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My Joy List: Zeke Smith

The writer (and former ‘Survivor’ contestant) talks drag chess, Anthony Bourdain, and more.

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Think back to the last time the internet brought you joy. We want to put more of those moments at your fingertips—whether it’s a favorite podcast episode, heartwarming personal essay, or reliably fantastic recipe. So we’re introducing a series of Joy Lists from writers, artists, and people we admire.

Whether you’re a die-hard ‘Survivor’ fan or somehow haven’t noticed any of the past 40 seasons, you likely know Zeke Smith’s name. In 2017, the two-time contestant made reality TV history by “changing the search result,” as he puts it, of being outed as transgender. Since then, Smith has brought his brand of thoughtful humor and activism to everything he touches, from scripts to his Twitter feed.

Here, he shares his exuberant Joy List—the stories he returns to again and again for laughs, inspiration, and understanding.

UNHhhh" Episode 131 [WATCH]

Trixie MatelKatya Zamo
WOWPresents

Zeke Smith: “I binged almost all of Ru Paul’s Drag Race during lockdown and these two queens stood out as two of my favorites. A little dive into the internet rabbit hole led me to their web series, UNHhhh, where they talk about whatever they want, because it’s their show, and not ours. Their hilarious, irreverent, and bizarre antics are illustrated with the world’s best comedic greenscreen job and have become my go-to when I need to smile. Never watched RPDR? No sweat, you’ll fall in love with these two witches nonetheless.”

Don’t Eat Before Reading This

Anthony Bourdain
The New Yorker

ZS: “About once I week, I find myself saying, ‘Goodness, I miss Anthony Bourdain.’ I say the same about Joan Rivers, as well. I love my hard-working, foul-mouthed misfits.

I grew up in a very cloistered bubble in central Oklahoma and I credit Bourdain for showing me the world and teaching me how to eat. Where I’m from, anything more adventurous than a P.F. Changs is considered dangerous. Anthony taught me to me excited about the world at large—and, in particular, the world of food. And while his television shows are magical, it’s his writing that has always spoken directly to my heart.”

Otakoyakisoba [WATCH]

TikTok

ZS: “This Filipino mom and her gay son have my boyfriend (who also happens to be Filipino) in stitches on the regular. She gives hot takes on pop culture, falls victim of her son’s pranks, and is the queen of catch phrases. But more than that, she’s a fierce ally-momma bear.”

Drag Chess [WATCH]

Glamour College
YouTube

ZS: “A simple video which asks the question: What if the queen on a chess board were a drag queen? This is another laugh riot that doesn’t require drag knowledge, and it will give you a taste of what comedy was like at the once-hip, now-defunct Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.”

#158 The Case of the Missing Hit [LISTEN]

Reply All
Gimlet

ZS: “Reply All is a podcast about the culture of the internet. Which was not an appealing pitch when I first heard it, but, trust me, you’ll find few other media outlets in the world which tell stories as well as Reply All.

This episode is a wild tale of a man who remembered a pop song from the ‘90s—lyrics, music and all—and no one else did. So the team went about tracking down the song to see if it existed or was a figment of the man’s imagination. Fascinating listen, as is the whole Reply All catalogue.

It’s worth mentioning that the Reply All team recently had a bit of a reckoning over union-busting behavior exhibited by some, though not all, of its staff.”

Zeke Smith

Zeke Smith is a writer, comedian, activist, and former (emphasis on the former) reality television contestant. He is also a creative consultant on and contributor to the Netflix documentary Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen.