apart from contestants using false allegations as a gameplay tactic, a large group of people, including producers, a camera crew, production assistants, and fellow contestants allegedly heard—and filmed—Spilo’s behavior, as well as the false allegations, and considered it all part of the game.
Survivor host Jeff Probst said in a statement that all contestants, including Kim, said the game should proceed and that the network “did what we thought was right,” which was to give Spilo a warning, caution contestants about boundaries, and then allow Spilo, who was allowed to continue in the competition, to apologize as the newly voted-off Kim sat nearby.
Probst’s statement also seemed to imply that Survivor’s audience has a better understanding of what is happening on the island than the contestants or ostensibly the team in charge of ensuring contestants’ safety:
“When you’re living in a jungle where everyone is lying, it’s very hard to know who and what to believe. The audience has the benefit to see every conversation and in that context, the story is much clearer.”