Kellee Kim of Survivor speaks out: 'I hope change is going to happen'
Kellee Kim showed incredible strength and fortitude when she had to endure repeated unwanted touching on Survivor: Island of the Idols. She took the initiative and talked directly to the person doing it pretty much right out of the gate. When the behavior continued, she spoke with producers, who issued a warning to the player. That player, Dan Spilo, was eventually removed from the game after another off-camera incident that occurred after Kellee had been voted out.
Kellee spoke to EW after her appearance on Wednesday’s Survivor finale/reunion to talk about the on-air apology she received from host Jeff Probst, how she found out Dan had been removed, and her thoughts about the new anti-harassment policies CBS put in place following her ordeal this season.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, how are you doing right now as you’re once again having to relive this traumatic incident that took place back in the spring of 2019?
KELLEE KIM: I’m doing well overall, so that’s all you can ask for.
Were you dreading this reunion show or welcoming the opportunity to speak out a bit? Or was it both?
I was very nervous. I think the amount of pressure that was put upon me, no one asks for that amount of pressure. No one asks to be put in a situation that I was put in, and so I felt such a big responsibility in terms of not just voicing my own voice, but really sharing because it matters for so many other stories and so many other people that have gone through something like this.
How important was it for you to hear from Jeff Probst the words “You were right”?
You know, it’s really interesting. I think that this story has really become about me, but the thing that I want to note is that this is actually about more than just me. I wasn’t the only person that spoke up. And people spoke up in many different ways. And the apology, it feels really good. But I think what’s most important about the apology is this idea of taking responsibility. Because CBS and Survivor are going to institute these changes that I’ve suggested. You can put in policies and procedures, but unless you have the heart and the intent to actually make those changes, things aren’t going to be different. And so more than anything, that’s what that meant to me, was, “Okay, we can move forward, we can be different and we can do betterm and no one else has to go through something like this.”
Have you felt supported by your castmates throughout this whole ordeal from point A to point Z? What has that situation been like for you with the people you were out there on the Island with?
It’s so interesting from being a viewer and then going from being a viewer and then being a player and what happens in the game. It’s so intense, and every single person is dealing with their own demons of getting voted out or maybe winning and making it to final three. And so this experience, I think, has been very up and down for everyone. I think the biggest thing out of everything is that everyone is learning, right? We’ve had these hard conversations and as individuals and institutions, and organizations. We are getting better and we’re doing better.
We never saw the jury be informed that Dan had been pulled from the game. How and when did that happen?
So that happened to the jury during the next Tribal Council. Jeff came up to us and essentially told us, “Dan has been removed for another inappropriate touching incident.”
After everything you had been through, what was your reaction to that news?
Honestly, I was a little surprised. I was shocked. My jaw dropped the ground. When I was in the game I never really expected and never thought that it was ever an option to pull Dan from the game. And obviously now I know it’s an option and it’s crazy to talk about and think about. But when you’re in the moment and you’re living it on a day-to-day, it’s really hard to know what the right course of action is.
You didn’t ask for this attention. And you’ve mentioned earlier how it’s not just about you, but your name and face is everywhere now because of this. What has it been like dealing with all the attention in terms of that?
I think one of the most overwhelming and amazing things has been the amount of support and outreach from so many people from all around the world who have reached out to support me. To share their stories of inappropriate touching, sexual harassment, sexual assault. And there were so many times that I wanted to not say anything or be quiet, but just reading all these stories, I realized that I couldn’t do that. And to do that would be not only to push aside and ignore my own voice or the voices of so many.
You talked about the policies that CBS and Survivor say they’re going to put into place. Do you feel that they are committed to these policies and adhering to them?
Hopefully after hearing Jeff’s apology tonight, after talking to people around set and production and just being in this space, I have hope that these policies will be put into place. I have to hope. I have to hope that change is going to happen.
Now that you’ve now gone in front of the cameras and talked about this, do you feel you can exhale a little bit?
Yeah, definitely. I didn’t ask to be put in a situation where my Survivor experience was defined by sexual harassment. Or really my life. I wanted Survivor to be this fun thing, this fun game that was mentally, emotionally, and physically challenging. Not about inappropriate touching. And so I think that I can be proud of the institutional changes that I’ve asked for, and that are being made and being put into place. And just a huge amount of pride and relief. And yeah, relief that all of that is happening.
You mentioned the game. Why did you vote for Tommy to win?
I think that Tommy played an amazing strategic game, really, truly amazing. I’m a bit of a Survivor purist, and the fact that he never won immunity, he never had any idols. He never had any advantages. You have to respect a game that’s just, “Hey, like, I am a good social strategist and I am thinking about the game, but nobody knows I think about the game. Everyone thinks I’m their best friend. I’m close with all these people.” You have to respect that. I have to respect that with the love that I have for this game.
You were a fascinating player to watch even before and outside of all this other stuff with the way you approached the game and the way you played the game. And it is unfortunate that so much of that is getting lost with everything else that’s happened. Is it possible for you to look at your Survivor experience in terms of all the other things that you able to do and accomplish out there?
I’ve really been thinking about this since my vote out, and I knew it was going to happen with him being removed from the game. And the finale. This has been my main focus. But I really hope that the overall Survivor experience can be defined by not just inappropriate touching, sexual harassment, whatever you want to call it, but also this idea of change. And I hope I can look back and look at all the little memories, like the hair idol, getting Jack out with the idol, and all those things too. And so with time, I think that will definitely happen.
Also make sure to read our episode recap, and finale interviews with winner Tommy Sheehan, Dean Kowalski, Noura Salman, Lauren Beck, and Janet Carbin, and scoop on next season from Jeff Probst. And for more Survivor intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.