The following story includes spoilers for the Season 39 finale of “Survivor.”
In the wake of misconduct allegations that plagued the 39th season of “Survivor,” in which contestant Kellee Kim and others expressed discomfort with fellow player and Hollywood talent manager Dan Spilo’s physical contact with them, host Jeff Probst told Kim in the reunion episode following the finale that “You were right.”
The reunion episode of the reality competition series was pre-recorded for the first time in the show’s history, amid the allegations of unwanted touching. Kim brought up her unease with Spilo in the very first episode of the season, but producers ultimately waited until much later to remove him from the game, citing an off-camera incident.
“We intended to do the right thing,” said Probst, acknowledging the producers’ and CBS’ missteps. “If this was done today, we would have handled it much differently.”
“You were right,” he told Kim. “You were right to step forward despite a lot of risk.”
When Probst encouraged Kim to share her thoughts, she initially expressed nervousness about doing so.
“The fact that Dan remained in the game even after I spoke up, and the reason why [I’m nervous] is not necessarily the injustice, because I felt like I spoke up and was not supported or believed,” she said, adding that “to not be supported and to not be believed is really the hardest thing.”
Probst went on to tell Kim that “your voice should have been enough. The silver lining is it will next time. We learned a lot from you being willing to speak up.”
“Fundamentally, I have to believe, at the end of the day, that individuals and institutions are capable of change,” said Kim. “I fundamentally believe that we can do better.”
Kim also took to Twitter to say that it had been a “hard season,” but that she was proud that the change [she] fought for is happening.”
This has been a hard season, but I’m proud that the change I fought for is happening. I’ve been inspired & overwhelmed by the people who have reached out to support me & share their stories. Thank you @timesupldf @debrakatzKMB & everyone who has been in this with me #Survivor
— Kellee Kim (@kellee_kim) December 19, 2019
Time’s Up president and CEO Tina Tchen issued the following statement after the episode aired:
“Tonight, millions of viewers witnessed an unprecedented cultural moment in television history: “Survivor” host Jeff Probst publicly acknowledged that the show failed Kellee Kim when she came forward to say she had been sexually harassed and “Survivor” did not take appropriate action. In doing so, “Survivor” used its cultural influence to take responsibility and have an honest and direct dialogue about a serious, systemic problem that has been ignored for far too long.
“Sadly, what happened to Kellee on “Survivor” this season is the same sort of painful scenario that plays out every day across industries and occupations, and up and down the wage scale: someone is treated inappropriately in a working environment and is concerned they will be retaliated against for raising the issue with management – only to have those exact fears come to pass.
“But tonight, in an emotional and raw interview, “Survivor” did the right thing and gave Kellee a platform to share her truth. What’s more, Probst began the conversation with three powerful words: ‘You were right.’ And Kellee was right: Because whether you are on a reality show, in an office, or on the factory floor, every person deserves to feel safe from harassment, assault, and abuse at work, no exceptions.
“Culture in any workplace starts at the top. It is powerful to see Probst take ownership of this issue, and it is also really powerful to see CBS’s “Survivor” acknowledge its mistakes and commit to beginning the hard work necessary to take sexual harassment out of the game and ensure contestants and crew alike feel safe and respected at all times moving forward.”
The evening before the finale aired, CBS announced that it would be implementing a series of changes to its policies and procedures around the show. Among them is an “on-site professional” to offer confidential means of reporting concerns, an “enhanced” pre-production orientation with anti-harassment, unconscious bias and sensitivity training for the cast, producers and production crew, and a new rule barring “unwelcome physical contact, sexual harassment and impermissible biases.”
The two-hour season finale culminated in contestant Tommy Sheehan winning Season 39.