Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Survivor's first openly gay Black contestant, Brice Izyah, asks, "Why are we always targeted first?"

Brice Izyah on Survivor
Brice Izyah on Survivor
Screenshot: Survivor (CBS

Brice Izyah was disappointed he only lasted eight days on Survivor: Cagayan, but he still loves the game. What he doesn’t love is seeing his fellow Black and LGBTQ community members so often share his fate of being the first voted off their tribe. “Why do so many of us seem to go in the first few votes? Why are we always targeted first?” asks Izyah, who was the first openly gay Black man to compete on the CBS reality competition back in 2014. “I think a lot of people have turned a blind eye to our existence. And so, going out there and being the only LGBTQ person—and just living our truth—if we’re bothering you, we’re just being ourselves. And I think we can pay the price for that.”

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Izyah, a Philadelphia-based social worker and the host of the Purple Pants Podcast, is one of a diverse group of LGBTQ Survivor alums coming together Wednesday evening for panel organized by the Soul Survivor Organization, hosted by Rob Has A Podcast in partnership with The A.V. Club.

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The event—available to stream above—stemmed from a similar panel on Survivor’s representation of Black contestants that was organized a few weeks ago by Izyah’s Cagayan castmate J’Tia Taylor. “We were motivated by the Black Lives Matter movement to start speaking out, but J’Tia and I started talking about how we fall into these subcultures within that,” explains Izyah. “She’s a Black woman, and there’s this set of stereotypes and perceptions that go along with that. And for me, I’m a Black gay man, and I don’t feel like we’re ever properly portrayed. A lot of people remain ignorant to our story. I’m a minority in the Black community, and I’m a minority in the LGBTQ community. I feel like I often have to explain my being to someone, which is just crazy.”

Survivor’s Lyrsa Torres, Vincent Moua, Brize Izyah, Missy Bird, and Zeke Smith will convene for a panel discussion.
Survivor’s Lyrsa Torres, Vincent Moua, Brize Izyah, Missy Bird, and Zeke Smith will convene for a panel discussion.
Graphic: TrickyRice
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“They didn’t know what to do with me,” Izyah says of the edit he received on his season, something he thinks could have been different if the editing room had been more diverse. “I know that there’s some LGBTQ representation, but there’s not a person of color. And I think it’s important to recognize that their experiences as a white LGBTQ person are different than what I live through.”

“I would also really love more representation in front of the screen, more diverse stories, not just tropes of what a gay man is,” adds Izyah, who has been a vocal participant in the recent call for change at every level of production on Survivor—a movement encapsulated by an online petition Taylor has been championing on moveon.org that lists demands of Survivor executive producers Jeff Probst, Matt Van Wagenen, and Mark Burnett; ViacomCBS; and the production companies behind the series. Among the demands: casting Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) “for at least 30% of contestants each season hereafter,” a commitment to “equitably compensate and hire more BIPOC in all parts of production,” and a public pledge to “ensure those who have promoted prejudices (e.g., ableism, racism, sexism, white supremacy, religious intolerance, homophobia, transphobia) are not cast.”

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(After contestant Dan Spilo inappropriately touched women on set in 2019 during the filming of season 39, CBS and the Survivor production team instituted mandatory anti-harassment and reporting policies and trainings for all crew and cast, which include unconscious bias and sensitivity training. On Monday, CBS announced the network “will allocate a minimum of 25 percent of its future script development budgets to projects created or co-created by BIPOC.” And today, CBS Television Studios and the NAACP announced a multi-year partnership to develop and produce scripted, unscripted and documentary content for linear television networks and streaming platforms.)

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“I’m not at all bitter,” Izyah says of his short Survivor stint. “I feel blessed to have been able to play the game—I just want to use my voice now to maybe change the outcome for the next LGBTQ, Black, or female person to play, because I loved the show and I wanted to see the show evolve. I want these players to have a chance.”

“Whose Tribe is it Anyway?: LGBTQ Intersectionality On Survivor” will feature Izyah, Zeke Smith (Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X, season 33 and Survivor: Game Changers, season 34), Lyrsa Torres (Survivor: David vs. Goliath, season 37), Missy Byrd, and Vince Moua (Survivor: Island of the Idols, season 39). It begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, July 15. The A.V. Club will have the livestream embedded in this post on our homepage.

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A.V. Club Editor in Chief...but really just a She-Ra, Schitt’s Creek, Grey’s Anatomy, Survivor, Big Brother, Top Chef, The Good Place superfan.

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