Survivor: Island of the Idols is a season marred in controversy due to several incidents of unwanted touching from contestant Dan Spilo. Now, ahead of tonight’s finale, CBS has issued a statement announcing new rules and procedures for future seasons regarding inappropriate behavior.
Both Survivor and CBS Entertainment faced backlash for its poor handling of the Spilo situation. Contestant Kellee Kim first complained of Spilo’s behavior back on Day 2 of the game. However, the Hollywood Talent Agent wasn’t given an official warning until Day 22 after the inappropriate touching continued. Spilo was eventually removed from the game on Day 36 after an off-camera incident with a non-player.
On the same day that Dan was issued with an official warning, the production team also held a meeting with the other contestants regarding inappropriate behavior. Yet, the meeting was said to be vague enough that the cast wasn’t sure what it was about.
“[It was] just a very vague blanket statement telling me if I ever felt unsafe, I should let production know,” Aaron Meredith said in his exit interview with Parade. “There was never any indication that something was going on or that someone had issues. It just seemed like a standard halftime meeting.”
Fellow contestant Missy Byrd echoed Meredith’s sentiments in her own exit interview, stating: “I did not connect our production meeting to Kellee and Dan either. I was very much in game mode and focused on the upcoming challenge. I felt as though production was checking in with us individually. They told us to be mindful of others, and then I was back in the game, ready for the challenge.”
Following the airing of the merge episode, host and showrunner Jeff Probst provided his description of the meeting to The Hollywood Reporter‘s Josh Wigler. “We gathered all the players together and reminded them about personal boundaries and the need to respect them at all times,” Probst stated.
“We covered everything from inappropriate jokes to respecting bathroom breaks, privacy to change clothes and touching in any way, including seemingly little things like brushing sand off someone’s face. We were very clear in reminding them that they are our number one concern and we want them to be able to play the game without ever feeling compromised or unsafe in any way.”
As a result of these incidents, and the backlash that followed, CBS has now released a statement detailing changes they plan to make to the production of Survivor and its other reality-TV shows moving forward. The changes include an official way to report inappropriate behavior, pre-production orientation which will include anti-harassment, unconscious bias and sensitivity training for cast, producers and production crew, and the involvement of a thirty-party expert to review these new policies.
The full statement, first published by Entertainment Weekly, can be read below:
“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.”
The Survivor: Island of the Idols finale airs tonight at 8 p.m. EST on CBS, followed by a reunion show which will be pre-taped earlier in the afternoon.