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Warning! The following contains spoilers for Survivor: Island of the Idols "We Made It To The Merge." Read at your own risk!
Survivor: Island of the Idols had, without a doubt, its most (but not its only) controversial episode in the two-part tribal merger episode on November 13. Fans have shared their displeasure about the episode, which featured several women in the group voicing complaints about inappropriate touching by Dan Spilo. Now, Survivor host Jeff Probst is laying out the full details of the incident, and what producers did to navigate this tricky situation.
For background, producers first stepped in following conversations between the women of the tribe about Dan being the next target. Kellee Kim, Missy Byrd, and Elizabeth Beisel all discussed instances where they felt uncomfortable by touching from Dan. Jeff Probst explained how the situation came to producers' attention, and when they made the call to step in and take action.
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.
In case it wasn't clear from the episode, no one on the cast wanted the situation to immediately result in Dan's removal. CBS couldn't overlook the concerns of many of the women, however, and made the call to find a way to discuss personal boundaries with everyone in the cast in a way that didn't feel like it was singling anyone out. That way, if no one knew the situation was explicitly about Dan (like Aaron), it would stay that way.
With that said, Jeff Probst did tell EW that Dan was made aware that his actions were at the root at what was going on. As Probst explained, the message was stern enough that Dan knew he was on thin ice.
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.
The producers did their job, and tried to impact the game as little as possible. Unfortunately, things got sticky when Missy Byrd and Elizabeth Beisel got together and decided this situation could be used to blindside Kellee who believed the controversy would make Dan an easy exit at the next elimination. The two would go about doing that, while also fabricating a story of their own about Dan's inappropriate touching to Janet Carbin (Dan's biggest ally) in order to sever the two's allegiance.
To many viewers, it looked like two Survivor: Island of the Idols contestants took advantage of a very serious situation and exploited it in an effort to further their own game. Jeff Probst explained that the controversy became nuanced with both factual and fictional statements going around when Janet confronted the girls in front of the group, and none of the contestants really knew the entire truth of the situation due to their limited perspectives. Probst did his best to give his viewpoint of the situation, and what he thought happened given all the knowledge he had of the situation.
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.
Dan was not blameless in the controversy, but Jeff Probst added that the contestant was put in a position where he had to defend actions that were true, and things that were completely made up. Obviously, the producers couldn't tell everyone what was actually true and not as that would affect the game. Despite the accusations and tension amongst the tribe, Dan managed to escape elimination and Jamal Shipman was the next elimination.
Though the two-part episode has passed, it remains to be seen whether its controversy (which has now dwarfed some other controversies) will define Survivor: Island of the Idols. The situation made a huge split in the tribe, and with the full details of the situation still under wraps, there's no telling what further fallout will happen from maintaining lies, hurt feelings, and fear of repercussions for speaking out against other teammates. It's a difficult situation that can't easily be fixed, and fans just may have to accept that as they watch the rest of the season.
Survivor: Island of the Idols airs on CBS Wednesdays at 8:00 p.m. ET. Stick with CinemaBlend for updates on the competition, Jeff Probst's thoughts about the season, and for other things happening in the world of movies and television.