Female ‘Survivor’ Contestants Apologize After #MeToo Backlash


A pair of female “Survivor” contestants say they’re sorry for taking advantage of a third woman’s complaints about unwanted physical contact in order to advance in the game.

The apologies came after a two-hour Wednesday night episode of the popular CBS show, in which the women said that a male contestant had touched them inappropriately. The show’s producers got involved and issued the man, Dan Spilo, a formal warning, but, in a Machiavellian twist, the two accusers admitted to using the situation to oust the other, Kellee Kim.

On Thursday night, after a fan backlash, the two contestants, Missy Byrd and Elizabeth Beisel, issued lengthy apologies online.

“I became so caught up in game play that I did not realize a very serious situation, nor did I handle it with the care that it deserved,” Ms. Byrd said on Twitter. Sexual harassment and sexual assault “have no business being used as tactics to further one’s own agenda,” Ms. Beisel said.

Their actions left many fans disappointed with how the contestants and producers handled the complaints on the show, which is unspooling a carefully edited story line after several weeks of filming this year on an island of Fiji. The winner of this 39th season, “Island of Idols,” will be revealed in December.

“For the first time ever, I think I’m going to stop watching the show,” Eliza Orlins, a former “Survivor” contestant, said on Twitter. “I’m done with this season. I have friends on season 40 so I’ll pick it back then, but honestly, I’m out after tonight. This felt … really gross.”

During the show, the producers said that they had met with the contestants individually and collectively to caution them against violating personal boundaries, and to issue Mr. Spilo a formal “warning,” the consequences of which were not clear.

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Credit…Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment

“We spent more time and consideration on this question than anything I’ve ever been involved with in my entire career,” Jeff Probst, the show’s host and executive producer, said in a statement.

In a separate statement, CBS and MGM, which owns the company that produces the show, said that “all castaways are monitored and supervised at all times. They have full access to producers and doctors, and the production will intervene in situations where warranted.”

Early in Wednesday’s episode, Ms. Kim and Ms. Byrd bonded over what they described as unwanted physical contact by Mr. Spilo, such as his brushing aside Ms. Kim’s hair despite her having asked him to stop touching her, and putting his arm on Ms. Byrd as she tried to sleep.

In a confessional, Ms. Kim then tearfully described how she felt upon realizing that other women had similar experiences: “This isn’t just one person, it’s a pattern,” she said.

Moments later, an unidentified crew member off screen offered a rare interjection: Should Ms. Kim feel the need, she should come to the crew member and he would put an end to the behavior, he said.

Though the producers met with the contestants and “cautioned” them about crossing personal boundaries, the contestants’ responses to the situation were muddied by gameplay.

Early in the episode, Ms. Kim said that, despite her genuine discomfort with Mr. Spilo’s actions, she would not let it cloud her judgment.

The game is unfair, she said, adding that she could use Mr. Spilo as a “decoy” vote while targeting Ms. Byrd. Meanwhile, Ms. Byrd conspired with Ms. Beisel to play up their discomfort with Mr. Spilo in conversations with others while instead secretly targeting Ms. Kim.

In the end, a majority of the contestants voted to kick Ms. Kim off the island, while the rest cast their votes for Mr. Spilo, who remained. Later, after he was confronted by another female contestant who had heard the accusations, Mr. Spilo sought out Ms. Byrd and Ms. Beisel, who both played down what they had said.

“Dan, the only thing that we can say to that is that if we truly, truly felt that, did we not have the power to vote you out tonight?” Ms. Byrd said.

“I have never felt uncomfortable,” Ms. Beisel said separately, in a confessional.

In a tribal council discussion at the end of the show, Mr. Spilo offered an apology while Ms. Kim, who had already been voted off, sat nearby.

“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 said.

After the show aired, Ms. Kim said on Twitter that she was hurt and saddened watching the episode, but that “no one deserves threats or shaming and we can talk about this in a way that we are all better for it.”

The episode frustrated some fans, who felt that the show had reinforced negative stereotypes and expectations when it comes to harassment and assault allegations.

“We did what we thought was right, but I am not shying away from my responsibility and I respect those who feel we should have removed him from the game,” Mr. Probst said in the statement.

In private meetings, each contestant, including Ms. Kim, said that the game should proceed and that the castaways could handle the unwanted behavior on their own, he said, though he acknowledged that the women were left to resolve a problem not of their own making.

“The most upsetting aspect in all of this is that the women did not cause this issue, but they are the ones who have to deal with it,” Mr. Probst said. “While it may be easy to be upset with Missy and Elizabeth for their decision to use this very sensitive movement for game play, I hope people will remember the context of the situation.”

He added: “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.”

Neither Mr. Spilo nor Ms. Kim responded to requests for comment.





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