NOTE: “Survivor” exit interviews are traditionally conducted over the phone. However, due to the sensitive nature of the events of this season, it was decided that the interviews with Kellee Kim and Jamal Shipman would take place over email.
Gordon Holmes: Remember when I said how good it made me feel to watch you and Jack? Last (Wednesday’s) episode gave me the opposite feeling. But, it was awesome to have you at Tribal shedding light on things. Where are you with how things went down with Elizabeth, Missy, Dan, Kellee, and Janet?Jamal Shipman: It was definitely intense and very uncomfortable for me. I felt so badly for Janet as she was talking about how she realized that she should have never gotten involved and how she was questioning whether or not she should stay. At the same time, I was aware of how Janet said some things that had the rest of the tribe upset as well. So what we see is a bunch of players not understanding the full extent of the deception that had taken place and questioning each other’s motives. As you watch it, it’s easy to think that everyone has a clear understanding of the situation, but we really don’t. No one person has all the facts nor does any one person know exactly how everyone feels.
With regards to the moment between me and Aaron, after watching it back, I truly believe that Aaron thought Janet was salty about simply being blindsided. I knew more than he did about how Kellee felt and with that context, his comments sounded really out of touch, so, informed with the background knowledge that I had about the situation, I responded to him the way I did. I know for a fact that if Aaron knew what I knew, he would have approached the situation much differently.
I believe that it is important to believe women. I think it is important to allow them to talk about their experience when and how they feel most comfortable. So when Lauren, Missy, and Elizabeth weren’t talking about how they felt (at least how I thought they felt), I wanted to make sure they knew that they didn’t have to talk about it right then if they weren’t willing or ready to. And they for sure didn’t have to pass it by all the men in the tribe in order for their concerns to be valid. That’s where my answer came from. I now know that there was a little more going on than I was aware, but I still maintain that it is still the right thing to do.
The most uncomfortable part for me was when Dan gave his speech about his behavior. For much longer than it appeared on the show, Dan directed his comments towards Kellee on the jury bench, and it must have been incredibly frustrating for Kellee to not have a voice in that discussion.
I know people think that it was wrong for Missy and Elizabeth to use such a sensitive issue as gameplay in “Survivor,” but again…think about what each person thought they knew. Dan thought he had allies in Janet AND Kellee. Elizabeth and Missy thought that Kellee was coming after Missy even after their conversation on the beach. Aaron thought Janet was lying to him about Missy and Elizabeth crying to her about Dan. Missy and Elizabeth had a hard time believing Janet after they heard that Kellee was voting Missy. Can you see how messy this is? Inside of all of that, you have Kellee experiencing real discomfort with Dan’s behavior, but even she was willing to put those feelings aside in the name of playing the game. Take all these wonderful people out of the weirdness that is “Survivor” and every single one of us would treat the issue of sexual harassment with the sensitivity and care that it deserves. For people who were really triggered by the episode, my hope is that seeing this distinction can be healing and allow for forgiveness and sympathy for the players caught in this uncomfortable intersection of real life and the game.
Holmes: Janet felt Elizabeth and Missy crossed the line with how they talked about Dan to sway her vote. Do you agree? And if not, is there a line for how far deception can go on “Survivor”?Shipman: I have to admit that I’m having a hard time answering questions like this because I just know so much more about the situation, and I know so much more about the people involved than you all do as fans of the show. I agree that it looks pretty bad to be seen as the ones “crossing the line” when it comes to using Janet and Kellee’s feelings about Dan as strategy, but I think it’s complicated because, if you are in this game environment and you truly believe that the other people there are using that same issue as a game move, then you might come to the conclusion that you’re just doing what you think everyone else is doing. You want to go further in the game. You don’t want to get played by having your feelings manipulated. You don’t have all the information about what’s true and what’s not. As far as you’re concerned, you feel safe and secure with the people in the game. All I’m saying is that it’s hard for me, knowing what I know, to come down on any of the people involved as strongly as the reaction has been towards them.
