Jeff Probst addresses 'inappropriate touching' fallout on Survivor
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Wednesday’s double episode of Survivor: Island of the Idols.
On this week’s back-to back-episodes of Survivor: Island of the Idols, social and strategic intersected like never before. Kellee Kim once again expressed uncomfortableness with the way Dan Spilo kept being touchy and violating her personal space — a situation that resulted in production intervening, speaking with the entire cast, and offering an official warning to Dan.
The situation then exploded when Missy Byrd and Elizabeth Beisel concocted a plan to fabricate interactions between Elizabeth and Dan so that he would become a target instead of them. That caused Dan’s ally Janet Carbin to vote against him because she wanted to protect the women. Once she found out the truth, Janet was so upset she considered quitting the game, while Dan clearly chafed under host Jeff Probst’s questioning at Tribal Council.
We caught up with the host to get his take on everything that went down, and the actions of all parties involved.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Okay, a lot to get into here. There are so many angles and things to get into with this whole Kellee and Dan situation. Let’s start on the production side. We saw Kellee say in an interview how uncomfortable she was with what she saw as Dan’s inappropriate touching, and in a Survivor rarity, heard one of your producers talking back to Kellee about it. We were later informed that the producers met with the players as a group and individually, and that Dan was issued a warning for his behavior. Take us through what was happening behind the scenes as you all discussed how to handle this situation, and then how those meetings with the players went.
JEFF PROBST: Okay let’s start with the big picture. We monitor the players 24 hours a day for 39 days. There is never a moment when a producer is not with them. And the various producing teams on both beaches have daily downloads, so everybody is always aware what is happening with every player. Personally, I am constantly being updated on what is happening on the beaches. I receive updates on everything from minor injuries to rice rations to idol finds.
After Kellee and Missy’s conversation about Dan, one of our co-EP’s interviewed Kellee. This is normal Survivor protocol. And, as you saw, in the interview Kellee got upset, so our producer stopped the interview to ask if Kellee wanted production to intervene. This is a very important moment because the producer is having to navigate a delicate balance of looking out for Kellee without taking any action that might negatively impact her game.
To her credit, Kellee stated that she felt the issue could be handled by the players involved and did not want us to take any action on her behalf. And as you saw in her earlier conversation with Missy, both women were very clear that they were not going to let one person “blow up their game.” But based on Kellee’s interview, the producer immediately shared the story with me and I immediately contacted CBS. The decision was made to meet with all players, both as a group and individually, to remind them of personal boundaries and hear of any concerns.
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. We also informed him this was an official warning.
We saw Missy and Elizabeth come up with a strategy to intentionally play up the angle of how uncomfortable Dan made them feel as a way to move the target off themselves, even though Elizabeth admitted to the camera that she had no problems with his actions. Was this crossing the line to tarnish Dan’s reputation as a strategic tool?
I don’t think you can address Elizabeth or Missy’s actions without first remembering that every player is making their decisions based on very limited information and through their own filters. No individual player ever knows all of the information, and that plays directly into this situation. Let’s first address this from the women’s point of view and then look at it from Dan’s.
In the case of Missy, she was very clear when talking with Kellee that she was not going to let Dan “blow up her game” with $1 million on the line. And Missy was not privy to Kellee’s private confessional where she shared how upset she was about Dan. Then, to complicate things, Missy learns that Kellee is actually conspiring against her, to vote her out. This changes everything. Missy has a new archenemy, and voting out Kellee becomes the mission.
Elizabeth has her own entry point into the story. As you saw in the episode, Elizabeth states that she wasn’t uncomfortable with Dan’s behavior. She hadn’t spent time with Kellee, so she didn’t have any insight into how Kellee was feeling. So, from her point of view, Elizabeth didn’t see any issue in going along with the Dan story. Perhaps if she understood the impact Dan was having on Kellee she might have made a very different choice.
On the other side of this story is Dan. One on hand, it’s very clear that Dan’s touching was making some of the women uncomfortable, and we saw many of those moments on camera. There is no denying that it happened. But as Missy and Elizabeth embellished their stories about the situation, it put Dan in an unfair light and further complicated everything. Now the story has taken on a life of its own with several conflicting perspectives.
