Zeke Smith was outed as transgender by tribe mate Jeff Varner on Wednesday night’s episode of Survivor: Game Changers,.


Smith was originally a contestant on Millennial vs Gen X while Varner was on Australia. Varner, an openly gay man, took it upon himself to out Smith to the whole group during a tribal council. “Why haven’t you told anyone you’re transgender?” he asked blatantly. Smith is the first transgender contestant in the show’s 34-season run.

Smith was obviously upset, and the rest of the group was on his side, saying that Varner should not have shared such personal information. Varner defended himself by insinuating that Smith’s omission meant he was being deceptive during the game. Smith countered by explaining that, “One of the reasons I didn’t want to lead with that is because I didn’t want to be like, the trans Survivor player. I want to be Zeke the Survivor player.”

Host Jeff Probst stepped in to ask Varner his motivation for outting Smith. In the end, Varner apologized for outting Smith, but was ultimately voted off the show. Smith will continue onto the top thirteen next week.

The event was a hot topic on social media, with many standing up for Smith. “Jeff Varner just did one of the most despicable things I’ve ever seen happen on television, reality or otherwise,” said Jarett Wieselman. “I’m at a loss.”

Probst, Varner, and Smith all took to twitter to discuss what had happened. “I am reading all of your reactions to tonight’s #survivor tribal council,” Probst said. “@zekerchief has been an amzing partner through all of this.”

“We cannot control the hazards we face, we can only control how we respond. Love each other,” tweeted Smith.

Varner also took to Twitter to post a sincere apology. “I offer my deepest, most heart-felt apologies to Zeke Smith, his friends and life allies, his family and to all those who my mistake hurt and offended,” he wrote. “I was wrong and make no excuses for it. I own responsibility in what is the worst decision of my life. Let me be clear, outing someone is assault. It robs a strong, courageous person of their power and protection and opens them up to discrimination and danger. It can leave scars that haunt for a lifetime. I am profoundly sorry.”

Since the episode, Smith has written a guest column about the incident for the Hollywood Reporter. He explains feeling like Varner would be voted off anyway, and how he felt for him because he related to his LGBTQ struggles that the pair had discussed. “I saw a pain, a brokenness in his eyes that felt all too familiar — a longing for the spotlight, but a desire to remain unseen,” Smith described of his tribe mate. “Though Varner has been openly gay for many years, he chose not to discuss his sexual orientation during his first two stints on the show. Beyond his charm and charisma, I thought I recognized a deep-seated insecurity and self-loathing, a glimpse at who I could become were I not careful.

“…I remember walking into Tribal Council that night. I remember the smell of the kerosene in our torches. 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?’

“..I knew that Varner’s actions, though targeted at me, had nothing to do with me and everything to do with him. His terrible utterances were not an effect of my actions, but a reflection of his own personal maladies.

But in calling me deceptive, Varner invoked one of the most odious stereotypes of transgender people, a stereotype that is often used as an excuse for violence and even murder. In proclaiming “Zeke is not the guy you think he is” and that “there is deception on levels y’all don’t understand,” Varner is saying that I’m not really a man and that simply living as my authentic self is a nefarious trick. In reality, by being Zeke the dude, I am being my most honest self — as is every other transgender person going about their daily lives.”

Read the entire piece here.

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