Survivor: Production steps in for first time despite past issues


Survivor: Island of the Idols had a controversial episode on Wednesday night, and it made me think back to similar controversies over the years.

For those who haven’t seen Wednesday night’s episode yet, I’d suggest watching that before diving into this article. It was a two-hour long episode that dealt with a lot of discomfort regarding unwanted physical contact and the #MeToo movement.

There were a lot of firsts in this episode, and none of them were good firsts for the series.

  • Cameras were visible during the merge feast and in flashbacks.
  • We heard a producer talk to a contestant during a confessional.
  • We had a black screen pop up describing events that happened within the game that wasn’t shown on television.
  • That screen told us that production actually pulled the cast aside and talked to them about boundaries.

It was pretty clear from the get-go that something bad was going to happen in this episode, and we figured out what it was in regards to not long into the two-hour program. Production wanted viewers to see things from all sides, showcasing how Dan’s actions made Kellee and other women not want to be around him.

A producer was heard speaking to Kellee during a confessional about Dan’s actions and told her if she continued to feel uncomfortable to let them know, and they’d step in.

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Later, a message was displayed that production did indeed talk to the contestants as a group and talked to Dan one-on-one about the topic at hand. That messaged indicated that this meeting would have a big impact on the rest of the episode, and we heard contestants reference it throughout when it came to strategizing.

The long Tribal Council in the second hour of the show was as uncomfortable to watch as almost any in Survivor’s near 20-year history. Missy and Elizabeth threw Janet under the bus, and Aaron even went so far as to say she was “playing the victim,” but fortunately, Jamal was there to stand up for women, despite being a man and not having an idea that this was going on.

Survivor has had uncomfortable moments like this in years past, but this was different from past events. We live in a society now where people are finally starting to realize that women go through this type of stuff every day, and a lot of the time, their stories aren’t taken seriously.

We saw proof that Dan was making Kellee uncomfortable and had proof that she asked him to stop (also we saw him touching/cuddling women inappropriately in the shelter in past episodes) and if Survivor had really wanted to sweep this whole thing under the rug, they’d have left all of that out. Instead, they showed all of this and as uncomfortable as it was to watch, this is something important for all of us and shows how far things have come during Survivor’s long run.

There’s a reason it took so long for production to step in on an issue, and it’s because of how society is today. There have been moments in the past where maybe they should have stepped in and had it happened today, would have.

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I’m not talking about the moments like in season two when the tribe’s food and personal belongings got swept away by a flood, or in season six when a fire burned most of the tribe’s personal items. No, I’m talking about what we witnessed on Wednesday night with unwanted physical contact and how it’s handled.

Take season five, for instance. During Survivor: Thailand, the show’s fifth season that aired in 2002, the first real uncomfortable moment occurred. There was an incident involving two contestants where unwanted touching occurred between Ted Rogers and Ghandia Johnson; Ted had reportedly grinded on Ghandia in his sleep, and despite her telling everyone about the situation, it was almost turned into a joke.

The men threw her allegations to the side, the women ultimately sided with Ted, and Ghandia was laughed at for her “tantrums” while Ted was given comedic glory for his “I’m not even attracted to you!” comment. To make matters worse, Jeff Probst (who is an awesome host and handles things better than any host probably would) poked fun at Ghandia for it at the reunion show.

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  • Probst obviously isn’t a bad guy, but it shows how things like this were laughed at and pushed to the side 15-plus years ago. This is proof of how far society has come since 2002. Ghandia would not have been ridiculed for this in the present day.

    A similar situation happened in Survivor: All-Stars when Sue Hawk was upset that Richard Hatch rubbed up against her while performing a challenge naked. When Sue went on her upset rant and decided to leave the game, people laughed at her, and afterward, there was a scene where Tom mocked and ridiculed her for leaving. Worse yet, people thought his tirade was funny.

    Again, this would not happen in the present day; at least I hope not.

    I rewatched Survivor: Thailand a few months ago and was appalled when watching the situation with Ted and Ghandia unfold. While rewatching, I had the unpleasant thought of, if something like this were to occur again in a current season, how would production react?

    Well, I sadly got my answer not long after.

    Production intervened, but outside of talking to the cast, bringing it to the forefront, and making it a focal point of the episode, not much else could be done. They couldn’t necessarily pull Dan from the game, especially if Missy and Elizabeth admitted they were saying what they said about him for strategic reasons. It’s a tough situation, no matter how you spin it.

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    All I know is that I have a sad feeling surrounding one of my favorite shows that I’ve been watching since I was nine years old. I appreciate that Survivor didn’t just sweep this under the rug and classify it as “drama,” but it feels like more could have, and should have, been done regarding the situation.