It was one of the most shocking moments in Tribal Council history on Thursday’s episode of “Survivor: Game Changers,” as Jeff Varner outed his own tribe member, Zeke Smith, as transgender.
In an attempt to get the target off himself when it came time to vote someone out, Varner exposed Smith to prove that Zeke was hiding something from the rest of the team. And boy did it backfire. Immediately, everyone in his tribe — as well as host Jeff Probst — came down on Varner, as Zeke sat in stunned silence.
After many attempts to explain himself, some admonishing from Smith and Probst and a heartfelt show of support from Sarah, Varner was sent packing without an official tribal vote.
After the show aired, new interviews with the two men at the center of the controversy and another with Probst himself were released, giving some insight on where feelings stand between them all now.
“A person’s gender history is private information and it is up to them, and only them, when, how, and to whom they choose to disclose that information,” Smith wrote in a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter. “Keeping your gender history private is not the same as a gay person being “in the closet.” The only people who need to know are medical professionals and naked fun time friends.”
“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,” he continued. “If we’re being perfectly honest with one another, I’ve struggled with that forgiveness in the months following. I can’t foresee us sipping martinis together in Fire Island. Forgiveness does not require forgetting or excusing his actions. 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.”
Varner sent out his own message on Twitter:
— Jeff Varner (@JEFFVARNER) April 13, 2017
And Jeff Probst explained he was just as shocked by Varner’s actions as the rest of his tribe.
“I cannot imagine anyone thinking what was done to Zeke was okay on any level, under any circumstances, and certainly not simply because there was a million dollars on the line,” he told EW. “It was one of the most surreal moments I’ve ever encountered on the show.”
The host also explained how he wasn’t aware Zeke was transgender until after he was cast for his first season, “Millennials vs. Gen X.”
“My story with Zeke goes like this. I met Zeke in casting and loved him. I still have my original notes from that meeting. He was very engaging, gifted in his ability to manipulate with his words, and he wore this crazy Hawaiian shirt and had poofy hair. We knew we were doing Millennials vs. Gen X as a theme and we wanted him on the Millennials tribe immediately,” he said. “It wasn’t until after he left that I was told he was transgender. From that point forward we agreed that if his story was to be told, he would be the one to decide when, where, and how.”
“As for someone else bringing it up, Zeke was fully aware someone might suspect it or bring it up and he said, ‘I will deal with it as it arises,'” he continued. “And I have to add it was never a question of Zeke being worried his story would come out. Zeke is a massive Survivor fan and his point with us was very clear — he wanted to be seen as a Survivor player. Not the first transgender Survivor player. I really respected that distinction and I understood it.”