Last night’s episode of Survivor was definitely game changing, but for all the wrong reasons. In one of the most shocking moments in the show’s 17-year history, Zeke Smith was outed as transgender by fellow contestant Jeff Varner at Tribal Council.
Seemingly, the outing was a last-ditch effort by Varner to portray Smith as “deceptive” and untrustworthy to his fellow tribe members. While it was both a horribly miscalculated and unnecessary move, Smith’s reaction to the chaos has enlightened and inspired other members of the LGBTQ community who watch Survivor. Shockingly, Smith was able to turn the incident around to become a positive moment, speaking about the metamorphosis he went through on the show between last season and now.
Other than the seven castaways at Tribal, Jeff Probst is the only other eye witness who watched it all go down and has spoken out about the incident and his feelings toward Jeff Varner.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Probst said that “in 34 seasons of Survivor, [he has] rarely, if ever, personally commented on what is said or done in the game,” and that this lies far beyond the normal boundaries. He in no way believes Varner’s actions to be okay on any level, but does mention that there was a great sense of sympathy for both Zeke and Varner. Not only did producers of the show check in with Zeke after the incident (and asked for permission and input from Smith himself before airing the episode), but Probst explains that Varner was consulted by the show’s psychologists in the days following his exit as well to ensure that he would be okay.
Also, Probst says that Smith received overwhelming support from the staff and fellow tribe mates following the shocking tribal council, and everyone had to take a bit of time to make sense of what just transpired.
Jeff recalls that he found out shortly after casting Smith for Season 33 that he was transgender, and was aware that Zeke himself would be in charge of when, how, and why his story would be told, if it were to come up during his time on the show. Probst says that he really respected and understood the fact that Zeke wanted to be seen as “a Survivor player, not the first transgender Survivor player.” Probst continued by saying that he hopes Jeff Varner will own his mistake and use it as an opportunity and a platform to invoke positive change.
Last night’s episode of the show sparked immediate reactions from fans and the internet, as well as from Nick Adams, the director of GLAAD’s Transgender Media Program, who made the following statement about the incident in a report by the Huffington Post:
“Zeke Smith, and transgender people like him, are not deceiving anyone by being their authentic selves, and it is dangerous and unacceptable to out a transgender person. It is heartening, however, to see the strong support for Zeke from the other people in his tribe. Moments like this prove that when people from all walks of life get to know a transgender person, they accept us for who we are.”
In the moment, Zeke sat remarkably calm and centered throughout, garnering praise from Probst and fellow tribemates Andrea Boehlke, Sarah Lacina, Tai Trang, Ozzy Lusth, and Debbie Wanner. After the episode’s airing, Smith spoke out about the experience.
He explains that he did not want to be seen as the first trans Survivor player, and just wanted to be known for his strategy and gameplay, People Magazine reports. Smith reveals that he made the transition while a student at Harvard, and that afterwards, his “confidence was obliterated, and [he] was afraid to dream.” After a period of depression, he auditioned for Survivor in order to take on the grand challenge of the show to “become the man [he] wanted to be”.
Survivor: Game Changers airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on CBS.
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[Featured Image by Alberto E. Rodriguez/ Getty Images]