Jeff Varner is speaking out about his ill-fated decision to publicly out his co-star Zeke Smith on Survivor: Game Changers. In an interview with Us Weekly, Varner said he deeply regrets the controversial moment in which he outed Smith as transgender during a heated Tribal Council session. Jeff Varner told Us that nobody should ever do what he did, and he likened it to the most heinous type of assault.
“You can’t out people,” Varner told the magazine. “Because then you marginalize them, you shame them, you stigmatize them, you force them back in the closet. You don’t allow them to fit in and that’s a horrible place. I firmly believe outing is assault. It robs them of their safety and their protection. I’m devastated I’m the one who did that.”
Varner revealed Smith’s secret during Survivor shooting last year while attempting to save himself from elimination when he looked at his co-star and snarled, “Why haven’t you told anyone that you’re transgender?”
Jeff says the 10-month wait for the scene to be shown on television was grueling because healing “could not begin until it aired.” You can see Jeff Varner outing his co-star in the Survivor clip below.
Varner admitted that Smith never directly told him he was transgender and that he wasn’t even 100 percent sure of the fact when he outed him at Tribal. Jeff declined to give details on why he believed Zeke was transgender, but he hinted that there was more to the story that viewers saw on TV.
“What I did was horrible,” Jeff admitted.
“There’s so much that people don’t know about what happened. Tribal Council went on for two hours. They edited it down to 20 minutes. Had they been able to show the full two hours there would be fewer questions.”
Jeff Varner admits that he hurt his co-star in the worst way possible, and he praised him for being “a tremendous, courageous human being just like other trans people.”
“I hurt him,” Jeff said. “I hurt them. I know that. We say and do the wrong things when we’re in pain and in fear and desperate. I just make zero excuses for what happened.”
Varner also said he was “amazed” that Zeke forgave him and hugged him on camera, and he says he understands why his fellow Survivor co-star has said some “rough” things about him after the episode aired.
In a guest blog for the Hollywood Reporter, Zeke Smith revealed that while he has forgiven him, he is no longer in contact with Jeff Varner.
“If we’re being perfectly honest with one another, I’ve struggled with that forgiveness in the months following,” Smith wrote.” I can’t foresee us sipping martinis together in Fire Island.”
Zeke went on to say that while he can forgive the “personal slight” of Varner outing him on national TV, what he can’t get past is his former co-star’s “willingness to deploy such a dangerous stereotype on a global platform.”
“Forgiveness does not require friendship,” Zeke wrote. “Forgiveness requires hope. Hope that he understands the injury he caused and does not inflict it upon others. Hope that whatever torments his soul will plague him no more. I have hope for Jeff Varner. I just choose to hope from afar, thank you very much.”
While Varner says he wishes the edit of the scene hadn’t been so severe because it would have shown his compassionate side, he maintains he has “no animosity” against the show or its editors. Varner also revealed that producers have helped both him and Zeke for the past 10 months through therapists and counseling and that he has learned a lot about how society has created laws and systems.
Jeff also said he deserves every bit of the backlash he is getting on social media.
“I respect and honor every comment I’m getting online,” Varner said.
“I see their pain and I welcome it. I can’t say anything other than I’m profoundly sorry. Not only to Zeke and his family but to the world and everyone I’ve hurt today.”
Although he was shocked by the on-camera outing on the show he has helmed for 17 years, Survivor host Jeff Probst told Yahoo he is glad that Varner is “owning” his mistake nearly one year later.
“There’s absolutely no way to excuse it or justify it, and now he’s trying to make this a moment to do his part to say this is what happens when you make a careless remark that you don’t think much about, the kind of damage it can do, ” Probst said.
While Jeff Varner is getting backlash, Jeff Probst is being praised for how he handled the situation. CBS issued a statement which said the network consulted with Smith and GLAAD in advance of the broadcast and added that they “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, both in the episode and in his subsequent dialogue with the media,” the network added.
[Featured Image CBS Survivor Facebook]