Survivor: Game Changers cast-off Jeff Varner, who outed fellow contestant Zeke Smith as transgender, will reunite with him for the first time since their experience on the island.
Jeff made national headlines after outing Zeke as transgender to his entire tribe (and thus, the world) on the April 12 episode of Survivor. Zeke made the best of a bad situation by turning the experience into a positive one, telling his story in a Hollywood Reporter column and going on The Talk to share his thoughts. Jeff mostly disappeared from social media and was fired from his realty job following an onslaught of negative messages.
Now, a month later, Jeff has a new job and is ready to make a difference in his life. He will come face-to-face with Zeke at the live Survivor: Game Changers reunion next Wednesday, where he is hoping to come clean about his experience.
“I’m excited at the opportunity to be there and to share my story,” Jeff told his local newspaper, the News & Record, in Greensboro, N.C. “My focus has been on Zeke. I’ve not really talked much about what I’ve gone through.”
The reunion takes place live in Los Angeles after the final jury votes are read to decide the Sole Survivor. Many of the major talking points from the season are discussed at reunions, and considering how major of a story Zeke’s outing was, it is very likely to be hashed out.
While Jeff still regrets outing Zeke, he did acknowledge that the incident led to an important dialogue on the national level.
“It launched a national conversation that needed to be had,” he said. “I have heard from a lot of people who did not understand what transgender meant.”
Jeff also admitted that the experience has helped to make him a more empathetic person.
“I have been able to understand that we all live with shame on some level, and being able to deal with it healthfully is something that most people don’t know how to do. I’ve learned that the secret to surviving shame is practicing empathy. So it has made me more empathetic in a lot of ways. And it’s changed my perspective on everything.”
Meanwhile, Zeke has said that he isn’t hanging on to anger towards Jeff. As seen on the April 12 episode of Survivor, he hugged a clearly inconsolable Jeff and forgave him for making such a colossal error.
“I forgave him that night when I hugged him,” Zeke told CNN last week. “I believe people who express sincere remorse — as he has — should be embraced because that’s how we encourage people to change.”
Zeke was voted out on the May 3 episode of Survivor: Game Changers after being considered too untrustworthy by his former alliance. In his guest column for The Hollywood Reporter after he was voted out, Zeke wrote that his game was essentially over after the outing, which took place the day before the tribes merged.
“After what had happened with Varner, my life in the game was pretty short. It became abundantly clear on the first day of the merge. My name started getting tossed around, and the reason why is that nobody wanted to sit next to me in the end, because I had a very compelling story. The biggest sign was that I had a lot of great relationships with a lot of people, and all of the sudden, nobody was coming to me to talk to me about anything.”
Zeke is now part of the jury that will help reward one of his fellow contestants with the title of Sole Survivor and the $1 million prize.
Survivor: Game Changers airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.
[Featured Image by Robert Voets/CBS]