When Reality TV Becomes Reality: Survivor’s #MeToo Moment

For fans of the competition reality TV show, Survivor, it has been a rough week, to say the least. In its most recent episode that aired last Wednesday, one female contestant, Kellee Kim, expressed her discomfort with fellow contestant, Dan Spiro, touching her inappropriately to producers and other women on the tribe. He was issued a warning, and each of the contestants was talked to about personal boundaries. However, two other female contestants, Missy Byrd and Elizabeth Beisel, then used Kellee's discomfort as a strategy to vote her out. All of this then blew up when they went to a tribal council at the end of the episode where host, Jeff Probst, led them in a discussion about the incident. Look, this situation is very complicated, and I think the best thing for everyone reading this article to do is watch it themselves. You can watch clips of it here, or watch the full episode on CBS. Also, this article by The Ringer explains the incident in great detail. Please be warned that if you choose to watch the episode, it does handle issues of sexual harassment, so viewer discretion is advised. 

Both Missy and Elizabeth have issued apologies on Twitter, as well as another contestant, Aaron Meredith, for comments he made at the tribal council. No statement has been given by Dan. Many fans of the show were left horrified and distraught after witnessing this two-hour episode. The two contestants who went home were Kellee, one of the main women uncomfortable with Dan, and Jamal Shipman, one of the few contestants to actually speak out about the situation, while Dan still remains in the game. Many are angry at production for not pulling Dan out of the game, especially considering that this has been an issue presented to the audience since episode one of this season.

This two-hour episode of reality television is so awful and disgusting to watch because it mimics what happens in the real world in such a horrifying way. Kellee felt powerless in the way Dan was touching her body. She was then kicked out of the game, silenced from even being apart of the tribal council in which they discussed Dan's unsettling behavior. Missy and Elizabeth worked to set women back by playing up their discomfort as a strategy and then reassured Dan that he had done nothing wrong. There have now been articles with headlines like "two Survivor contestants make a false allegation against another male contestant," further perpetuating the idea that women make up stories of sexual harassment and assault against men to ruin them. Janet Carbin, the one woman who actually tried to help Kellee and the rest of the women by attempting to vote out Dan, was demonized by some members of the tribe for going too far and smearing Dan's image. One of the men, Aaron, even said that if something really happened, then he and the rest of the men would have known about it. This is when Jamal speaks up and calls him out for his hurtful statement. Dan, despite being warned about his behavior, seemed shocked this was being brought up and gave an apology that had a lot of "I'm sorry if you felt that way" statements. And then there's production. Despite all the evidence and statements from the women about how uncomfortable they were, they decided to not pull Dan from the game. They asked Kellee if she would like them to do anything, but the decision should not have been left to her. Former contestant, Nick Maiorano, explained this well in a tweet he sent out: "A third-party with authority is crucial for a player's entire well-being. Despite medevaced players telling producers they were fine, the doctor has authority on physical health. The psychologist should have authority on mental health. If just, the cause would be removed." Now, Dan is still in the game, while Kellee has been voted out and is now on the jury. There comes the problem that if Dan gets voted out, he will also be in the jury with Kellee.

The Survivor community has been in disarray following this episode. Many are heartbroken, enough that some do not even feel that they can finish the season. They are disgusted with the lack of action production took to remove Dan from the game. Some are former victims of harassment/assault and were triggered watching the episode. With Dan still in the game, this situation is left up in the air and will be the elephant in the room for the rest of this season.One way that I have been trying to grapple to this situation is by listening to hours of my favorite Survivor podcast, Rob Has a Podcast. Host and former Survivor contestant, Rob Cesternino, has welcomed many women and experts on sexual assault this week to speak on their experiences and try to make sense of what happened. He released a very insightful and important episode on educating and preventing harassment which you can listen to here.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with sexual harassment or assault please visit  rainn.org for resources and help.