The Mighty Logo

Why First Deaf 'Survivor' Competitor Christy Smith Is Proud of Her Performance

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

What’s new: Christy Smith spoke to Entertainment Weekly about her experience being the first Deaf player on reality television in 2003 when she competed on “Survivor.” Smith, who is a lipreader, shared she is proud she “lasted 33 days in a jungle surrounded by strangers with whom I struggled to communicate and made it through all the way to sixth place.”

Smith told EW that she felt “nothing but love” from the Deaf community for her participation on the show. The biggest regret Smith had while on “Survivor” was that she did not use American Sign Language (ASL).

After “Survivor,” Smith cofounded a nonprofit, Discovering Deaf Worlds, an organization with a mission to “advance the self-determination of signing Deaf communities through local capacity building in developing countries.”

It bolstered my confidence as a deaf person, giving me the belief that I could truly ‘survive’ anything. — Christy Smith, EW

The Frontlines: Since Smith was on “Survivor,” more Deaf people have competed on reality television, but are still very unrepresented on reality TV.

  • Deaf activist Nyle DiMarco and actress Marlee Matlin both appeared on “Dancing with the Stars.” DiMarco won his season and also won his season of “America’s Next Top Model.”
  • A 2013 survey on Australian television audiences with disabilities found that reality television was considered to be more stigmatizing of disability than other forms of TV entertainment.

Get more on disability: Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

A Mighty Voice: Contributor Brian O’Donnell wrote about the frustration of either not seeing disability in media, and if disability is portrayed, it is not reflective of disabled people’s experiences. “Even when people with disabilities make their way on screen, there is still a dearth of unique and compelling characters or stories. This is extremely concerning because it fails to reflect the diversity of human experiences.” You can submit your first-person story, too.

From Our Community:

Deaf/HoH is not one size fits all #Deaf #DeafCommunity #DeafCulture #HearingLoss #HardOfHearing

Other Things to KnowSince 2003, Deaf, disabled and chronically ill people have shared their experiences while documenting or competing on reality TV shows. You can learn about their experiences in the stories below:

How to Take Action: You can read Smith’s full interview with EW on her experience being the first Deaf reality show player on its website here. 

Image via EW

Originally published: November 19, 2020
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home