Some "Survivor" viewers were outraged Wednesday night after a female contestant who accused a male player of inappropriate touching was ultimately voted off while the accused remained to compete for the million-dollar prize.
CBS aired back-to-back episodes of "Survivor: Island of the Idols" on Wednesday night, titled "We made it to the merge," in which the two disparate tribes become one for the first time.
As the tribes start fraternizing, Kellee Kim and Missy Byrd talk for the first time on screen, and an issue comes up about alleged inappropriate touching by contestant Dan Spilo, which Kim had addressed with him in the first episode of the season.
Byrd tells Kim that she too has been uncomfortable around Spilo, a 48-year-old Hollywood talent manager, while competing in Fiji, and that three other women have also.
"This isn't just one person," Kim, a 29-year-old MBA student, says in a confessional to the camera after the conversation. "It's a pattern. It's a pattern. It takes five people to be like, 'Man, the way I'm feeling about this is actually real. It's not in my head. I'm not overreacting to it.' ... That sucks. That totally, totally sucks."
A producer responds, a rarity in the nearly 40 seasons of the reality series. "You know, if there are issues to the point where things need to happen, come to me and I will make sure that stops. Because I don't want anyone feeling uncomfortable … I just want to make sure. This is not … it's not OK," the producer says.
Kim responds that she does not want the producers to intervene.
But the audience is then informed by a title card that: "The following morning the producers met with all the players, both as a group and individually. They were cautioned about personal boundaries and reminded that producers are available to them at all times. Based on the outcome of those discussions, the game continued. In addition, producers met privately with Dan, at which time he was issued a warning for his behavior. Producers continue to monitor the situation."
A tweet from the "Survivor" Twitter account also let viewers know that the episode would not be live-tweeted as usual because it had "discussions on a serious topic."
CBS and "Survivor" were initially lauded for how the situation was handled.
“Wow! I’ve watched #Survivor since S1 & never heard production voice during interviews. Never!” one viewer wrote on Twitter. “If Moonves was still at CBS, this would’ve never happened. He would’ve shoved it in forever unseen footage. I see progress.”
Les Moonves, the former chairman and chief executive of CBS Corp., left the company after multiple women accused him of sexual harassment or assault. Moonves denied the allegations.
But some viewers soured on the episode after Byrd and another female contestant, Elizabeth Beisel, conspired on camera to exaggerate or fabricate misconduct allegations against Spilo in the name of gameplay — gameplay that ultimately led to Kim being voted off.
After talking with Kim, Byrd told Beisel on camera to confide in Janet Carbin, a mother figure in the group, to turn her against Spilo. “You tell her how uncomfortable you are. Like, you have a very open mom-daughter moment about how uncomfortable you are. Right now, that’s our only play," Byrd said.
Carbin agrees to vote against Spilo. But Beisel and Byrd, with targets removed from their backs, decide to vote against Kim, who clearly did not see it coming because, before the vote, she declined to use either of her two immunity idols.
What really upset some viewers who posted on social media was when Beisel admitted she never felt uncomfortable around Spilo.
“Honestly, I’ve felt safe this entire time and if I had felt uncomfortable I would have said, ‘Please stop,'" she says. “My job is to do whatever it takes to get on the right side of the numbers."
On Twitter Thursday morning, Carbin, who was a close ally of Spilo's but voted against him after hearing the younger women's allegations, said "it was a very difficult time."
“I feel like anything about sexual uncomfortability has no place in a joking environment, in a game environment,” she said during Wednesday's episode. “Lives can be destroyed if you’re abused. Lives can be destroyed if you're falsely accused. And it’s too powerful to play with.”
Many viewers agreed. "If you ever wonder why claims of sexual harassment are frequently discounted just watch this double episode of #Survivor," one Twitter user wrote.
On Thursday, both Beisel and Byrd issued statements apologizing for how they handled the situation, saying that, during filming, they weren't fully aware of the seriousness of Kim's accusations.
"To Kellee. I was sick to my stomach watching the episode and seeing how much pain you were in. I wholeheartedly apologize to you for using your accusations against Dan for gameplay. In no world is that acceptable, and I take full responsibility for my actions and lack thereof," Beisel's statement said.
Beisel also apologized to Carbin for taking advantage of her as she tried to protect the younger women on the show.
"Sexual harassment and sexual assault are extremely serious, life altering topics that I do not take lightly. They have no business being used as tactics to further one’s own agenda, whether it be in real life or in the game of Survivor. I am beyond disappointed with my behavior and will use this as a life changing, teaching moment. I apologize to any woman who felt triggered an disrespected by my actions," she continued.
Byrd also apologized, saying her behavior was the result of a "lapse in judgment."
"I became so caught up in the game play that I did not realize a very serious situation, nor did I handle it with the care that it deserved," Byrd said.
The game's host Jeff Probst defended the two women while noting that while "Survivor" is a game, it is also a social experiment that often mirrors challenges of real life.
"I don’t think you can address Elizabeth or Missy’s actions without first remembering that every player is making their decisions based on very limited information and through their own filters," Probst told Entertainment Weekly. "This is a precise microcosm of what happens in the workplace. We must use this as an opportunity to examine ourselves and how we handle these types of situations."
Probst did address the issue with Spilo at the end of the second episode Wednesday, during the tribal council. "We’re not going to let this go?” Spilo asks the host.
“Dan, you’re right,” Probst responds. “I will never let it go.” Kim, now in the jury, is required to stay silent.
Spilo proceeds to apologize.
"Most of my clients are women. Most of the people I work with are women. I work in an industry in which the MeToo movement was formed and allowed, thank God, to blossom and become powerful and strong," he says. "My personal feeling is if anyone ever felt for a second uncomfortable about anything I've ever done, I'm horrified about that and I'm terribly sorry." Spilo did not respond to NBC News' request for comment Thursday.
A joint statement from CBS and MGM reiterated that producers spoke with all of the contestants together and individually regarding the "behavior of a male castaway that made them uncomfortable" and issued Spilo a warning.
"On 'Survivor,' producers provide the castaways a wide berth to play the game. At the same time, all castaways are monitored and supervised at all times. They have full access to producers and doctors, and the production will intervene in situations where warranted," the statement said.
Kim wrote in a tweet Thursday morning that she hoped the episode would be productive and not damaging.
"Hi everyone, I'm hurting and very sad watching this last episode too, but please try to be kind and understanding," she wrote. "No one deserves threats or shaming, and we can talk about this in a way that we are all better for it."