We Were All Betrayed By Two Women on the TV Show ‘Survivor’

Gillian Sisley

A monumental opportunity for greater dialogue on an important issue became a controversial nightmare in an episode from last season.


Survivor Contestants Elizabeth Beisel (left) and Missy Byrd (right). (Photo credit: Robert Voets, CBS)

It was late.

I snuck into my home, husband sleeping soundly upstairs, a bag of McDonald’s takeout in my hand. I walked into the kitchen, slipped to the floor in the dark, and tucked into my comfort food.

I haven’t eaten MacDonald’s in three years.

But I bought some last night. Because I was deeply betrayed by two women on a reality TV show.

I didn’t know what else to do but eat my feelings.

Or at least, eat after sending out a chain of socially and ethically charged tweets.

The fast-food didn’t sit well in my stomach — but my disgust in regards to these two women’s actions made me even sicker.

Here’s what went down.

I’ve been a fan of the reality television show ‘Survivor’ since its first season. I think they’re on their 30th-something season now (two per year), and I’ve watched every single one since I was 8 years old. I am now 26. This show has just always been around, and I’ve always watched with my mom.

But on an episode in 2019, there was a first in ‘Survivor’ history.

For the first time, the show publicly acknowledged, commented on, and intervened when a female contestant broke down in an interview where she detailed how another male contestant had been making her feel incredibly uncomfortable with inappropriate touching for the last 20 some days.

On the first day of arriving at their camp in Fiji, Kellee Kim sat down with Dan Spilo to have an open dialogue with him about her personal boundaries, and how she just doesn’t like to be touched by their people. This came after several instances of Dan being what Kellee referred to as, “overly touchy-feely”. He said he understood, and all seemed well.

But as it would appear, this inappropriate behaviour only just continued. And in the most recent episode, we watched three weeks' worth of discomfort for Kellee come to a heartbreaking head.

In the episode, a milestone in the show took place where the two tribes merge together as one to live on a single camp together, rather than two. Once they were all in the same location, Kellee confided in another female contestant, Missy Byrd, that she was deeply uncomfortable with Dan’s inappropriate touching and invasion of her personal space.

For two hours, Missy and Kellee talked about life, discussed these issues, and walked away agreeing that they didn’t want to sabotage themselves in the game by causing a big conflict or blow up.

Kellee confided in another female contestant, Janet Carbin, who is recognized as the maternal figure of the camp. Janet, a chief lifeguard in Palm Bay with a tenacious personality, became incredibly distraught when she heard that there were girls in the camp who were feeling uncomfortable with uninvited physical approaches from Dan.

Meanwhile, Missy, the fellow contestant who Kellee and confided in, went to another female contestant in her alliance, Elizabeth Beisel, and had a conversation with her where she said,

“If Janet comes to you and asks how you’re feeling about the whole Dan situation, tell her that you’re incredibly uncomfortable, as well.”

Elizabeth agreed to this plan.

And so, North Americans all over watched in utter disgust as two female contestants on the show ‘Survivor’ turned real allegations of sexual harassment into a game strategy they could use for their own gain and agenda.

They spoke directly to Janet, the maternal figure of the group, and expressed their shared discomfort with Kellee, and then in private interviews with the production team admitted that they had never felt uncomfortable around Dan at all.

All Missy and Elizabeth were trying to do was shift focus from themselves to Dan, so that they could avoid getting voted out by the rest of their tribe.

In absolute horror, I watched these two women fabricate allegations of sexual harassment and completely betray a fellow woman and legitimate victim in the situation, all for the 1/13 chance of maybe winning $1,000,000 at the end.

The production team would go on to intervene from this point, holding an off-camera conversation with each of the contestants individually, and then a group conversation to remind them of personal boundaries. Producers then specifically pulled Dan aside to give him an official final warning for his behaviour.

There are a lot of problematic issues here.

For one, why did the production team, who supervised the contestants on this island 24/7 with cameras, not intervene sooner when they were witnessing the obvious sexual harassment take place?

There were samples that showed raw footage where Kellee was being physically touched without her consent (and to her visible dismay) on her head, on her face, and the like, caught by the cameramen. And yet, the production team did not intervene in the 20 some days that this was taking place.

