“Survivor” Faces Sexual Harassment Controversy

“Survivor” Faces Sexual Harassment Controversy
Dan Spilo

Survivor, the show that places strangers in a real-life situation in which they must provide themselves with food, shelter, and fire at a remote location, is now in its 19th season on U.S. television. The European version has been around even longer. Players are divided into various “tribes,” and these groups are pitted against each other. 

This year’s Survivor, however, deals with an unwelcome subtheme of this reality show – sexual harassment by one cast member. Fans are not happy, and some are downright insulted, yet the producers appear oblivious to what is going on among the contestants. 

Respect Her Space

The issue concerns Dan Spilo, whose behavior is making some of the younger, female castaways uncomfortable, and they have let him know it. Perhaps not coincidentally, in real life, Spilo is a Hollywood talent agent. He apparently has not gotten the “#MeToo” memo. Even though one woman, Kim, told Spilo directly to “respect my space” and not make inappropriate physical contact, he is not paying attention. That encounter occurred early in the season, but Spilo is continuously shown making careless, hands-on contact. 

Voting Him Off

The modus operandi of Survivor involves cast members voting one of their tribe members “off the island” at a so-called tribal council. Those voted off generally become members of the jury to determine which players stay or go until there is just one “sole survivor” and big money winner. 

In Spilo’s case, one contestant, Missy, told another that voting him off would improve her mental health, because of his wandering hands. The cameras have caught Spilo in the act of excessive touching far too often, and those are only the scenes that made it into the show. His behavior has obviously made these young women uncomfortable, and Survivor critics think Spilo earned his exit as a contestant quite a while ago. 

A Pattern Emerges

As the show progresses, it becomes clear that Kim is not the only woman who experienced problems with Spilo. In a memorable episode, Kim breaks down crying when she realizes that she is not alone and that what Spilo is doing involves a pattern. The bigger question – why didn’t the producers put a stop to Spilo’s behavior when this pattern became obvious? 

Instead, the audience hears a producer inform Kim that if there are problems “to the point where something needs to happen,” she should approach him about it, and the producer will ensure the pattern ceases. Because Kim realizes such an action might put her out of the game, she decides not to make a big deal out of it with the producers. 

She notes that while voting out Spilo is the fair thing to do, Survivor is not a fair game. In fact, she is later voted out, while Spilo remains.


Spilo appears just downright clueless, which is especially scary considering his actual occupation. The producers do hold a meeting in which contestants are warned about respecting personal boundaries, but Spilo seems to have no idea what they are talking about. He makes a halfhearted apology but doesn’t seem to understand exactly what he did that upset the young women. In fact, he says allegations against him are absurd, even though they are on view for all to see, and because of his work, he is “extremely sensitive” to anything relating to #MeToo. 

Do Something

Oddly enough, the producers, receiving feedback about these episodes, seem to think they deserve praise for addressing the issue of sexual harassment. The fact that most viewers seem to believe they failed miserably makes them as clueless as Spilo. The producers should actually do something rather than try to talk a good game. At this rate, perhaps Survivor doesn’t deserve a 20th anniversary. 

Do you think you were harassed at work or by a co-worker? Visit our workplace harassment FAQ page for more information. Ready to see if you have a case? Contact us online or by phone at 888.249.6944. All inquiries are protected by the attorney-client privilege and kept CONFIDENTIAL. (There is never a fee for a consultation.)


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