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Survivor’s rules and production will change, CBS says; Dan apologizes to Kellee

On the eve of the finale of Survivor: Island of the Idols, CBS Entertainment issued a lengthy statement detailing changes that will be made to the production of Survivor—and to its other reality TV shows, which include Big Brother and Love Island—as a result of everything that happened this season.

Also today, Dan Spilo apologized for his actions and acknowledged that they affected Kellee Kim (other women are not named, even though other women also expressed concerns about his unwanted, uncomfortable touching). That’s a considerable shift from late last week, when Dan said “he’s not allowed to comment.”

Today, Dan gave a statement to People, which said:

“I am deeply sorry for how my actions affected Kellee during the taping of this season of Survivor. After apologizing at the tribal council when I first learned that Kellee still felt uncomfortable, I want to make sure I do so again, clearly and unambiguously.”

“I truly regret that anyone was made to feel uncomfortable by my behavior. In my life, I have always tried to treat others with decency, integrity and kindness. I can only hope that my actions in the future can help me to make amends and show me to be the kind of father, husband, colleague and friend that I always aim to be.”

Here is Kellee Kim’s response:

That action is coming, CBS says.

However, CBS’s statement with its plans starts off very poorly, with a line about how it was “unprecedented” that “important social issues and inappropriate individual behavior intersecting with game play in complex ways that we’ve never seen before.”

We’ve seen them before, on Survivor. And on Big Brother. For years and years and years. This particular set of circumstances may have been new, especially considering the clear evidence the show presented of unwanted touching.

The network’s statement also gets close to rewriting history, and at the very least gives the production far more credit than it deserves: “we listened to the players intently, investigated responsibly and responded accordingly, including taking the unprecedented step of removing a player from the game.”

Dan was ejected on day 36; the tribes merged on day 22; Kellee first asked Dan to stop touching her in episode one.

However, CBS’s statement does say “we are determined to do better going forward,” and lays out specific plans, including:

  • an actual game rule prohibiting “physical contact, sexual harassment and impermissible biases”
  • a new on-set executive/professional for confidential reporting
  • new reporting procedures if contestants have issues
  • a new “pre-production orientation” that will include “new anti-harassment, unconscious bias and sensitivity training for cast, producers and production crew”
  • having this plan and these changes be reviewed by a third party expert

These are specific plans, and give me some hope that the show can recover from this self-dug hole it’s now deep inside. This is a good—but long overdue—first step.

Some of the changes—like the new rule prohibiting sexual harassment, or the reporting procedures—seem so obvious and basic that they illustrate just how unequipped Survivor was to handle misconduct, and how badly it screwed up.

That “impermissible biases” are also being included suggests that CBS may finally, actually address its shows’ problems with bias and racism.

Because Survivor: Winners at War, season 40, already filmed, this won’t be fully implemented until season 41, which will likely start filming in March.

The statement does say that players for season 40 had a “pre-production cast orientation” that gave them “specific guidelines regarding personal space, inappropriate behavior, and how to report these issues.”

Since these new guidelines were not fully implemented between seasons, and are just being announced now, more than eight months after production on Survivor: Island of the Idols concluded, I wonder if the network and the production just didn’t think this was a huge problem until it started airing and the fallout began.

The statement does acknowledge that they agree with many critics and fans: CBS and Survivor’s producers finally say that they “recognize there are things we could have done differently.”

CBS and Survivor’s full statement

CBS eye logo

Here’s the full statement released to the media tonight:

“Season 39 of ‘Survivor’ has been unprecedented for all of us, with important social issues and inappropriate individual behavior intersecting with game play in complex ways that we’ve never seen before. During the course of the production, we listened to the players intently, investigated responsibly and responded accordingly, including taking the unprecedented step of removing a player from the game.

At the same time, we are responsible for the final outcome of this season. We recognize there are things we could have done differently, and we are determined to do better going forward.

‘Survivor’ has a 20-year track record of a strong support system on locations and after production. It is also a show that continues to evolve, as we respond to what we learn from every new situation and every player. We will take the important lessons we learned from this season and adopt new protocols and procedures for future seasons, to ensure that the events that occurred this season are not repeated.

For Season 40, which has already filmed, the show added to its pre-production cast orientation specific guidelines regarding personal space, inappropriate behavior, and how to report these issues.

For Seasons 41 and beyond, the producers are reviewing all elements of the show to further support appropriate interaction, including how the players live during, as well as after they are eliminated from, the competition.

The show will also take additional steps to enhance procedures for training, reporting of issues and prohibited forms of game play. The new measures to further support a safe environment include but are not limited to the following:

The production will add another on-site professional to provide a confidential means of reporting any concerns, so that the production can address them promptly apart from the game. The full range of reporting processes will be communicated clearly to the players during pre-production orientation.  The new executive will add to a support system that already makes mental health providers available to players on location and after they leave the island.

The show will enhance its pre-production orientation with new anti-harassment, unconscious bias and sensitivity training for cast, producers and production crew on location.

A new rule will be implemented stating unwelcome physical contact, sexual harassment and impermissible biases cannot be brought into the competition and will not be permitted as part of gameplay. This will be covered in the cast orientation for each season, along with clear instructions on how to report violations.

The show will also partner with a third-party expert in the field to review, evolve or add to these new policies and procedures going forward.

In addition, CBS Entertainment will develop appropriate enhanced policies and procedures equivalent to the new ‘Survivor’ measures and adapt them for the network’s other reality programming going forward.”

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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