Fans were outraged by Varner’s decision, but praised Smith for the way he handled the situation, calling him a “shining star of a human being.”
“Zeke is the strongest Survivor I’ve ever seen,” wrote one fan. “That tribal was horrifying & moving & beautiful all in one.”
Another fan said the episode was “painful yet beautiful” and left them “speechless.”
“Love is so important! Acceptance of everyone is important.”
Of course, a large majority of tweets were aimed at Varner.
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On Wednesday’s episode, Varner, 50, outed Smith, 29, during a tribal council in an attempt to paint the Brooklyn-based asset manager as “deceitful” and therefore worthy of being voted out. The move backfired entirely: Varner’s tribemates quickly admonished him for his actions, and he was ousted by the tribe.
“I think he hoped others would believe that trans people are dangerous and fraudulent,” he said. “That reasoning is infinitely worse than him outing me because it’s the same one used to discriminate against, attack and murder trans people. What’s great is that nobody bought it.”
“It’s important people see he lost that fight,” he added. “The message should be clear that hate will always lose.”
Varner took to Twitter on Wednesday evening to issue a lengthy 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 recklessly revealed something I mistakenly believed everyone already knew. I was wrong and make no excuses for it. I own responsibility in what is the worst decision of my life.”
Survivor airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.