'Survivor': Kellee Kim on Moving Forward After Dan Spilo Controversy (Exclusive)
By Jennifer Drysdale
Kellee Kim is grateful for the support she has now, but didn't feel she had while playing Survivor: Island of the Idols.
The MBA student returned for the show's season 39 finale on Wednesday night, where she opened up about coming forward with allegations of inappropriate touching against fellow castaway Dan Spilo. He was issued a formal warning following Kellee's concerns, and was removed from the game on last week's episode following another alleged incident with someone on the Survivor production team.
"I think for anyone having gone through anything even remotely like this, to really be heard and believed, and not just that, but to have these changes be made that I've asked for, that means so much," Kellee told ET after the episode. "It means everything."
"Some of the things I've asked for are a third party professional to just be objective, because sometimes you're in the game or you're filming or whatever it might be, and there's this idea that Survivor is a pure game. You don't want to interfere. So, this third party professional being super important. [I've also asked for] outlets to make a complaint or speak out without having any sort of repercussions.... if someone is there and they're seeing something, they can say something, or if it's happening to you, you are able to say something," Kellee explained. "These are all things that I didn't have, and I want the next person to be able to have that."
Kellee responded to Dan's apology on Twitter on Tuesday, saying she finds it "curious" that he decided to publicly apologize to her, and only her, following "a series of inappropriate incidents that occurred months ago and impacted a number of women on set."
As for whether she plans to speak to Dan privately about the issue, she said she'll keep that private. "It's my business, it's his business. It's whatever we want to do with it," Kellee said, but noted she does hope he "makes changes in his life" following the controversy. "It's a learning lesson for many people."
Kellee did praise her fellow castmates -- and viewers -- for their support. "This was a really big part of the season. I don't want this to be the only thing this season is about. I want this season to also be about change and this idea of change where a lot of us have had these hard conversations and people are learning," she expressed. "People have learned, and hopefully that learning can continue and carry forward and when we see something and when it's happening to someone, we can say something. We can stop that, because really, what has given -- I stood up, but what has given my voice power and meaning has been the collective voices. It's really been everyone who watched, who said, 'This is not OK. This is not OK.'"
"It's this power of the 'we,' the collective, that is so important in situations like this, and I think that is something that everyone is learning and figuring out," she added.
"I think this is such a complex issue, and there are so many people and organizations that are making incremental steps forward all the time," Kellee shared. "But I think I can be proud, I guess, of speaking up and being a force to make this change happen. I don't want anyone else to have to go through something like this, or if it happens, I want the procedures and the policies and the resources we put into place where they can be heard and they don't have to feel alone and they are believed. And all those things are so, so, so important."
Lauren Beck said it was "hard" watching the season play back, having been unaware of exactly what occurred between Dan and others. "It's hard that our season has been defined by this, especially because I am such a Survivor fan, but I also think that it is important, and I think it's great that certain things have been highlighted, not just the one issue, but I think there have been so many things that have been highlighted that have opened a channel of discussion, and that's so important because we can learn, we can grow," she said. "I'm still learning, and I'm thankful for that.
"I think there's power in positivity, and to think that [change is] what's coming out of it is great," Lauren added.
Janet Carbin, who was praised for her reaction to the initial allegations against Dan, also reflected on how the controversy affected the game.
"It was a difficult time for everybody involved. There was so much miscommunication or limited information that everybody had, and everybody was working on whatever information they had," she said, noting that upholding her morals on the situation is worth more than the show's million dollar prize.
"I think that the revisions that CBS is looking at are very good. I think there's still going to be some trial and error. Nothing's perfect. It takes a little bit of melding and molding to move forward, but this is a step forward," Janet continued.
Noura Salman offered her support to both Kellee and Dan. "I love Kellee so much, I love Dan so much, and I love what she is doing, which is to say, 'Hey, speak up people, say what you need, what you don't need.' And even her, she was not strong enough at times to say, 'Yeah, actually I'm not comfortable. Stop filming, get this guy out of here.' So, she's learned a lot. Dan's learned a lot," she said. "He's actually a good guy with a good heart, and he's a warm person and he's a touchy feely person, and my family's like that... so I see both sides, and I have both sides in me, honestly."
"The issue is when you have two very different people together in close quarters, they divert to their natural, especially in elements where they're hungry, tired and deprived of so many things. So the thing is, they all come from a good heart. However, they can both be better from this experience, and we all can," she added.
Runner-up Dean Kowalski noted it's "something that cannot be ignored" -- despite some saying it overshadowed the gameplay of the season. "Hats off to Jeff, CBS and everyone for the way they approached it. I don't want to say it was handled poorly. The season is it was it is," he explained.
Winner Tommy Sheehan had a similar outlook, telling ET that he used the situation as an opportunity to teach his 4th grade students about personal space and appropriate behavior.
"My dream was to play Survivor, and I got to play Survivor. Did I sign up for what happened? No. But none of us did. Not Kellee, not Dan, nobody," he said. "I truly love everybody on my cast, but also, it was an awesome time for 'Teaching Time with Tommy' with my students. I had talks with them that I never had talks [about] in my teaching career."
"Social media loves to be negative. I'm just saying, 'Guys, look, it happened. Like [Kellee] said, we can't go backwards. But what can we learn from it?' So stop bashing people and let's say, 'What can we do to become better people?'" Tommy continued. "So, that's my outlook on things. It's a good time as a teacher to have these tough conversations with my 9 year olds, because before you know it, they're going to be in high school and college. I want to be able to have those conversations with them."