Kellee Kim was recognized by her fellow Survivor: Island of the Idols castmates as a mental force in the game. And that was exactly the problem. Frightened by her strategic strength, the tribe blindsided Kellee, voting her out with two idols in her pocket. But it was another kind of strength Kellee displayed that impressed viewers.
Feeling uncomfortable due to tribemate Dan Spilo not observing personal boundaries when it came to excessive touching, Kellee sat Dan down at the start of the season and spoke to him about her feelings on the matter. But when the touching continued after the players were reunited at the merge, production was forced to intervene — meeting with the entire tribe and individually with each contestant while issuing an official warning to Dan.
However, the situation became even more complicated when players Missy Byrd and Elizabeth Beisel (who have since apologized on social media) exaggerated their own reactions to Dan’s actions, which led Janet Carbin to vote against Dan on moral grounds under the false impression that he was also making others feel uncomfortable. By weaponizing the matter as a game move, Missy and Elizabeth also served to undermine Kellee’s legitimate personal feelings and concerns on the matter.
We connected with Kellee over email to get her thoughts on everything that went down on the island, not being able to have a voice at that second tribal council, and having to watch it all play back seven months later. She also reveals she was unaware Dan was issued an official warning until she watched the episode, and reacts to the outpouring of support she has received since the episode aired.
As Kellee writes to EW: “I appreciate the time and space in which people have given me to find my voice. I did not have any choice on if and how the story would be told. CBS did not allow me to view the episode early, and it has been difficult for me to both grapple with my feelings and figure out what to say. There are many more words, but for now, here it is.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: There’s so much to get into with all of this. Let’s start here: How does it feel now seven months later to have to relive all this stuff that happened out on the island with Dan’s inappropriate touching?
KELLEE KIM: As shown in the first episode, I told Dan that I didn’t like being touched and asked him to respect my personal boundaries. Not shown is that Janet also had a conversation with him in the first 6 days, saying it’s not the same for me to touch younger women as it is for you. However, Dan was part of our core alliance and to risk alienating him was to risk my allies and my game. I tried to address the issue and move forward with the game. I can leave this show feeling proud of that.
Speaking up for myself and others took a lot of courage, because there was always the risk that I wasn’t going to be believed. That’s why it’s important to support them and speak up for them. I am grateful to those who supported me and took a stand for me.
What happened when production intervened and talked to you all, and were you satisfied with their response or do you feel they should have intervened sooner?
One of the things that truly makes Survivor special is that the producers let the players play. We say what we want to say, and we are left as much as possible to our own devices; this is what has kept the integrity of the game. However, on the flip side, it has created a relationship where players can’t ask for help and producers can’t step in.
I did not know about Dan getting a personal warning until I watched the episode. If production was going to give Dan an official warning, they should have just pulled him from the game or at least informed me so that I was aware of how it might impact the game.
Let’s bring this to the workplace; you complain about your coworker making you feel uncomfortable and touching you too much. This person gets a warning, and as a result, refuses to work with you, blocks anything you try to put forward, and it hurts your career. So while I don’t think this was the right course of action, this issue coming to light is allowing production to have these conversations, input protocol, raise awareness, and change for the better.
Did Dan’s attitude towards you change at all after production issued him a warning?
Like I said, I didn’t know that Dan had gotten an official warning until watching the episode; in fact, I thought only Janet and I had had private conversations with production. I imagine that this likely contributed to his attitude change from his initial excitement to reunite with me and Janet.
I couldn’t tell you how much any of this affected the course of the game, and I don’t think anyone will ever know the truth of it.
What did you make of Dan celebrating as you were voted off?
Even without the context of this situation, it is important to be a gracious winner as it is a gracious loser.
Missy and Elizabeth appeared to concoct a strategy where they told you and Janet that they felt violated as well, even though Elizabeth then told the camera that they were not actually uncomfortable with Dan at all and it was only a game move to shift the target onto him. How do you feel about them making up those feelings as a game move, and do you think it then minimized the actual true feelings you were having in regards to the situation?
What you see in the game here — it’s an issue that happens everywhere: in bars, schools, and offices — and it’s an issue that (mostly) young women have to face. I draw the ethical line at using something like this as a tool. The reason is: I needed to be believed, and production needed to step in. If people lie or use it to their advantage, it discredits the truthful stories and does irreparable damage to the issue.
I also draw the ethical line at staying silent and “not knowing.” There is no such thing as an innocent bystander, and by not asking, taking action, or taking a side, you enable the behavior. Those who have the privilege of ignoring what’s happening have to take responsibility or this type of behavior will continue.
I’m not saying that what happened was okay. I’m saying that I hope that we are all learning.
How hard was it to sit there at the following Tribal as a jury member watching Dan and Janet and Elizabeth and Aaron all weigh in and not be able to say anything?
Production decided. Jeff and I only spoke the day after Jamal got voted out so I was not aware of any discussion or option for me to speak beforehand. I also wasn’t aware of what this tribal council was going to be about. Could I have said something? I suppose, but I would have had to gather my thoughts, broken a huge social norm and rule, and potentially alienate production, who had control over the narrative.
Have you and Dan had a chance outside the game to discuss all of this, and how are you two now?
My relationship with Dan is between me and Dan. Having a good or bad relationship with someone after something like this seems to warp public perception of what happened. My relationship with Dan has no bearing on the facts, which the public saw air.
You went home with two idols in your pocket. Did you come close to using one of them, or were you that sure you were safe?
Yes! Lauren was my litmus test since the Molly vote out. During Molly’s vote out, I thought that Lauren wore all of her emotions and so I knew that she would be my check. During tribal, I turned to ask if we were okay her because I knew something was up. It was misplaced trust and misread signals, and complex because it was intertwined with the Dan situation, but unfortunately, that was our game and I’m human.
By the way, what’s really amazing is that in Episode 2 at Island of the Idols, I cried when I got an idol because I was so relieved that I hadn’t failed a little test with five silly questions. It seemed so monumental when I was there. Fast forward 6 episodes later, and I get voted out with not one, but two idols in my pocket. It was one of my big fears going into the game, and it actually manifested! But you know what? I am so grateful that I got to spend time with Jack. Ponderosa was so relaxing, and my life has gone on. I think it goes to show you that sometimes the fear of failing can be so much worse than the failing itself.
It was a little unclear who your biggest allies were out there. Did you have a long-term plan in terms of whom you wanted to go to the end with?
My biggest allies were Janet, Noura, Karishma, and Lauren. I’d put Jason in that category as well, but he unfortunately got voted out.
By the way, I saw your article, Dalton, on it and it made me laugh because you were on the right track. Having a women’s alliance is not sexist. I knew before the game that I wanted to call attention to the fear of women’s alliances. It’s so interesting to me how past seasons affect future seasons and frankly, I’m tired of the Black Widow Brigade affecting so many women in the game. Lastly, yes, I did want to throw attention off myself and Dean by putting Jamal a little on the defensive!
You have received an outpouring of online and social media support throughout all of this. What has that been like to have your life out there like an open book?
What happened out there was and has been very hard for me. After many months of feeling alone, the outpour of messages, posts, DMs, texts, food, flowers, and calls have meant so much. I feel loved, heard, and believed, and there is no better gift. Thank you for that.