Survivor had a lot to talk about during the reunion portion of its season 39 finale.
This was a season that got fully overshadowed by the inappropriate behavior of one man and the way that behavior was used in the game, and how the show did or did not respond to the situation, and Jeff Probst was ready to lay it all out on the table as much as he could
After announcing the winner and covering a few game-related moments, Jeff explained that the show's producers and executives "intended to do the right thing" when it came to complaints of Dan Spilo's inappropriate touching of other players.
"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," he said.
He then sat down with Kellee Kim, who had complained about Dan from the beginning, giving her a chance to share her thoughts or vent or whatever she needed to do, after he told her "You were right."
"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. You didn't ask for it, and you didn't deserve it," he told her, giving her the floor.
A very nervous Kellee said there was a lot of pressure on this moment, and she wanted to do right by all the people who had reached out to her to share their own experiences, so Jeff asked if there was anything she wanted to get off her chest.
"I think one of the things that has been and was the hardest thing was the fact that Dan remained in the game even after I spoke up," she began. "And the reason why is not necessarily the injustice, it's because I felt like I spoke up and I was not being supported or believed. And when someone goes through something like this or anything remotely like it, to not be supported and not be believed is really the hardest thing. It's one of the hardest things."
"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," Jeff said. "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. But what we learned is 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. Your voice should have been enough. And the silver lining, one silver lining is it will next time. We learned a lot from you being willing the stand up and take it and continue to try and play."
Kellee said she hopes that this season 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."
Instead of airing tonight's finale and reunion live as they usually do, Survivor taped the reunion ahead of time in order to properly address the more serious subjects that came up this season, including complaints of sexual harassment that eventually got castaway Dan Spilo kicked off the show towards the very end of the game, only after an incident with a crew member.
On Tuesday, CBS announced that Survivor planned to make serious changes to its rules and cast and crew training going forward, with much more attention paid to players' personal space.
Fans, critics, and press (us included) have had a very hard time with this season, particularly with regards to how CBS and production handled the season. For the first time maybe ever, we just watched the host of the show lay out all of the reasons the show screwed up, and then promise to make things better in the future.
They can't go back and fix the past, but this is a pretty good start and it makes us feel a whole lot better about the future of the show.
Survivor will return in 2020 for the all-winners season 40, titled Winners at War.