“Survivor” is back with new twists and a new group of castaways. The show premiered on Wednesday, September 22, after a long hiatus due to COVID 19 restrictions. In July 2021, Jeff Probst posted a teaser for the new season on his Instagram comparing Survivor 41 to “a monster in a horror movie.” In the video, Probst teases that the new season is more dangerous than ever, calling it the “dawn of a new era.”
The new changes to the game require a tougher group of castaways. One of those castaways is 34-year-old Shantel Smith. According to her CBS bio, Shantel is a pastor currently living in Washington, D.C. She described herself as “passionate, authentic, resilient.”
Here’s what you need to know about Shantel Smith:
She Is Battling Multiple Sclerosis
Shantel revealed to Entertainment Weekly in September that she has multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease that impacts the central nervous system. Shantel told the outlet that she doesn’t want her fellow castaways to know about her condition.
“I know when people hear that they often think about someone in a wheelchair or somebody that’s always tired, but I’ve worked really hard in life to just develop a lifestyle that keeps me strong,” she told the outlet. “I don’t want the other players to know that because I think they might perceive that as weakness, but it’s actually my strength.”
Shantel uses her social media platform to raise awareness for multiple sclerosis, commonly known as MS. In August 2019, she shared a post to Instagram with a lengthy caption to celebrate being free of lesions, or damage or scarring in her central nervous system. She wrote, “This girl is lesion free! No new lesions and no new disease activity.” She included the hashtag “#mswarriors.”
Shantel doesn’t shy away from sharing the more challenging parts of her condition. In March of 2020, she posted a photo on Instagram with the caption, “Lemtrada Day 3, last day. Final Round. I’m feeling so weak today, chills, aches and pains – but I’m pressing y’all – I can feel your prayers.”
She Grew up in Foster Care
In an exclusive interview with Toronto Sun in September, Shantel talked about the profound impact “Survivor” had on her life growing up.
“I had a pretty rocky childhood. My mom lost me to child protective services when I was really young, and I bounced around from foster care home to foster care home,” she told the outlet. “One of the channels that we had was Global TV, and so I would sit in front of [the] TV and I would watch ‘Survivor’ even though my life was a mess.”
Shantel shared that she developed “fighter energy” from watching the show, which inspired her to get clean and pursue higher education. She told the publication that she feels “indebted to the show and the series in a huge way.”
In an early September interview with Parade, the “Survivor” star said that she didn’t have a lot of parental figures growing up and that Probst “kind of became that parenting voice.” Probst’s message to “dig deep” inspired Shantel to work hard in life.
She told the Toronto Sun that her biological mom, who passed away in 2017, encouraged her to apply for the show. She told the outlet, “I don’t know if I ever would’ve [applied to the show] had I not had this conversation with my mom.” In her CBS bio, she revealed that her mom is her hero.
“She experienced so much pain in her life and my childhood was dark, twisted, and complicated, but she was an extremely hard-working Italian woman,” she wrote. “She did the best she could and I’m grateful.”
“Survivor” airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. Eastern time on CBS.