From the premier of Survivor: Island of the Idols, Kellee Kim was my favorite competitor. Maybe it’s really good editing; maybe it’s an Astrology thing (I love Libras); maybe she’s a naturally charming woman with innate likability that makes her ideal for reality TV show casting. Soon enough, she hid an immunity idol in her hair, and I — like many other viewers — knew we were watching an early front runner. So to watch her get eliminated — two hidden immunity idols in her pocket — should have been a kind of familiar agony for any fan of reality TV competitions. Instead, Survivor producers made the decision to embed her elimination in the middle of a two-hour special showing how she was voted out as backlash after she repeatedly voiced complaints about another player’s inappropriate behavior. As of last night’s episode, that player — Dan Spilo — is still in the competition, and viewers (like me!) have been highly critical of pretty much everything about the situation.
Dan Spilo, a film producer, has had all of his social media accounts locked for months now. In terms of the allegations against him, it’s pretty cut-and-dried: since the first episode of this season, he’s been filmed playfully touching the younger women on the show on their faces, legs, and hips, including Kellee Kim. From the first episode of the show, Kellee has been outspoken about her discomfort with Dan’s flirtatious contact, even though any sort of rocking-the-boat is a risky move in a game show that’s essentially a Lord of the Flies-style popularity contest.
The second tribal council in last night’s two-hour episode was mainly focused on the behavior of the remaining women on the island — especially Janet, who rallied in support of Kellee to vote off Dan. The key to Kellee’s elimination was the strategic decision of several women who choose to play both sides. Viewers on social media have expressed huge disappointment in not just Dan’s behavior, but the behavior of contestants Elizabeth and Missy.
The way the other contestants reacted to the accusations against Dan is upsetting, but not surprising. If your life has been impacted by sexual violence, victim blaming and wishy-washy support are the status quo when it comes to the aftermath, particularly when the accused is a rich Hollywood producer. What surprises me is that, for twenty days, a man can be filmed repeatedly touching a woman who is vocally uncomfortable about it, and it takes her emotional breakdown on camera for anyone to intervene.
Survivor producers intervened on the situation the day Kellee was eliminated by issuing Dan a formal warning for his misconduct, and they also “met with all the players, both as a group and individually, [to be] cautioned about personal boundaries.” Two days later, at tribal elimination, Dan claimed to be oblivious to his own behavior (behavior that had been called out repeatedly to his face), and stated his regrets:
I work in an industry in which the #MeToo movement was formed and allowed — thank God — to blossom and become powerful and strong. My personal feeling is if anyone ever felt for a second uncomfortable about anything I’ve ever done, I’m horrified about that and I’m terribly sorry.
He delivered this non-apology while avoiding making eye contact with Kellee, eliminated as a contestant but now a juror, who was required to sit there in silence, listening to him.
This is at least the third time that a woman has made accusations of sexual misconduct against a male competitor on Survivor and immediately left the show because of it — see Ghandia Johnson and Sue Hawk. Kellee’s real discomfort, pain, and humiliation that she lived in for twenty days — all of which she currently has to relive right now for an audience of millions — was parlayed by CBS into a two-hour PR move in order to look woke in the wake of #MeToo.
It’s more than frustrating to watch. And if this situation can play out in the open — surrounded by peers and an major-network TV crew, to a smart, outspoken woman who can call out creepy behavior while also kicking ass in abject dystopia — imagine all that happens that goes unchecked, regardless of if it’s witnessed.