On Wednesday’s episode, the two-time contestant was outed as being transgender by fellow tribe member Jeff Varner in front of the other contestants.
“I come from small town Wisconsin, and I just remember when that happened thinking, ‘I think overall, it’s going to be a good thing for Zeke,’” Boehlke said during the PEN Fan Forum: Survivor, which aired immediately following the show.
“Probably there’s a lot of people who are homophobic or transphobic, they’re just not exposed to it. Now, they’ve seen Zeke as Zeke on Survivor, and hopefully they don’t think anything differently of him because we didn’t. So I think that’s hopefully something that’ll be great that comes out of it.”
Smith, 29, debuted on season 33 of the CBS show last fall and returned for the all-star season 34 in March. When he was cast on the CBS reality show in 2016, the Brooklyn-based asset manager didn’t necessarily plan on sharing that he was transgender.
“I didn’t want to be the ‘first transgender Survivor contestant,’” Smith says in the current issue of PEOPLE. “I’m not ashamed of being trans, but I didn’t want that to be my story. I just wanted to go out on an adventure and play a great game. I just wanted to be known for my game.”
- To see Smith in the pages of PEOPLE, pick up the latest issue of the magazine, on newsstands Friday
Smith, who was raised in Oklahoma and transitioned while studying religion at Harvard, was “shell-shocked” when Varner outed him and praises his cast mates for rebuking the fear tactic.
“It’s important people see he lost that fight. The message should be clear that hate will always lose,” he shares.
RELATED VIDEO: Outed as Transgender on Reality TV: Survivor’s Zeke Smith
And though Smith was open about who he was during his Survivor audition, he did not want to discuss it during filming.
“When you tell people you’re trans, you get two reactions: Either they look at you funny and pull back, or they go, ‘Aww, that must be so hard.’ I’m a goofy, fun-loving guy, so neither of those reactions work well for me,” he said.
Varner tweeted his apology to Smith and the viewers on Wednesday writing, “I recklessly revealed something I mistakenly believed everyone already knew.”
Survivor airs Thursdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.