Editor’s note: This article contains possibly sensitive content.
In the most recent season of Survivor, contestant Dan Spilo was removed from the show due to multiple reported instances of inappropriate touching.
Spilo’s actions made national headlines, and the producers’ lack of action when contestant Kellee Kim spoke up twice about her discomfort with Spilo was a major source of contention amongst fans and players.
The controversy over Spilo was not the show’s first. Throughout its 20 year history, Survivor has proven itself to be a reality show more reflective and commentative of reality than its superficial competitors. “Survivor put reality TV on the map,” said Hayden Moss, Big Brother 12 Winner, Survivor: Blood vs. Water contestant, and ASU alumnus.
Survivor, unlike many other reality programs, has maintained its viewership with young people throughout its history. While the game has taken over as the main focus of the show, topics of social importance can be traced through the seasons. Sexual harassment has been focused on in the show a few times.
In season 5, contestant Ghandia Johnson, who had previously experienced sexual assault in college, reported inappropriate behavior from her tribemate Ted Rogers Jr. In the episode, Johnson said, “Last night (Ted) threw his arm over me and really pulled me close in to him ... he started to really become very, kind of, sexual. I mean specifically, he was grinding against me … and he didn’t stop.”
While Johnson’s frustrations were expressed as she yelled and punched a log, she was not depicted as sympathetically as Kim. The rest of Johnson’s tribe seemingly dismissed her in favor of Rogers’ denial, with some of Rogers’ friends describing Johnson as “bulls---” and a “crazy lady.” Fellow tribemate Clay Jordan described Johnson’s behavior as childish.
Shannon Guss, a podcaster with Rob Has A Podcast network who covers seasons of Survivor internationally, said in an interview with State Press Magazine, “(Ghandia) was laughed off. So at least we’ve come a lot further than that, where this kind of thing is taken seriously and hopefully things will continue to get better and better.”