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February 12, 2003

Woman who is deaf contends with laws of the jungle on latest 'Survivor'

From: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, WI - 12 Feb 2003

Journal Sentinel TV critic
Last Updated: Feb. 12, 2003

"Survivor" competitors have come in every size, shape, color, age and sexual orientation.

Christy Smith, a 24-year-old children's camp guide from Basalt, Colo.,
is the first deaf contestant on "Survivor."
When to Watch
What: "Survivor"
When: 7 Thursday
Where: CBS (Channel 58)

But not until Christy Smith has there been one with a serious disability.

Smith, a 24-year-old children's camp guide from Basalt, Colo., is deaf.

That hasn't prevented her from getting a bachelor's degree in criminology and sociology, or from completing a seven-week Alaskan wilderness trip with Outward Bound.

But isn't it an unfair burden in a no-holds-barred competition for $1 million in the Amazonian rain forest?

"Survivor" host Jeff Probst considered the question recently at a news conference with TV critics.

"In the last interview we did with her, the very last question was, 'Do you think it's fair to put you on "Survivor"?' " Probst recalled.

"And she thought about it. She said, 'No, but life's not fair.' And that sort of summed up her approach to the show."

The structure of "Survivor" calls for a mix of cooperation and competition. Typically, those who "outwit, outplay and outlast," in the show's famous motto, do so by combining altruism and pure self-interest.

Probst noted that Smith wasn't the only one challenged by her deafness.

"At night, she can't read lips," he said. So "you can either sit around your campfire together and work really hard to make sure that the one person who needs to read lips can, or you can just carry on as you want, and she's out of luck."

The producers didn't tell the other players that Smith was deaf, Probst said: "It was up to her when she wanted to do it and how she wanted to do it." Nor, he added, did she get any special breaks in the various competitions.

"This is supposed to be a show about 16 people getting along together," Probst said. "This person happens to be deaf. Yeah, it will be tough for her, but I think it will be a good experience for her and hopefully for the other people, to see what it's like to have to go the extra mile when you're really competing against somebody. How much of a hand will you give them?"

E-mail Joanne Weintraub at

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