TV show ‘Survivor’ not just a game for Basalt’s Smith
by Scott Condon
Christy Smith proved herself to be a winner even if she didn’t earn $1 million on the television show “Survivor.”
Smith, 24, who is deaf, became the 11th person voted off “Survivor: The Amazon,” last week, enduring 33 days of physical and mental challenges. Only five other contestants lasted longer than her.
“It was very important for me to be a deaf role model,” Smith told The Aspen Times Friday. She was interviewed by telephone with the help of an interpreter.
Being on the popular reality television show watched by millions each week on CBS, Smith knew she would have the opportunity to show that deafness doesn’t have to be a disability — and she risked failure if she was voted off the show early.
“Survivor” pits 16 people against one another in a series of challenges in an exotic locale. Members compete on teams but they also jockey for the best individual position in pursuit of a $1 million grand prize. One person is voted off the show each week by the other members of the teams. As members are weeded out, the teams merge into one, and individual maneuvering increases a notch.
Smith made a tactical error last Thursday when she was slow to pledge allegiance to three men and considered teaming with two women who had been mean to her but were nice while trying to court her vote.
Smith said she wishes she would have made a quick decision to side with the men because it would have meant she was on the show at least two more weeks. Nevertheless, she’s not holding grudges against the men for voting her off.
“I was more mad at my wicked stepsisters than at [anyone],” she said.
She said competing on the show was a wonderful learning experience. The Amazon was spectacular.
She was prepared for the physical competition and challenges of essentially camping for one month and living on food that could be scrounged in the wild. She has worked as an adventure guide for the Aspen Camp School for the Deaf.
Nevertheless, Smith lost 25 pounds from a body that didn’t have a lot to lose.
“It was more mentally challenging than physically,” Smith said. “There were several times I wanted to give up but I would never let the other tribe members know that.”
Despite her faux pas at the end, she rated her performance an “A+” on the show. “I make mistakes, too,” she said.
But Smith will also be noted for advancing awareness of Deaf culture and showing that barriers are mostly artificial. A story in the Philadelphia Daily News at the start of this season’s “Survivor” said that many advocates for the deaf were relying on Smith to show that deaf people aren’t all that different from those that hear.
Smith led a remarkably normal life growing up in the Roaring Fork Valley after being born three months early and weighing only 2 pounds. As a tiny baby, she pulled out her air tube and went into cardiac arrest. She lost 90 percent of her hearing but suffered no other physical damage.
Her family, parents Bob and Glenda Smith and two brothers, treated her like any other kid. She was skiing by age 3. She attended Aspen Elementary School and Aspen Middle School and spent two years at Aspen High School, where she was a cheerleader. She transferred to the Model Secondary School for the Deaf in Washington, D.C., and later earned a degree in sociology and criminology from Gallaudet University.
Smith’s speech is remarkably clear, considering her level of hearing loss. She is also an expert in sign language and as a lip reader. But sometimes communication was impossible on the show.
“Being deaf was a hurdle, but what you try to do is jump the hurdle and overcome it,” she said. “It wasn’t easy at anytime, understanding anyone.”
After graduating from Gallaudet, she returned to the Camp School’s Snowmass Creek campus as a staff member. She was a program assistant in October 2001 and switched over to become a Discovery Coordinator for the full summer 2002 program.
Camp School officials said staff, alumni and students at the camp were well aware that Smith was on the show. Smith said she appreciated the support of everyone in the Roaring Fork Valley.
She said she hopes she sent a message to everyone that says, “Don’t limit yourself. You can do anything.”
She also said she plans to keep working for the advancement of deaf causes. She will get an opportunity Monday night, when she is scheduled to appear on David Letterman.
Smith said she plans to return to the Roaring Fork Valley this summer, but her exact plans are up in the air.