Controversy rocked “Survivor” on Wednesday night when multiple female contestants came forward to accuse fellow player Dan Spilo of inappropriate touching. On Thursday, longtime host and executive producer Jeff Probst paused to reflect on how the events unfolded and how those behind the long-running reality show might have handled the situation differently.
“There are so many layers to this story,” Probst wrote in a statement to The Times. “The biggest question centered around whether or not Dan’s unwanted touching, that made some of the women uncomfortable, was enough to warrant pulling him from the game. From our point of view, there was no clear answer. That is why we met privately with every player to see how they were feeling. Every player understood what we were asking and every player wanted the game to continue without production getting involved.”
The series’ #MeToo moment began with a conversation between players Kellee Kim and Missy Byrd, who both recalled several instances of unwanted contact initiated by Spilo that involved areas such as their hair, torso and toes, as well as his wrapping his arm around Byrd as she tried to sleep. Video footage of Spilo’s behavior at camp, included in the episode alongside the women’s discussion, corroborated their stories.
Kim also expressed her discomfort in an emotional confessional, prompting producers to break the fourth wall and ask whether she wanted them to intervene. Though visibly distraught, Kim declined the offer, explaining that she felt safer knowing that Janet Carbin, an older female contestant who promised to monitor Spilo’s actions, was around to help.
“As you saw with Kellee during the episode, she too felt the players could handle the situation,” Probst wrote. “In addition, we knew the players always had the option to simply vote Dan out of the game. But they didn’t. In fact, several players were in an alliance with him. This really speaks to the complexity of the situation.”
Instead of taking Spilo out, the contestants sent Kim home, leading to an outcry on social media. Further complicating the scenario were conflicting testimonies from Byrd and Olympic swimmer Elizabeth Beisel — another castaway familiar with Spilo’s behavior — who appeared to share Kim’s concerns but ultimately voted to keep Spilo on the island.
Probst acknowledged the criticism that he and the other producers should have made an executive decision to oust Spilo. Though Kim and another woman first voiced complaints about Spilo in the season premiere, the production team didn’t intervene until the eighth episode.
“I accept my own responsibility in the situation,” Probst said in his statement. “We did what we thought was right in issuing Dan a warning, but I certainly respect anyone who feels we should have removed Dan from the game.”
For their part, Byrd and Beisel later apologized on social media for making false claims about whether they, too, were upset by inappropriate contact from Spilo in order to gain an advantage in the game. The women praised Kim and Carbin for their courage and expressed shame for their failure to appreciate the gravity of the situation.
“A lot of people are upset with Missy and Elizabeth for lying about Dan’s unwanted touching in order to further their game because they rightfully feel that it does damage to a powerful movement,” Probst said. “I don’t believe Elizabeth ever fully understood how upsetting the Dan situation was to Kellee. And even though Missy knew what she was doing when she asked Elizabeth to lie, I don’t think she ever considered the possibility that her actions could have an impact outside of the game.
“I spent a lot of time with this group of people, and even though lying is an accepted part of the game, I don’t think any of the women knowingly intended to discount anyone’s feelings or do damage to the #metoo movement with their actions,” Probst continued in the statement. “I have spoken with some of them and heard their remorse and I know it is genuine.”
The next episode of “Survivor” airs Nov. 20.
Times staff writer Greg Braxton and television editor Matt Brennan contributed to this report.