SPOILER WARNING: Do not read on unless you’ve watched Wednesday night’s finale of Survivor.
Tommy Sheehan was named the winner of Season 39 on Wednesday night in a 8-2-0 jury vote over Dean Kowalski and Noura Salman.
The finale began where it left off last week, with the announcement that Dan was removed from the show following an off-camera incident.
After announcing the winner, host Jeff Probst explained how the show’s executives and producers “intended to do the right thing” when it came to the allegations voiced against Dan’s inappropriate behaviour towards other castaways.
“But in the months that have passed, we have learned so much about what we could have and should have done instead, and if this happened today, we would handle it much differently,” Probst said.
He sat down with Kellee Kim, who expressed discomfort around Dan during an earlier episode and had previously confronted him during the season premiere about the way he engaged with her physically.
“You were right,” Probst said to Kellee.
“You were right to speak up. You were right to step forward, despite a lot of risk, and to speak your truth, and I want to acknowledge and apologize for your pain,” he said to her.
“You didn’t ask for it, and you didn’t deserve it.”
Kellee expressed that she was nervous when Probst asked her to take the floor and share her thoughts.
Kellee added that, “to not be supported and to not be believed is really the hardest thing.”
“What you just hit on I think is probably the biggest package of what we learned, in a nutshell. When you had your emotional interview, that did prompt us into action,” Probst said.
Probst continued: “I got on the phone with CBS. It’s a 15-hour time difference. Everybody was in. We were trying to make the right decision. We made a decision to meet with you guys privately. We weren’t transparent about why we met. That’s something else that I have learned that would have helped a lot, if we could have said, here’s what we’re talking about.”
He said that that “a few people told us in those meetings they knew.”
“They knew it was Dan, and they knew Dan wasn’t going to get any votes, that Dan was going to go to the end because Dan couldn’t win. There was all this talk of players using it to lie in the game, and what I’ve learned is when you are not in a situation like this, you can’t make your decisions of how to handle it based on the actions of somebody who’s in it, because they’re in it.
“Missy and Elizabeth got a lot of really unfortunate social media hate mail that they didn’t deserve. They didn’t ask for this, either. None of you asked for this, which brings us back to the thing I said at the top,” he said.
Probst told Kelle 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.”
Kellee said she hopes that Season 39 isn’t “just defined by inappropriate touching or sexual harassment.
“I hope that it’s defined by change,” she said. “And I feel like I can be really proud of the fact that I spoke up and I asked for these changes and CBS and Survivor are making these changes, because I asked. And I have to fundamentally believe at the end of the day that individuals and institutions are capable of change.”
Kellee took to Twitter on Dec. 18 to say that it’s “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,” she tweeted.
Time’s Up president and CEO Tina Tchen issued a statement following the finale of Survivor.
“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,” the statement began.
“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,” Tchen’s statement concluded.
CBS and Survivor announced changes to the TV series following the harassment allegations.
Earlier this week, CBS released a statement regarding the network’s response to the situation and explained how it plans to make changes in the future to prevent similar incidents from happening.
“Season 39 of Survivor has been unprecedented for all of us, with important social issues and inappropriate individual behaviour intersecting with gameplay in complex ways that we’ve never seen before,” the statement began. “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.”
“For Season 40, which has already filmed, the show added to its pre-production cast orientation-specific guidelines regarding personal space, inappropriate behaviour and how to report these issues,” CBS explained.
“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 statement also added that “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,” which includes Big Brother, The Amazing Race and Love Island.
Survivor will return in 2020 for the all-winners Season 40 titled, Winners at War.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse or is involved in an abusive situation, please visit the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime for help. They are also reachable toll-free at 1-877-232-2610.