Two ‘Survivor’ Legends Coming Out as LGBTQ+ Is a Benefit to the Show

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The Big Picture

  • Parvati Shallow and Erika Casupanan, two iconic Survivor winners, have come out as LGBTQ+ and provided much-needed representation.
  • Erika Casupanan, a proud Filipina woman, battled challenges and spoke about her immigrant experience, becoming one of the show’s best players and one of only two Asian women to ever win.
  • Parvati Shallow’s influential gameplay and feminist attitude broke barriers, and her recent coming out as Queer solidifies her as one of the most groundbreaking winners in Survivor history.


Being a genre meant to represent the real lives of individuals, it’s unfortunate so much of reality television’s history has failed to offer viewers diverse casts of characters who reflect their own identities. One show that particularly suffered from this lack is Survivor, created by Charlie Parsons, who until recently (when CBS mandated its reality shows feature representative casts) failed to give marginalized contestants the platforms they deserved. And when the show did cast people from underserved backgrounds, too often it treated their intersectional experiences as fodder for the season’s plot rather than the real issues they were, lacking any respect for the vulnerability of the people speaking about these experiences.

Up until a few seasons ago, there was a distinct lack of representation within its winners’ circle, and while the number of winners of color has increased greatly, it’s unfortunate that you can still count the number of openly LGBTQ+ Survivor winners on one hand (out of 45 possible winners). Well, luckily for fans of this show, just before the end of the new year, two of its most iconic winners came out on social media and granted some much-needed representation to the show they conquered. With Parvati Shallow and Erika Casupanan announcing their membership in the LGBTQ+ community, they grant this series a much-needed dose of representation and put a beautiful punctuation to each of their iconic tenures within the franchise, showing just how amazing their wins were and that their impact goes even further than what anyone could have imagined.

Survivor

A reality show where a group of contestants are stranded in a remote location with little more than the clothes on their back. The lone survivor of this contest takes home a million dollars.

Release Date
May 31, 2000

Cast
Jeff Probst

Seasons
44

Studio
CBS


Erika Casupanan Knows That Different is Beautiful

Erica Casupanan in red tank top and purple hair smiling in Survivor promo
Image via CBS

In the pantheon of iconic Survivor winning games, it’s disheartening how many fans consider Erika’s to be one of the most controversial. In a season that failed to give this fierce competitor the screentime she deserved, Erika played a subtly dominant game where she used the people seen at the bottom of the ‘tribal hierarchy’ as pawns for her to take out the most visibly dominant players. She battled and overcame the many challenges thrown her way and eluded the many attempts by fellow competitors to take her out. All of this, plus, she spoke about her experience as an immigrant and how her identity as a proud Filipina woman has caused her to face many obstacles throughout her life. The immense skill she showcased cemented her as one of the best players of the show’s modern era (seasons 41-45) and eventually led to her becoming one of only two Asian women (shoutout to Natalie Anderson!) to ever win the show.

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As people were preparing to ring in the new year, Erika nonchalantly posted an Instagram story that made her fans gasp in pure joy. Over an image of the Canadian woman sitting on the floor in a onesie, she wrote, “Throwback to last New Year’s Eve when I tried to do the “eat grapes while sitting under a table at midnight, and you’ll get a boyfriend by the end of the year” trend, but I didn’t have grapes, so I chugged wine and instead that year I realized I’m a lesbian.” What a way to announce her identity!

It’s unclear whether she had been out to certain people beforehand, but her announcement took a majority of the Survivor community by surprise. The rush of warmth she’s received about this has been heartening and it’s so amazing to see someone who thrived so well in the competition do even better in her personal life. She is a true pioneer, and with Erika’s identity as a lesbian, she becomes one of only two openly LGBTQ+ women to ever win the game – proving that she just can’t help but continuously revolutionize this already innovative show!

Parvati Shallow Is Used to Breaking Barriers

parvati shallow survivor promo photo
Image via CBS

Die-hard fans of Survivor know just how influential Parvati Shallow’s time on the game has been on the franchise at large. Originally cast in Season 13 Cook Islands before coming back and dominating the competition in Season 16 Survivor: Micronesia, Parvati is a player whose ingenious strategy innovated the game forever. Whether it be how she used her naturally flirtatious attitude to her advantage or being a founding member of the show’s first successful all-women alliance ‘The Black Widow Brigade’, she was a unique player who has inspired countless other competitors who came after her. Even more, each time she came back, Parvati challenged all perceptions made of her and questioned why people saw her unabashed charm and feminity as something to be ashamed of. Her recognition of this judgment is what has clinched her multiple amazing runs on the show, using these misconceptions to her advantage and using them to boot her critics out one after another. She wore all of herself with an immense pride that reached through the screen, a pride that had only been furthered with her recent announcement.

Within days of Erika’s story, Parvati made a post (also on Instagram, the go-to for coming out, it seems) that revealed not only her identity but her famous new partner. Underneath an immensely cute picture of her and comedian Mae Martin in various states of cuddling, Parvati wrote, “We’re Here. We’re Queer. Happy new year.” While this official title may come as a shock to many, it only takes a cursory glance at her time on the show to see that the woman never shied away from expressing her attraction to people who weren’t men. From proudly stating that she thought Natalie Bolton was sexy back in Micronesia to casually flirting with the women in her alliances each time she returned afterward, it’s clear that Parvati has never been ashamed of the fact that her romantic affection wasn’t restricted by a person’s gender identity. She has always been an icon for her feminism and denial of misogynistic norms that many believed should dictate how she should play the game, and with her coming out as Queer, it proves even more that she is one of the most groundbreaking and influential winners in all Survivor history.

Parvati and Erika are ‘Survivor’ Winners Who Represent the Show’s Principles

While the core of reality television should be to amplify real stories audiences can relate to, it’s unfortunate how often shows fail to spotlight narratives that match the diverse experiences of the viewers who watch them. Survivor is a clear example of this, as, despite more concentrated efforts in recent years, it failed for so much of its history to truly award those on it courageous enough to be their authentic selves.

Well, luckily for this series, it has winners who are willing to go beyond production and carve their own space out in the landscape of not only this show but television culture as a whole. By coming out, Parvati Shallow and Erika Casupanan have validated their own selves and the thousands of fans who’ve rooted for them for so long. They’ve given the show’s large LGBTQ+ fanbase two more heroes they can feel seen by and look up to, becoming examples who show that whether it’s on a show like Survivor or in your daily life, embracing your true self is only ever positive. These winners have always been trailblazers, but especially now that they’ve both come out, it cannot be stressed enough just how important their presence on this titanic television program is.

Survivor is available to stream on Paramount Plus in the U.S.

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