Survivor: Game Changers contestant Zeke Smith has opened up about his struggle to forgive fellow contestant Jeff Varner for outing him as transgender on international television. In a move that Survivor host Jeff Probst has called “the worst thing anyone has done in 34 seasons of the show,” Varner, 50, publicly outed Smith, 29, in an attempt to get the heat off himself during a particularly tense Tribal Council elimination episode.
While he was being grilled by others, Varner turned the spotlight to Smith, asking “Why haven’t you told anyone you are transgender?” Turning his attention to Probst and the other contestants, Varner continued. “It reveals his ability to deceive.” Seeming to realize his mistake, Varner attempted to backtrack, saying “I’m not saying, Jeff, that transgender people are deceptive.” Probst was having none of it, replying “You’re saying that by not revealing it, he’s capable of deception. That’s a giant leap of logic. Do you honestly not see that?”
The consequences for the reveal were swift and decisive, with Probst telling Varner “We don’t need to vote, grab your torch.” For his part, Varner has attempted to make amends for his actions, breaking down in tears on camera following his eviction from the show.
“Nobody on this planet should do what I did tonight — ever. And I am so sorry to anybody I offended, especially Zeke, and his family and his friends. I can’t talk. I’m sorry.”
Varner tweeted another apology to Smith last night as the episode went to air.
After getting over the initial shock of being outed, Smith told his fellow contestants and millions of viewers why he made the decision to keep that part of his identity private.
“There are questions people ask. People want to know about your life and they want to know about this and that. It sort of overwhelms everything else that they know about you … One of the reasons why I didn’t want to lead with that is I didn’t want to be, like, the trans Survivor player. I wanted to be Zeke the Survivor player.”
In a guest piece for the Hollywood Reporter, Smith has penned an article about his life and the impact transitioning has had on him.
“Growing up, I set big lofty goals — Broadway, a high school debate championships, Harvard — and pursued them doggedly. The double whammy of major depression and transitioning blasted away my confidence.”
Varner, an openly gay man had formed a seemingly close bond with Smith throughout the season, but obviously not close enough to stop him using information told to him in confidence to his advantage when the heat was on.
In the article, Smith recalls the moment when Varner outed him to the world.
“I remember the smug smirk on his face and the gleam in his eye when he turned to me and snarled, ‘Why haven’t you told anyone that you’re transgender?'”
Smith credits host Jeff Probst for giving him time to gather his thoughts before responding as the reason for his eloquent reply.
Over a month on from when the incident was filmed, Smith has had time to reflect on Varner’s actions that night.
“I don’t believe Varner hates trans people. Trans people make easy targets for those looking to invoke prejudice in order to win votes. But, if we’re being perfectly honest with one another, I’ve struggled with that forgiveness in the months following. I can’t foresee us sipping martinis together in Fire Island. While I can reconcile the personal slight of him outing me, I continue to be troubled by his willingness to deploy such a dangerous stereotype on a global platform.”
You can catch Survivor: Game Changers Wednesday at 8 P.M. ET on CBS.
[Featured Image by CBS]