Jeff Probst reacted to the controversial events on the Wednesday, April 12, episode of Survivor: Game Changers in a new interview with Entertainment Weekly. As fans saw on the episode, Jeff Varner outed his fellow contestant Zeke Smith as transgender during a tense Tribal Council. Watch the moment in the clip above.
The TV host, 55, told EW that he was stunned. “I’m pretty sure my reaction was the same as viewers watching at home. I saw Jeff Varner turn to Zeke and make what was essentially a statement — vaguely disguised as a question: ‘Why haven’t you told anyone here you’re transgender?’” Probst recalled. “My brain had to rewind and play it back. And if you watch the reaction at Tribal, Zeke’s tribemates seemed to go through the same moment. They heard it … but had to process it.”
Probst went on to strongly condemn Varner’s actions. “In 34 seasons of Survivor, I have rarely, if ever, personally commented on what is said or done in the game. 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,” he told EW. “I think the response from the tribe, as it so often does, mirrors what the vast majority of society will feel. You just don’t do that to someone.”
The longtime Survivor host has seen his fair share of intense moments since the show premiered in 2000, but Smith’s outing was one of the most shocking. “It was one of the most surreal moments I’ve ever encountered on the show,” he said. “From the outside, it looked and sounded like a regular Tribal Council, but in reality, it was one of the most raw and painful studies of human behavior that has ever happened on Survivor.”
He added that he was amazed by Smith’s calm reaction to being outed on national television. “I was also very impressed with the compassion Zeke showed Varner,” he said. “I wonder if some people will say he shouldn’t have hugged him or shouldn’t have forgiven him. But as a viewer to that moment, I found his ability to still find some level of humanity for someone who had just injured him so severely may be his crowning moment.”
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