I am having a hard time getting last week’s double episode of Survivor out of my head. It upset me a lot, and has me considering not watching the series anymore. I am disappointed in several of the players, the producers, and Jeff Probst. I have a million thoughts in my head and need a place to get them out. Warning: there will be spoilers for the episodes.

In episodes 8 and 9 of Survivor: Island of the Idols, one of the cast members (Kellee) breaks down crying about her experiences with one of the male contestants (Dan). She details his unwanted touching of her, and how it continues even after she has tried to stop him. This is something that has been highlighted in previous episodes also. During the double episode, we see her talking with another contestant (Missy). Both of them share a similar experience with the unwanted touching and uncomfortable experience. They discuss talking with the other women to vote off the offender. Several other women agree that they feel the same way and that he should be voted off. One of the older female contestants (Janet) takes it upon herself to completely drop her strategy for the game so that she can help protect her fellow women in the game. Strategy talks go on throughout the day, including Kellee looking to vote someone other than Dan off. Apparently, strategy is more important than feeling safe in the game. By the end of tribal council, Kellee is voted off instead of Dan. Janet is shocked. The next episode sees the contestants dealing with the fallout of what happened, including several of the women lying to Dan about what they said and reversing their stories about his behavior. There is a discussion that happens in the next tribal council around the issue, and the most intelligent, socially woke members of the game (Jamal) gets voted off after being the only one to seem to have any true grasp of the seriousness of what happened.

There are a number of reasons why I am upset by these episodes:

First, Dan should not have been allowed to continue in the game, and should not be there now. When Kellee is breaking down talking about the experience, the producer says if there are issues that need to be addressed, she should come to him so they can stop it. It is exactly what she is doing by talking about it to the producers, and the show should have addressed the issue right then. Instead, they allow things to continue, and simply give the equivalent of an HR harassment training off camera. In an interview after the episodes aired, Jeff Probst talked about how Survivor reflects reality, but that the difference is that the game allows people to be voted off. Somehow that takes the responsibility off the shoulders of the show itself? How far do they let things go before taking steps outside of a vote? What happens if someone is having an issue, but no one is willing to believe them? It is fucked up. It is not how anything like this should be handled. It was a disaster on the part of the producers and Jeff.

Second, the women who exaggerated what happened to them as a part of game play crossed a line. Sexual harassment / assault is not a game. It is serious. People deal with it constantly, and it is still hard to be heard in this day and age. Even when heard, there is little consequence for those who did the harassment / assault. It is disgusting that anyone would make that part of their game play. That is no way to advance such an important cause in front of millions of viewers.

Third, the tribal council that addressed the issue was a joke. Jeff talked about putting everything out there, but does a piss poor job of actually stating what happened. No one has the guts to come out and use concrete terms for the harassment  / assault. They skirt around the issue. Several of the contestants are clearly the kind of people that do not understand the complexities of an issue like this and try to brush it off. Jamal is the only one to speak up in an intelligent way. He has done the same for other issues around race this season. It is awesome to hear him talk about social justice issues. Too bad he gets voted out, so we will not have a voice of reason left. During the whole discussion, Dan is asked questions several times and simply wants to let it drop. He gives an apology that is not an apology, and like most men, is oblivious to his own behaviors. It is sad, but especially because it is framed as if it is going to be a deep, no bull type of discourse.

The whole turn of events was bullshit. It was handled in the worst way possible. I think CBS and the Survivor execs believe they deserve some kind of accolade for handling the situation the way they did and giving airtime to it all. Why else make it a double episode with a viewer warning at the beginning? They are as oblivious as everyone else who lets people like Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and Louis C.K. get away with their heinous actions for so long. In the last few years, we have made progress. We still need to make so much more.