What the #MeToo movement has taught us — among other things — is that most workplaces don’t have safe, effective channels for reporting predatory behavior. And that goes double for unconventional workplaces like, say, the set of a reality TV show.
This week, Survivor contestant Kellee Kim was voted off after reporting unwanted touching from male contestant Dan Spilo, and fans have been quick to express their disappointment.
Let’s start from the beginning because the story itself is a bit complicated. On Wednesday’s episode of Survivor, Kim brought up Spilo’s unwanted physical contact several times, once with fellow contestant Missy Byrd.
In an unexpected move, a crew member addressed Kim directly and promised to put an end to the behavior. The producers then reportedly met with Spilo and issued a formal warning. At the end of the night, however, a majority of contestants voted for Kim to leave the island — while Spilo remained.
This alone — the decision to dole out a warning without consequences, and approve Kim’s swift exit from the show — showed poor judgment from Survivor‘s producers.
On their watch, a contestant was repeatedly harassed by a fellow contestant. Even if the producers themselves weren’t the ones casting the votes, it looks an awful lot like silencing to send a woman home right after she voices that complaint.
But unfortunately, the story — and how Survivor has chosen to frame the story — gets even worse. During the episode, Byrd and a third female contestant, Elizabeth Beisel, revealed that they had fabricated their own accusations against Spilo, and had never been harassed by the contestant.
Byrd and Beisel’s decision to falsely accuse Spilo was part of a strategy in the game, and a larger plan to get Kim sent home. In the backlash that’s followed from this episode, both have posted apologies online, saying they didn’t recognize how serious the situation was at the time.
While there’s no doubt that Byrd and Beisel’s behavior was despicable, it’s equally shocking that Survivor — and the public at large — are choosing to focus on these false accusations rather than Kim’s real report of harassment.
Where is the outrage at Spilo for repeatedly touching Kim in a way that made her feel uncomfortable? Where is the outrage at the producers for releasing an episode in which Byrd and Beisel are clearly painted as the villains — and Spilo not at all?
There is a long history of women being called liars when they report sexually predatory behavior. And yet, the most commonly cited study on the subject, from Violence Against Women, places the actual prevalence of false allegations at 2-10%.
Survivor had an opportunity to take a woman’s experience of being harassed seriously and enact real consequences on the perpetrator. Instead, they chose to shift America’s focus to the 2-10% of allegations that end up being untrue, further perpetuating the idea that women will happily lie about this kind of behavior to get what they want.
It’s a shame that Byrd and Beisel themselves chose to perpetuate that notion. But in all their months of editing, it’s an even greater shame that Survivor didn’t reconsider what message they wanted to send.
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