Zeke Smith was outed as transgender by fellow contestant Jeff Varner in a shocking episode of Survivor: Game Changers on Wednesday, April 12. Watch the controversial moment in the video above.
During a charged tribal council on the show, Varner accused 29-year-old Smith of being “deceptive” and, in a last ditch attempt to save himself from elimination, outed his fellow tribe member.
“There is deception here. Deception on levels, Jeff, that these guys don’t even understand,” he began. Then, turning to Smith, he asked, “Why haven’t you told anyone here you’re transgender?”
His plan backfired, though, as he was immediately condemned by other members of the tribe who leapt to Smith’s defense. “That’s personal. You didn’t have to do that!” one protested.
The show’s host, Jeff Probst, also locked horns with Varner, ultimately making an executive decision to ditch the vote and make him leave. “We don’t need to vote,” he said. “Just grab your torch.”
Smith, who, like Varner, was already out as gay, penned a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter about living as a transgender man and that moment on the show. In the piece, published after the episode on Wednesday, he wrote that he didn’t discuss his “trans status” in his initial video for the show because he didn’t want to be known as “The First Trans Survivor Player.”
That decision was ultimately taken away from him by Varner, who he says he’s forgiven, but will never be friends with.
“Forgiveness does not require friendship,” he wrote. “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.”
After the show aired, Varner also tweeted a lengthy apology and called what he did “the worst decision of my life.”