NEW YORK, N.Y. — GLAAD announced at its 29th Annual GLAAD Media Awards Rising Stars Luncheon that CBS’ “Survivor: Game Changers” received the GLAAD Media Award in the Outstanding Reality Program category. The Rising Stars event empowers and invests in the next generation of LGBTQ change makers, whose advocacy is changing their local communities and the culture at large.

Television personality Ross Mathews hosted the event that included an opening duet with Melissa Etheridge and Adam Lambert celebrating the 25th anniversary of her breakthrough album “YES I AM” by performing a new arrangement of her song “I’m The Only One.” Special guests at the event included Robin Roberts, Laverne Cox, Alexis Bledel Lea Michele, Asia Kate Dillon, Nyle DiMarco, Angelica Ross, Blair Imani, Frankie Grande, Auli’i Cravalho, Janet Mock, Stephanie Rice, Tommy Dorfman, Amiyah Scott, Brad Goreski and Zeke Smith, among others.

“Survivor: Game Changers” was nominated alongside Viceland’s “Gaycation” with Ellen Page, TLC’s “I Am Jazz,” VH1’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” and NBC’s “The Voice.”

Accepting the award on behalf of “Survivor: Game Changers” was contestant Zeke Smith. “Survivor: Game Changers” was Smith’s second consecutive season, and during a heated tribal council, another player told the tribe that Smith was a transgender man and accused him of being deceptive simply because he had not disclosed his gender history to the other players.

Smith’s tribemates immediately understood that Smith was not deceptive simply because he played as his authentic self and that outing someone is wrong. GLAAD worked closely with CBS and Smith to ensure that when the episode aired, Smith would have the opportunity to speak for himself about his experience. The award was presented by singer Jackie Evancho, her transgender advocate sister Juliet Evancho and television personality Frankie Grande.

While accepting the award, Smith said: “My grand public outing made global headlines. Together, we changed millions of people’s perceptions of transgender people. We shattered stereotypes. We created a worldwide conversation about privacy and respect. Over the past year, I’ve met a lot of trans kids. Transitioning in middle and high school is hard. I see these kids struggling to retain hope that they’ll have an equal shot in the world. LGBTQ visibility on television matters because for many it is the only chance to glimpse their future. And to see that it is very bright.”

“Reality television has long been at the forefront of LGBTQ inclusion on the small screen, and ‘Survivor: Game Changers’ continued that legacy with its thoughtful and responsible handling of Zeke Smith’s story,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “By ensuring that Zeke would have the opportunity to share his story in his own words, the show sparked a national conversation about the trans community.”

A full listing of awardees in each category is available online.


Lainey Millen was formerly QNotes' associate editor, special assignments writer, N.C. and U.S./World News Notes columnist and production director from 2001-2019 when she retired.