The popular and Emmy Award-winning reality competition series Survivor has dominated television for more than two decades, entertaining viewers and raising their adrenaline while watching 18 castaway contestants–with-and-without disabilities–attempt to outwit, outplay and outlast each other in isolated locations around the world. As the entertainment industry moves toward becoming more inclusive for people with disabilities, we’re excited to take a look at how Survivor has made it their mission to create a more inclusive environment for contestants with disabilities.
Over the course of 43 seasons, there have been 644 contestants on Survivor. So far, the franchise has cast 10 contestants with self-disclosed disabilities who have overcome physically and mentally taxing challenges.
Being a contestant with a disability on Survivor is not an easy feat. Their fellow tribe members’ knowledge of their disability may create uncertainty about their ability to contribute and add value to the challenges. This adds another layer of difficulty for the contestants with disabilities, as they must work even harder to prove their worth to the tribe.
The Survivor Wiki lists several contestants with disabilities, including Christy Smith, the first deaf contestant, Leif Mason, the first and only contestant with dwarfism, and Drea Wheeler, the first legally blind contestant. Their resolve and determination demonstrate that not even a remote and isolated area with few basic human necessities will deter individuals with the drive to compete and conquer.
A prime example is Christy Smith from season six of ‘Survivor: The Amazon.’ Christy was met with mixed reactions from her tribe when they found out she was deaf. Despite communication barriers, she made it to the final six! Before her elimination, she gained power as a swing vote; fearful of her power, the tribe turned against Christy and successfully voted her out. Similarly, season 41’s Ricard Foyé, the second hearing-impaired contestant in the franchise, won the most immunity challenges in his season and made it to the final five.
This year’s cast features Noelle Lambert, a 25-year-old from New Hampshire who competed for the U.S. Track & Field team at the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo and set a new American record in the 100-meter dash. Noelle is the third amputee to compete in Survivor, following in the footsteps of season nine’s Chad Crittenden and Kelly Bruno from season 21.
Additionally, this season features contestant Ryan Medrano, who is a 25-year-old personal trainer and the first contestant with cerebral palsy.
Survivor has had multiple men and women with disabilities on the show, but former contestants have spoken out about a lack of diversity and inclusion, which led to CBS launching a series of initiatives aimed at creating more diversity on the show. These included a pledge that at least 50 percent of future casts will be Black, indigenous, and people of color, and host Jeff Probst modifying his classic catchphrase from, “come on in, guys!” to “come on in!”
With the implementation of these new diversity initiatives, it looks like Survivor will continue to include more castaways with disabilities to outwit, outlast, and outplay towards becoming the ‘Sole Survivor.’