While getting blindsided is common on “Survivor,” the on-air outing of the reality show’s contestant Zeke Smith as transgender not only surprised the veteran contender, but it outraged fans.
In a moment of desperation during the tribal council, Jeff Varner, a three-season “Survivor” contender, hoped to avoid elimination on Wednesday’s episode of “Survivor: Gamechangers” by proving that Smith was a master of deception. In addition to revealing Smith’s secret alliance with fan favourite Ozzy Lusth, Varner hoped to prove his point by revealing that Smith had been hiding that he’s transgender.
The ripple effects of Varner’s decision came quickly. On the episode, fellow competitors and host Jeff Probst berated him. He was then eliminated from the game by an oral vote as Probst felt it was unnecessary to go through with the formal ballot vote after Varner’s actions.
Fans swifty reacted with rage on social media. Here’s a sample of the outraged tweets:
While he first defended outing Smith on the show, Varner ended the episode with apologies and a tearful goodbye. He also posted an apology on Twitter, calling his actions an “assault” and the “worst decision of my life.”
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Probst condemned the outing and said there’s no justification for outing someone as Varner did with Smith.
“In 34 seasons of ‘Survivor
,’ I have rarely, if ever, personally commented on what is said or done in the game,” Probst said. “But this is a unique situation that falls outside the normal boundaries. I cannot imagine anyone thinking what was done to Zeke was OK on any level, under any circumstances, and certainly not simply because there was a million dollars on the line.”
While Smith comforted Varner in the final moments of the episode, he wrote a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter published on Thursday that did not let Varner off the hook. In it, Smith praised the social experiment that is “Survivor,” said he has never regretted being on the show, and opened up about the hardships he experienced while transitioning into a man. He also said that he hasn’t forgiven Varner for what he did and doesn’t feel they could be friends now.
“Thankfully, my tribemates rebuffed his hateful tactics,” Smith wrote. “After 18 days starving and competing with me, they knew exactly the man I am, and after that Tribal Council, we all knew exactly the man Varner is.”
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