Again, plenty of issues to dissect here, but I’m going to focus on the one that infuriated me most:

I want to know, after Missy and Elizabeth admitted to the fact that they fabricated their accusations against Dan of sexual harassement, why they weren’t immediately removed from the show.

Their fellow contestant Kellee had actual, legitimate video evidence of being harassed by Dan. She had confided in Missy about her upset, and Missy took that information, went to Elizabeth, and the two of them created a gameplay strategy for how they could use this entire situation of sexual harassment allegations to their advantage to further themselves in the game.

Watching Missy and Elizabeth laugh about how “smart” and “strategic” they considered this move to be was so incredibly appalling I could barely even stomach to continue watching.

4 out of 5 women will experience some form of sexual harassment in their lifetime.

I am a survivor of sexual assault and an advocate for fellow women who have been systematically silenced, and I am disgusted and outraged by the behaviour of Missy and Elizabeth.

As a co-editor for online feminist publication, I read stories on a daily basis from brave survivors of sexual assault who were so deeply and traumatically violated, and yet found the courage to speak their truths despite the inexplicable pain and retraumatization of telling it.

I myself have written such articles.

4/5 women will experience sexual harassment in their lifetimewhat a horrifying number.

I cannot express how many days I have desperately wished, while being crushed under the suffocating weight of my own personal trauma, that I was among the 1 rather than the 4.

The long and painful healing process following a sexual assault is enough to break a person. It’s excruciating, and it acts as a daily reminder of an event or several events that we wish we could just forget and move on from.

I felt numb, betrayed, and so incredibly broken to watch fellow women who I had admired throughout the show slap me in the face in such an insulting and damaging way.

Living a life sentence of pain for someone else’s misplaced sense of entitlement over our bodies is a daily fight and struggle.

My career, personal life and entire self have been beaten and battered by the deep violation committed against me.

There is no valid or reasonable excuse for why two women would take the trauma of 80% of their fellow women and make their violation a joke, a laughing matter and a game for selfish gain.

Is a chance for $1,000,000 really worth it if it means throwing the rest of the female population under the bus with your actions?

We are already systematically silenced by the justice system and many in society — it is truly disheartening to witness fellow women commit what I can only describe as a deep and heartbreaking betrayal.

Everyone has a story — including Missy and Elizabeth

I’m not here to make any assumptions. I don’t know Missy or Elizabeth’s stories, and I can’t know for sure if they had any significant events in their life related to sexual harassment or sexual assault.

And quite frankly, despite how enraged I feel, that’s simply none of my damn business. And it’s none of yours either.

Their story is their own, and they have the right just like everyone else to share it when they feel ready.

But I find it so hard to imagine that someone who has been traumatized or violated through sexual harassment or sexual assault before would conduct themselves in such a way, and make this entire issue something that can be fabricated and leveraged for personal gain.

This is why people doubt sexual assault victims. This is why people are immediately suspicious of whether or not a woman is being truthful. The actions committed on the show by Missy and Elizabeth have sent every sexual assault ‘Survivor’ several steps back in our process towards being heard and believed, and only time will tell how damaging this has made the process for us.

To Missy and Elizabeth:

You were lucky to not have experienced the same discomfort and feelings of being unsafe as Kellee did.

You were confided in by a fellow woman, and you used that information to further your own agenda.

You had a platform, you abused it. You both failed us. All of us.

I’ve read your public apologies on social media (here’s Elizabeth’s and Missy’s), and I truly do hope that this event will act as a learning experience in the future for you both. I hope you understand the depths of damage you’ve made in furthering the cause of women to be believed and heard when stepping forward to bravely report sexual harassment.

I can’t say for sure how sincere your apologies were, or if the extreme negative backlash on social media just scared you to your core, but I still remain deeply disgusted and disappointed in your conduct.

That said, I am a woman who believes in the importance of learning opportunities, and who recognizes that all human beings make mistakes. I am also a woman who will stand with other surviviors, men or women, when they step forward to speak their truth and tell their story, no matter how many mistakes they’ve made in the past.

So, with that said, should you find yourself among the 4 rather than the 1, we will stand with you.

Because that’s what women do — we believe one another. We stand with one another. We protect each other.

If we don’t, no one else will.

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