Personally, as we’ve seen, I have very strong feelings about this topic, and in the real world, I would have handled this very differently. If Molly and Kellee were my colleagues in the work place, there’s no question that I would strongly recommend that we go together to HR and handle this situation right away, but in “Survivor,” I didn’t want to put myself at risk of getting voted out and I didn’t want to mess up my alliance. This is what makes this so uncomfortable. Even calling it “gameplay” minimizes the state of mind we’re all in out there. We weren’t playing Monopoly. The rules of this game—the design of “Survivor”—is to lie and manipulate and the prize is a life-changing amount of money. It’s just messy.Holmes: What was your understanding of the Dan situation before you saw the episode?Shipman: I had a good understanding of the Dan situation before I saw the episode. I’m glad that the women out there saw me as a safe person to confide in about their feelings towards Dan, and I respected their wishes to keep it private. Like I say in the episode, I don’t think it’s my place to speak for women, but when women speak up, I will support them and protect their voice in the situation. That being said, the feeling towards Dan that were communicated to me were complicated. Yes, he would, at times, make some uncomfortable with unwanted touching, but at other times, there were instances where Dan was being very caring and his proximity was invited. I took my cue from the women and was there to support them when they needed me to.
Holmes: What was said by the producers during the group and individual meetings? Did you know what they were referring to?Shipman: I knew exactly what they were referring to because I had been clued in to some of the sentiment towards Dan since very early on in the game. I remember a conversation between me, Kellee, Lauren, Noura, and Janet the night of the merge where we stayed up late and talked for a long time about how the women were feeling about Dan’s behavior at times.
I know we will have ample opportunity to discuss this so I will not say as much about it now until we can all speak openly about it, but I will say that from what I experienced during that group meeting, it is perfectly plausible that Dan was unaware that production was referring to him and his behavior. According to the episode, Dan received an explicit warning, but watching the episode was the first that I heard of that.
Holmes: In hindsight, the Island of the Idols pencil trick put a bigger target on your back. Did you have the option of turning down the opportunity to craft an advantage?Shipman: I’ve got to say, I’m surprised by all the insinuations that I shouldn’t have tried something with the pencil and paper. I’m playing “Survivor,” people! Of course I’m going to try everything I can. It’s absurd that Elizabeth got chastised for trying fire against Rob. I think Janet should have absolutely played the game during her visit to IOI. Imagine the regret I would feel if I didn’t try something and still got voted out. It just doesn’t make any sense.
Holmes: Last week, you played an idol for Noura and Kellee played an idol for Dean. This week Dean voted Kellee out and Noura voted you out. What’s the lesson there?Shipman: Hah hah. There is no lesson. I know it’s mighty tempting to try to extrapolate a set of concrete rules about “Survivor,” but the fact is it all comes down to who you’re playing with. Dean and Noura are the kind of players who are comfortable with getting saved by someone and then voting that person out. What if Dean responded to Kellee the way Fishbach responded to Jeremy? Then all of a sudden the move was a genius one. Dean gives Kellee a heads up that the vote is her, Kellee plays an idol. Dan goes home. It’s whole different story! But the act of playing an idol for someone is not inherently a bad move. You take risks in this game. I’m happy to have had the opportunity to take the risk that I took. Imagine a different world where Dean found the idol himself, played it, voted for Noura, six votes get cancelled out on Dean, I play the idol for Noura, we revote, Karishma goes home, Noura was ACTUALLY saved by me, we go in five strong with Jack still there, Tommy and Lauren feel better about joining back up with old Vokai and we Pagong the mess out of old Lairo + Dan. That was a very real possibility. It just didn’t work that way due to a moment of inspiration.
Holmes: Alright, word association time. Let’s start with…Molly.Shipman: Brilliant.
Shipman: My boy.
Shipman: A lot.
Shipman: Busted can of biscuits. (She said it, not me.)
Holmes: And let’s finish off with Jason.
Holmes: This isn’t a question, just tell me you’ll play again.Shipman: Let’s see how the rest of the season plays out. Then, we’ll talk.
Any Questions? Drop me a line on Twitter: @gordonholmes