The Good: Zeke Smith overcomes his public outing with grace
Writer David Canfield captured the potential power of the Smith outing when he wrote for Slate that "Survivor, in its own syrupy way, provided the ideal platform for an unexpectedly seismic cultural moment." It's one thing for an explicitly LGBT-themed TV show to nudge transgender representation forward; it's another entirely for a popular reality program with a more conservative-leaning audience of eight million people to host a thoughtful, respectful, and educational discussion of transgender identity.
If Smith hadn't given his permission for the outing to be shown, CBS would have been just as culpable as the contestant who outed him. But in the days and weeks after the episode, it became clear that host Jeff Probst, GLAAD and most importantly Smith himself – who wrote a powerfully optimistic column after the event for The Hollywood Reporter – had all coordinated on the episode together. Smith also clarified that he had decided before appearing on the show "that, should my being trans become part of my Survivor narrative, I would incur an obligation to my community to speak responsibly and authentically."
And thanks in large part to Smith's powerful voice, the episode actually seemed to change some hearts and minds. Smith's fellow contestant, Sarah Lacina – who shared at tribal council that she had come from "a very conservative background" – reacted to the news the same way that many viewers did: "The fact that I could love this guy so much and it doesn't change anything for me makes me realize that I've grown huge as a person." And Smith himself said that he and GLAAD were stunned by the positive public reaction to the episode, writing with characteristic humor, "Where we expected angry villagers wielding pitchforks, we confronted a sea of puppies and rainbows."