Update 3:30 p.m. PT: CBS and producer Mark Burnett's production company MGM released a joint statement late Thursday regarding Wednesday's episode of Survivor and the controversial handling of Dan Spilo's role in the competition after complaints of sexual harassment.
"In the episode broadcast last night, several female castaways discussed the behavior of a male castaway that made them uncomfortable," the statement read. "During the filming of this episode, producers spoke off-camera to all the contestants still in the game, both as a group and individually, to hear any concerns and advise about appropriate boundaries. A formal warning was also given to the male castaway in question. On Survivor, producers provide the castaways a wide berth to play the game. At the same time, 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."
Survivor host Jeff Probst and contestant Kellee Kim have addressed the show's controversial handling of Kim's sexual harassment complaints about castmate Dan Spilo during Wednesday night's episode.
In an unprecedented move in the CBS reality show's 39 seasons, Survivor producers stepped in to respond to Kim's complaints about Spilo's unwanted touching and issue a warning. But by the end of the episode, Kim was eliminated, and Spilo remained on the show.
"Hi everyone," Kim tweeted early Thursday. "I'm hurting and very sad watching this last episode too, but please try to be kind and understanding. No one deserves threats or shaming, and we can talk about this in a way that we are all better for it."
Speaking with Entertainment Weekly, Probst said he was "incredibly proud of Kellee for being willing to speak up."
Probst also addressed his conversation with Spilo at Tribal Council, saying, "This situation also highlighted another layer of the changing dynamic between men and women: You don't have to feel unsafe to feel uncomfortable and making someone uncomfortable is not okay. This is new territory for this important conversation, and my hope was that everybody could share their point of view, in an open forum, about what had gone down and we could get total clarity."
Hi everyone, I'm hurting and very sad watching this last episode too, but please try to be kind and understanding. No one deserves threats or shaming, and we can talk about this in a way that we are all better for it💪🏼 #Survivor #Mentalhealth— Kellee Kim (@kellee_kim) November 14, 2019
Spilo, a talent agent and producer from Los Angeles, has been shown throughout the season giving massages and back rubs, lying on castmates' laps, caressing their faces, stroking their hair, and cuddling up to them when they were going to sleep. Multiple castmates complained about the unwanted touching, but it continued until things came to a head during Wednesday's episode, when Kim, a business student from Costa Mesa, California, became emotional during a confessional.
Kim, who first complained about the inappropriate touching in the season premiere of Survivor: Island of the Idols, was interrupted during her confessional by a producer, who asked if she was all right and called Spilo's behavior "not okay." The scene was followed by an on-screen written statement explaining how the producers addressed the complaints: "The following morning the producers met with all the players, both as a group and individually. They were cautioned about personal boundaries and reminded that producers are available to them at all times. Based on the outcome of those discussions, the game continued. In addition, producers met privately with Dan, at which time he was issued a warning for his behavior. Producers continue to monitor the situation."
Probst shared more details about the producers' discussion with Spilo. "When we met privately with Dan, we told him that his actions were making some of the women uncomfortable and reminded him that personal boundaries must be respected at all times," he told Entertainment Weekly. "We also informed him this was an official warning."
Castmate Janet Carbin also addressed the situation on Twitter. Carbin voted against Spilo in order to protect Kim and the other women who had expressed discomfort with Spilo's touching, only to consider quitting when she learned some of the women other than Kim had voted based on strategy rather than discomfort.
"I want to thank you for all of your support," Carbin wrote. "It was a very difficult time, however I do love and care for my fellow survivors and I don't want to see them negatively affected by anything that is said from the game."
While the official Survivor account announced it would not be live-tweeting the episode due to "discussions on a serious topic," Survivor fans on Twitter at first praised the show for addressing the harassment — and for breaking from Survivor's long-held tradition of producers not interfering with gameplay in order to do so.
Hi #Survivor fans. Tonight's episode has discussions on a serious topic, so we're going to handle things differently this week and not live tweet this episode.— SURVIVOR (@survivorcbs) November 14, 2019
The producers are bringing the receipts. This is unprecedented and incredible. Hearing from a producer behind the camera.— Peridiam (@BillyGiese) November 14, 2019
More than just a game. This is a show, with real people. Real impact. Don't ignore it or turn a blind eye. Confront it. Speak up. #Survivor
I love that the women on this season are speaking up on these issues and that CBS is showing it. Every single woman I know can tell you multiple stories of those kinds of uncomfortable situations. And it's never okay. Please listen. #Survivor #survivor39— Tipsy Survivor Fan (@tipsy_realityTV) November 14, 2019
However, the reactions took a sharp turn later in the episode, when several contestants who had supported Kim in her stand against the harassment turned against her in order to secure their positions in the game. They took Spilo's side in an alliance and ultimately voted Kim off the show.
The backlash on Twitter was swift, with viewers criticizing the show and its contestants for gaslighting Kim — and the audience — and for ultimately downplaying the harassment.
So #Survivor just spent an hour building a case against Dan's inappropriate behavior with fourth-wall-breaking footage, and is now spending this hour turning him into the victim and erasing Kellee's experience.— Andy Dehnart (@realityblurred) November 14, 2019
Horrible episode. Disgusting. The women on the show are the reason victims don't come forward. The producers didn't handle this well. Shame on survivor #Survivor— jasonshuff76 (@jasonshuff76) November 14, 2019
if you ever wonder why claims of sexual harrassment are frequently discounted just watch this double episode of #Survivor— POTUS Isa Clown (@shane15235) November 14, 2019
In my opinion @survivorcbs is irresponsible for airing a harassment situation in this way. I'm literally crying as an assault survivor. They should be ashamed— Julie Simpson (@dramaqueenjs) November 14, 2019
This episode is SO SO BAD WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS FUCKING MESSAGE I'm actually fucking sick this is 30 steps back for women's rights and sexual assault victims #Survivor— ✨💫 adain 💫✨ (@adain_l) November 14, 2019
CBS did not immediate return TV Guide's request for comment.
Dan Spilo served as executive producer on NBC's freshman comedy Sunnyside, starring Kal Penn, which was effectively canceled when it was yanked from the primetime schedule last month and relegated to digital platforms. Spilo is also credited as a producer on the upcoming Netflix film Love, Guaranteed, starring Rachael Leigh Cook and Damon Wayans Jr., and on the upcoming Netflix family comedy series The Upshaws, starring Wanda Sykes and Mike Epps.
This story has been updated with Kim and Carbin's comments.
(Disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of CBS Corporation)