Accusations of sexual harassment are serious things, and not tools for manipulating a game, but two Survivor contestants ignored that to make the game go their way.
Elizabeth Beisel and Missy Byrd voiced concerns over touching by another contestant, Dan Spilo, which now appear to have been either greatly exaggerated or completely made up to manipulate other players.
When fellow contestant Kellee Kim decided to disclose her discomfort with Spilo's constant touching to Byrd, Byrd sympathized, also disclosing discomfort with Spilo's touch.
Kim told Byrd:
"I had to be like, 'I don't like touching people. Please don't touch me.' And he still touches me."
Byrd shared her own discomfort with Spilo's casual touching both at night and at a celebratory meal the contestants had when the two groups of players merged into one, adding:
"It's just inappropriate touching, I am not an object."
Kim discussed her discomfort with Spilo, and inappropriate touching in general, in an interview, tearfully saying:
"It's super upsetting because it's like you can't do anything about it. There are always consequences for standing up. This happens in real life, in work settings, in school. You can't say anything because it's going to affect your upward trajectory. It's going to affect how people look at you."
Her statement likely resonates with anyone who has dealt with sexual harassment in the workplace.
It was just after Kim's tear-streaked disclosure that a producer could be heard commenting from off-camera—an extremely rare thing in a show that tries to give the illusion that the contestants are the only ones in whichever secluded place the show is located.
The producer told Kim:
"If there are issues, to the point where things need to happen, come to me and I will make sure that stops because I don't want anyone feeling uncomfortable."
It was then that the audience was made aware of the conversations producers had with the contestants, both as a group and individually, discussing the importance of boundaries and personal space.
Dan Spilo was issued a formal warning about his behavior and the game moved on. This wasn't the last time Dan's behavior would be discussed, however.
Missy Byrd used her discomfort with Dan as a manipulation tactic to get other players to vote him out, likely exaggerating her discomfort to do so. She asked her ally Elizabeth Beisel to convince another player, Janet Carbin, to vote for Dan as well.
Beisel talked about the decision in an in-show interview, saying:
"The merge is about numbers, so right now my job is to do whatever it takes to get on the right side of the numbers ... if I could play up that card as much as possible, I'll do it."
When it came time for the vote, Kim, who had asked her allies to vote for Byrd who she saw as the bigger threat in the game, was the one sent home.
Many fans of the show were left feeling extremely uncomfortable with the episode's outcome.
Host Jeff Probst was visibly upset by the turn of events during the 2-part episode's continuation. He made space for those involved to discuss their reasoning and speak what was on their minds.
Instead of speaking up during this time, Byrd and Beisel remained silent. Other players expressed concerns about the way the vote had gone, and Carbin considered dropping out and going home because important discussions were being ignored in favor of the game.
Both Beisel and Byrd have since apologized over social media.
Beisel addressed the severity of sexual harassment allegations and the inappropriateness of using them as strategies in the game.
"Sexual harassment and sexual assault are extremely serious, life altering topics that I do not take lightly. They have no business being used as tactics to further one's own agenda, whether it be in real life or in the game of Survivor. I am beyond disappointed in my behavior and will use this as a life-changing, teaching moment."
Byrd addressed her apology to Kim and Carbin directly.
"I got so caught up in game play that I did not realize a very serious situation, nor did I handle it with the care that it deserved."
Byrd and Beisel's apologies are certainly warranted, but they don't erase the hurt they caused fellow contestants by crossing this particular line. Sexual harassment allegations are not a bargaining chip in a strategy game.