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The tribe has spoken.
Beating out fierce competition, Survivor: Game Changers was the recipient of the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Reality Programming. The CBS series — nominated alongside Viceland’s Gaycation With Ellen Page, TLC’s I Am Jazz, VH1’s RuPaul’s Drag Race and NBC’s The Voice — took home the honor for its fair, accurate and inclusive representation of the LGBTQ community and the issues that affect their lives.
Former contestant and transgender activist Zeke Smith accepted the honor on behalf of the show at the GLAAD Rising Stars Luncheon on Friday. Smith, who appeared on the long-running reality series for two consecutive seasons, was shockingly outed in an April 2017 episode by a fellow contestant, accusing him of being deceptive simply because he did not disclose his gender history to the other players. GLAAD worked closely with CBS and Smith to ensure that when the episode aired, Smith would have the opportunity to speak for himself.
Smith elaborated on his experience while accepting the award — presented by Frankie Grande, Jackie and Juliet Evancho — on Friday. “My grand public outing made global headlines. Together, we changed millions of people’s perceptions of transgender people,” he said. “We shattered stereotypes. We created a worldwide conversation about privacy and respect.”
Smith continued: “Over the past year, I’ve met a lot of trans kids. Transitioning in middle and high school is hard. I see these kids struggling to retain hope that they’ll have an equal shot in the world. LGBTQ visibility on television matters because for many it is the only chance to glimpse their future. And to see that it is very bright.”
GLADD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis later explained why Survivor: Game Changers and Smith were so deserving of the award.
“Reality television has long been at the forefront of LGBTQ inclusion on the small screen, and Survivor: Game Changers continued that legacy with its thoughtful and responsible handling of Zeke Smith’s story,” she said. “By ensuring that Zeke would have the opportunity to share his story in his own words, the show sparked a national conversation about the trans community.”
In a guest column written for The Hollywood Reporter and published Friday morning ahead of Survivor‘s big win, Smith opened up about one of the many silver linings of his unexpected outing — changing the search results for “trans outing” on the Internet.
After working hard for months to refine his messaging for a tireless press tour last year, the Oklahoma native saw that when he Googled “trans outing,” there were fewer stories of trans people who had been outed and killed or committed suicide. “Such bleak scenes are rather familiar for trans people,” he noted. Instead, Smith found that his efforts paid off, producing more positive search results.
“When the dust settled, I Googled, ‘trans outing,'” he recounted. “I found the story of a trans person who, in the midst of going after his dream, was outed and immediately heard the vociferous defense of his peers, witnessed the seamless execution of justice, felt the unwavering support of those in positions of power, was embraced by the American people and realized that the only limits in his life were whose he imposed upon himself.”