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Survivor Kellee Kim made CBS guarantee she could speak freely at reunion; Jeff Probst apologizes

  • For the first time, CBS pre-taped the usually live Survivor reunion show hours before Wednesday's Island of the Idols finale, prompting speculation that the network wanted to censor some of the conversation around the Dan Spilo inappropriate touching controversy. Late last week, Kellee Kim's attorney, Debra Katz, expressed concerns with CBS about attending the reunion special. “Kellee was concerned that she was not going to be able to speak at the finale,” Katz told The New York Times. “And if she was allowed to speak, that it would be too scripted and she would not be able to say the things that were important for her to say.” In an email to CBS, Katz wrote: "Let me be clear at the onset: Ms. Kim does not seek compensation. Her motivation in retaining counsel is to begin a productive dialogue about changes production and CBS must make in future seasons of the show.” Shortly after Katz's email, CBS informed Kim that she would be able to speak freely. A CBS spokesperson told The Times: “There was never any doubt in our mind that she would be part of it and be able to speak freely about her experience," adding that her discussion with Jeff Probst would be “broadcast unedited.” During the reunion, Probst apologized to Kim. “You were right,” he told her. “You were right. You were right to speak up. You were right to step forward despite a lot of risks. And to speak your truth. And I want to acknowledge and apologize for your pain. You didn’t ask for it, you didn’t deserve it.” Probst also talked about how “it was a very complex unprecedented situation for us,” while also acknowledging that “in the months that have passed, we’ve learned so much about what we could have and should have done instead. And if this happened today, we would handle it much differently.” Kim responded: “We can’t really go back and change what happened to me and what happened to other people. I think the most important thing when I think about this situation and what have you is that I hope that this season of Survivor isn’t just defined by inappropriate touching or sexual harassment. I hope that is defined by change. I feel like I can be really proud of the fact that I spoke up and asked for those changes, and CBS and Survivor are making those changes because I asked. I have to fundamentally believe at the end of the day that individuals and institutions are capable of change."


    • After Survivor's reunion taping, Kellie Kim said the inappropriate touching controversy shouldn't be just about her: "I was very nervous," she told EW. "I think the amount of pressure that was put upon me, no one asks for that amount of pressure. No one asks to be put in a situation that I was put in, and so I felt such a big responsibility in terms of not just voicing my own voice, but really sharing because it matters for so many other stories and so many other people that have gone through something like this." She added: "I think that this story has really become about me, but the thing that I want to note is that this is actually about more than just me. I wasn’t the only person that spoke up. And people spoke up in many different ways. And the apology, it feels really good. But I think what’s most important about the apology is this idea of taking responsibility. Because CBS and Survivor are going to institute these changes that I’ve suggested. You can put in policies and procedures, but unless you have the heart and the intent to actually make those changes, things aren’t going to be different. And so more than anything, that’s what that meant to me, was, 'Okay, we can move forward, we can be different and we can do better and no one else has to go through something like this.'"
    • It was incredibly difficult to see how willingly the Survivor reunion isolated the impact of Kim’s experiences: "The choice to have Kellee speak one-on-one with (Jeff) Probst was the right one, I think, but it creates the false impression that no one else on the stage had a role to play, or a lesson to learn," says Myles McNutt. "And the way most of the reunion plays out as though this was just a normal season before pivoting hard into Kellee’s segment once more seeks to shape her experience as an aberration, rather than a product of the culture created by the game, its producers, and by Dan (Spilo) himself. Jeff may have accepted responsibility for what happened, but the way the show moved forward right up until he sat down with Kellee during the reunion did little to suggest that responsibility, either unable or unwilling to acknowledge the gravity of the situation at hand as the crowds cheered and Probst smiled."
    • Survivor's all-winners Season 40, Winners at War, will feature 20 returning winners, including Boston Rob Mariano and Sandra Diaz-Twine, and a $2 million prize
    • Jeff Probst has been resistant in the past to an all-winners season: What changed?

    TOPICS: Kellee Kim, CBS, Survivor, Dan Spilo, Jeff Probst, Reality TV, Sexual Misconduct