Missy Byrd and Elizabeth Beisel came under fire for lying and taking advantage of genuine instances of inappropriate physical contact to further their games.
The fallout from Wednesday night's two-hour episode of "Survivor" continued to resonate so loudly on Thursday that two of the women involved have issued public apologies for taking advantage of real allegations to further their personal games.
After the tribal merge, Kellee Kim opened up to Missy Byrd about inappropriate physical contact she'd experienced from Dan Spilo. The contact was caught on camera and Kellee confronted Dan directly about it. Further, production got involved and even issued Dan a warning.
Missy, in turn, concocted an idea with Elizabeth Beisel to fake a story of their own in an attempt to get Dan voted out of the game, even managing to turn one of his close allies, Janet Carbin, against him. In the end, though, it was Kellee who got voted out.
While their actions certainly appeared callous, in light of Kellee's distress being so great that she nearly broke down on camera and production spoke to all the contestants about personal boundaries, Elizabeth insists that they were acting from a place of at least partial ignorance.
"After watching the episode, my eyes were opened to a completely different truth, and I received an abundance of information that I was entirely unaware of while playing the game," she wrote in her post. "I had no idea the severity of the situation."
She went on to apologize to all of the key players in the ugly saga from Kellee to Janet and even Dan, to whom she apologized for jeopardizing his reputation with lies. "Your reputation is never meant to be someone's stepping stone," she told him. "It is not a topic to be joked about or to be used as a tactical ploy."
Now, Dan was still facing serious claims of inappropriate behavior, but it was their fake allegations that had viewers so upset with these women, as well as the fact that Elizabeth and Missy would take advantage of something so serious to women everywhere and weaken real claims with their false ones.
Missy also claimed ignorance to the severity of the larger situation in her post, while applauding both Kellee and Janet for standing up for what is right.
"I became 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," she wrote. Describing it as a "life changing moment," Missy apologized to Kellee and Janet, as well as all women.
"Sexual assault is never to be taken lightly, and I'd like to apologize to any viewers that have been victimized," she wrote. "I have done a lot of reflecting since the game and understand and accept the consequences of my lapse in judgment."
It's remarkable that both women felt compelled to come forward with such statements, as it is common practice for contestants still active in the game to maintain silence regarding anything that happened on the show until their time is up. As both women have made it to the jury portion of the series, they will be in every episode moving forward until the live finale.
Hopefully, this will lead to a meaningful conversation during that reunion of all the contestants. "Survivor" has not generated this much public attention and scrutiny since the forced outing of a transgender contestant several years ago, and that story dominated (and rightly so) that season's reunion special.
Shortly after the episode aired, Jeff Probst spoke about the latest controversy to strike the long-running reality series. "This situation highlighted another layer of the changing dynamic between men and women: You don't have to feel unsafe to feel uncomfortable and making someone uncomfortable is not okay," he said in an interview with EW.
He continued, "This is new territory for this important conversation, and my hope was that everybody could share their point of view, in an open forum, about what had gone down and we could get total clarity."
Jeff, who has hosted the show since it began in May 2000, felt the episode was a positive reflection of our society in the midst of the #MeToo movement, but it also forced people to evaluate their moral compasses.
"It's extremely complicated. This situation really tests the concept of justified ethics, something that is at the heart of every 'Survivor' season," he added. "Where does each player draw their line in the sand? What is okay to do or say and what is off limits? And the bigger question: Are there certain situations that are simply off limits, no matter what?"
Contestant Aaron Meredith also apologized for his role in the story during the tribal council after Kellee was evicted where he insisted, "If this was truly a general tribe concern I would have been involved, Tommy would have been involved, Dean would have been involved."
Another contestant, Jamal Shipman, shot down this statement immediately, insisting that this is the kind of attitude that is hugely detrimental to the cause of women feeling safe and free to speak their truths.
"This is exactly what happens in the real world: When a woman brings up a charge and people want to negate whether or not it is legitimate, they say, 'Well if it was such a big issue, they would have brought it up,'" he said. In his video statement, Aaron owned up to his ignorance and made sincere apologies to Kellee, his castmates and anyone who's been affected by sexual assault.
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