By the time Janet becomes involved, she is making very big decisions based on a dangerous mixture of truthful and untruthful information. And because no individual player has all the information, rumors now hold as much weight as truth. This is a precise microcosm of what happens in the workplace. We must use this as an opportunity to examine ourselves and how we handle these types of situations.
Let’s take the other side of that with Janet, who changed her vote to Dan for what she said was a moral decision because she had “a personal, emotional need to have these girls feel okay.” Did she have a legitimate reason to be upset when she found out that some of the accusations from what she said were Missy, Elizabeth, and Lauren were either untrue or overblown, saying that “I feel anything that has to do with sexual uncomfortability has no place in a game environment”? Or is everything fair game in this game?
This is a great example of why this entire situation is so complex. Janet had her own unique experience as it relates to Dan. Of all the women mentioned, Janet didn’t appear to have any interactions with Dan that made her feel uncomfortable. But as the self-elected mom of the group, she felt very protective of the younger women. It was admirable to witness her decision to risk her own game in order to protect the other women, whom she was told had experienced issues with Dan.
I imagine a lot of viewers will have immense empathy for Janet, as she was truly trying to do what she thought was the right thing. Later, when she learned some of the conversations were for gameplay, she was understandably upset not only because she felt she was being played, but also because she felt she had unfairly judged Dan.
And to bring it full circle, remember, there was truth that Dan did bother some of the women. It’s extremely complicated. This situation really tests the concept of justified ethics, something that is at the heart of every Survivor season. Where does each player draw their line in the sand? What is okay to do or say and what is off limits? And the bigger question: Are there certain situations that are simply off limits, no matter what?
We repeatedly saw Dan get irritated at Tribal Council that you would not just let the topic go and kept asking him about it. From your interactions with him and what you saw, do you feel he ever fully understood the weight of the situation when it came to Kelle and his role in making her feel her personal space was being violated?
Dan was clearly frustrated with me for bringing the topic up at Tribal. My guess is that at the time he felt he had already talked with Kellee back on the beach during episode 1 and felt I was just trying to turn this into a bigger story. From my point of view, this was an obviously important story and one we had not yet talked about at Tribal Council. Tribal Council is where you are held accountable for your actions. Dan was the central figure in the story, so this was the appropriate forum for the discussion.
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. But, as you saw, players were still very much in game mode and reluctant to talk. And worth noting, Dan survived another Tribal Council.
I watched that second Tribal Council and kept thinking about how difficult it must have been for Kellee to sit there as a jury member and not have a voice in that conversation. One of the most interesting things in this episode that may get lost with everything else going on is the way Kellee was able to separate game and personal, as her initial target with all this going on was not Dan, but rather Missy. What is your takeaway from how Kellee handled this entire situation — which began very early on in the season when she told Dan how uncomfortable he was making her feel with his touching — and through her having to live through it all again as a member of the jury?
I am incredibly proud of Kellee for being willing to speak up. In episode 1, she was very courageous in speaking her truth even though she knew it might mess up her game. And initially, I thought Kellee was very generous with Dan in trying to give him the benefit of the doubt. And, as you noted, despite being upset with Dan, she was clear enough in her thought process to not let Dan interfere with the bigger move that she felt was more important to her game — taking out Missy, her biggest adversary.
Kellee has all the qualities of a great Survivor player: She has a strong voice, the presence of mind to know when to use it, she’s a strategic thinker, and she walked into Tribal Council with not one, but two hidden immunity idols! Only a few people have ever had two idols at one Tribal. Yes, she was also voted out with two idols, but there is no denying Kellee is a very savvy Survivor player and hopefully someone that would consider playing again.
As for Kellee not having a voice while on the jury, we made the decision to hold true to the rule that jury members aren’t allowed to comment or ask questions. Our intention was to maintain the integrity of the million-dollar vote that the jury members make on day 39.
Let’s finish up by looking ahead. What can you tell us about next week’s episode of Survivor: Island of the Idols?
They have had their collective feet on the pedal for several weeks now, and there is no slowing down in next week’s double-elimination episode.