A #MeToo moment struck “Survivor” Wednesday night when multiple female contestants accused Hollywood talent manager and fellow castaway Dan Spilo of touching them inappropriately on the island.
Over the course of a two-hour broadcast, the women reported several instances of unwanted contact initiated by Spilo, backed by video evidence, forcing an unprecedented response from the network. The incident sparked a controversial chain of events, causing producers to break the fourth wall and issue a statement addressing the situation.
“In the episode broadcast last night, several female castaways discussed the behavior of a male castaway that made them uncomfortable,” CBS and MGM said in a statement provided to The Times on Thursday. “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,” the statement continued. “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.”
During the often dramatic merge between two competing tribes on the long-running reality series, two players, Kellee Kim and Missy Byrd, bonded over their upsetting interactions with Spilo. During their intimate beach conversation, the women swapped stories about Spilo’s actions, describing nonconsensual touching in areas such as the ribcage, toes and hair, as well as Spilo wrapping his arm around Byrd as she tried to fall asleep.
In the episode, corroborating footage of Spilo at camp appeared on screen as the women described his behavior. Eventually they sought protection from an older female player, Janet Carbin, who had a good relationship with Spilo. Upon hearing her tribe-mates’ stories, Carbin promised Kim to confront Spilo if she witnessed the inappropriate behavior herself.
Spilo did not respond to The Times’ requests for comment Thursday.
Spilo’s conduct also caused concern behind the scenes, prompting producers — who usually avoid interfering in the gameplay as much as possible — to get involved. During an emotional one-on-one interview with Kim in the first half of the broadcast, a producer could be heard off-camera checking on her well-being.
“This isn’t just one person; it’s a ... pattern,” Kim said, holding back tears. “The way I’m feeling about this is actually real. It’s not in my head. ... He literally has done these things to five different women in this game. That sucks. That totally, totally sucks.” (Kim first voiced complaints in the season’s first episode, when she told Spilo she didn’t like to be touched.)
“You know, if there are issues to the point where things need to happen, come to me and I will make sure that stops,” the unseen producer replied in a rare moment of interruption. “‘Cause that’s — I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable.”
A title card explaining how CBS handled the situation later appeared on screen.
“The following morning, the producers met with all the players, both as a group and individually” it read. “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,” a second card added. “Producers continue to monitor the situation.”
The episode went on as planned with an immunity challenge, followed by the tribal council during which contestants are eliminated. Persuaded by Byrd and another castaway — Olympic swimmer Elizabeth Beisel — Carbin attempted to vote Spilo off the island, as did Kim, in an effort to make camp safer for all. To Carbin’s shock and disappointment, Byrd and Beisel — who earlier admitted in a one-on-one interview that she lied about feeling uncomfortable around Spilo to get ahead in the game — voted for Kim.
In the end, Kim’s torch was snuffed, and Spilo advanced.
The night’s events carried into the second hour, in which a tearful and betrayed Carbin confronted Spilo, Byrd and Beisel about the surprise outcome at the tribal council. To the outrage of Carbin and viewers, Byrd and Beisel acted as if their previous #MeToo conversations had never happened, while having a private conversation with Spilo.
“Janet just told me something that just rips my soul in half, and if it’s even true or ever was true for a millisecond, the biggest thing I can think of is just deeply apologizing,” Spilo told the pair on the beach after the vote. But his words were immediately dismissed.
“Dan, we slept next to you every night,” Beisel said, rejecting Spilo’s apology.
“In the bungalow, every night,” Byrd added. “We don’t want to sleep anywhere else. We do not want to sleep anywhere else.”
The conflict came to a head at the next tribal council, in which executive producer and host Jeff Probst finally confronted Spilo about his behavior. “If anyone ever felt, for a second, uncomfortable about anything I’ve ever done, I’m horrified about that, and I’m terribly sorry,” Spilo responded. “If someone feels it, it’s their truth.” At the same tribal council, Carbin, crying, threatened to quit the show because of the emotional trauma she endured at the hands of Byrd and Beisel. A recently voted-out Kim looked on from the jury bench in silence.
“Hi everyone, I’m hurting and very sad watching this last episode too, but please try to be kind and understanding,” Kim tweeted early Thursday morning. “No one deserves threats or shaming, and we can talk about this in a way that we are all better for it.”
After the episode aired, Byrd and Beisel received plenty of backlash on social media, as did Probst for not calling them out on their dishonesty at tribal council. In a statement to The Times on Thursday evening, Probst speculated that Byrd and Beisel did not intend “to discount anyone’s feelings or do damage to the #metoo movement with their actions” and accepted responsibility for his own role in in the situation. “We did what we thought was right in issuing Dan a warning,” Probst wrote, “but I certainly respect anyone who feels we should have removed Dan from the game.”
On Thursday night, Byrd and Beisel both posted lengthy apologies on Twitter, attributing their actions in part to their lack of knowledge during production about the severity of the incidents.
“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,” Byrd wrote. “Due to the nature of Survivor, I was viewing the game through a small lens with a limited scope. I did not have all the information on the subject and I made a game move that was unjust ... I genuinely apologize for my actions.”
Beisel’s statement echoed Byrd’s sentiments, praising Kim and Carbin for their resolve in a difficult scenario. Both extended their apologies to Kim, Carbin and “all women” who felt hurt by their manipulations.
“To Kellee. I was sick to my stomach watching the episode and seeing how much pain you were in,” Beisel wrote. “To Janet. I deeply regret ever taking advantage of you in the game this way ... To women everywhere. Sexual harassment and sexual assault are extremely serious, life-altering topics that I do not take lightly ... I am so incredibly sorry.”
Whether the producers decided to take further action in regards to Spilo remains to be seen until next week’s episode, which airs Nov. 20.
Times staff writers Meredith Blake and Greg Braxton contributed to this report.