Did CBS handle the public outing of Zeke Smith well?

‘Survivor’ Contestants Not Ready To Move On From Jeff Varner Outing Zeke Smith

Last night’s episode of Survivor will go down in the show’s history as the most messed up and controversial to date. At the tribal council, Jeff Varner tried a desperate attempt to remain in the game at the expense of his tribemate, Zeke Smith.

“Why haven’t you told anyone you’re transgender?” Varner asked Zeke unceremoniously, which resulted in a dumbfounded silence around the campfire.

For a brief moment, nobody could speak, and that’s when Varner continued with his attack. “What I’m showing is a deception,” he said matter of factly.

This was when all the others jumped in after realizing how wrong the discussion was going. Why is Varner outing Zeke on national television? As someone who, as he said, “argues for the rights of transgenders everyday in North Carolina,” he should have known better.

“Nobody has the right to out anybody,” retorted Tai Trang.

To which Zeke could only say, “Two seasons I’ve played Survivor I’ve told nobody.”

Survivor host Jeff Probst could only ask carefully if Zeke had come out to his friends or if at all.

Survivor host Jeff Probst was lauded for how he handled the public outing of Zeke Smith
[Image by Scott Gries/Getty Images]

“Being trans, you’re transitioning, it’s a long process [and] it’s a very difficult process. There are people who know, but then I got to a point where I stopped telling people because when people know that about you, that’s sort of who you are.”

Zeke went on to explain that once people hear him confess that he’s transgender, questions begin to be raised, as people want to know about his life. He feels it overwhelms everything else about him, and he loses his identity as Zeke and just becomes the trans person.

“You know I’ve been fortunate to play Survivor as long as I’ve been playing it, and not have that label. And one of the reasons why I didn’t want to lead with that is that I didn’t want to be like the trans Survivor player. I wanted to be Zeke the Survivor player.”

Nonetheless, Zeke said he knew that eventually, after two seasons of Survivor, somebody was bound to pick up on it and that it might be revealed. He was also prepared to talk about being transgender if the circumstance would arise. However, he admits that the way it happened wasn’t exactly ideal.

On the other hand, the remaining members are still not okay with what transpired the night before. Sarah Lacina is not as forgiving of Jeff Varner as the others.

“Last night, every last one of you forgave Varner and I don’t forgive that guy yet,” she said to Tai.

But the diplomatic tribemate, who was among those who reacted violently to Varner’s drama the previous night, shared that he just wanted to give comfort and compassion to the evicted member.

The best thing that resulted from this whole episode though is the unity in Zeke’s tribe. Even if at the end of the day, the aim is to survive, so to speak, there has never been a tribe as bonded as this one.

With the episode’s title Metamorphosis, it couldn’t have been the perfect opportunity to showcase this drama. Could CBS have treated the situation better? With a one-in-a-million chance to have a proper discussion and conversation, the network could probably have treated it differently than leaving the situation at that. Sure, the offending party was remorseful and deservedly got booted out of the competition, but the event was an opportunity to educate those who are not in the know. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the show should have made sure that the episode ended with Survivor telling people where they could get more information and where to continue the conversation.

“From Zeke’s first season through the current edition, we have always been guided by the principle that this is his story to tell, and it remains so,” a CBS statement read. “Jeff Probst and the producers handled a very sensitive situation and marvel at the grace Zeke exhibited under extraordinary circumstances. We also have respect for how Jeff Varner has expressed remorse for his mistake.”

Meanwhile, Varner was revealed to be undergoing therapy for the traumatic event that transpired. News.com.au shared Varner’s tweet after the epic episode where he posted, “Yep. I did that. And I offer my deepest, most heartfelt apologies to Zeke Smith, his friends and life allies, his family and to all those who my mistake hurt and offended… I was wrong and make no excuses for it. I own responsibility in what is the worst decision of my life.”

[Featured Image by Mark Davis/Getty Images]

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