Zeke Smith left Survivor on Wednesday, May 3, just weeks after being outed as transgender by another contestant, but he says he’s “grateful and humbled” by his experience on the reality show.
The two-time Survivor contestant, who was outed by Jeff Varner during a controversial tribal council on April 12, wrote about his elimination in a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter, saying he felt “optimistic” after his journey on the show.
The episode in which Smith was outed was filmed almost a year ago and he opened up about the months of emotional torment and “palpable terror” he went through waiting for the moment to go to air.
“I prepared for Survivor with barbells; I prepared for this next adventure with booze-fueled confessions of my deepest intimacies to my friends,” he wrote. “‘I’ve never told anyone this before …’ became my new catch phrase.”
But Smith was surprised by the public’s reaction.
“Where we expected angry villagers wielding pitchforks, we confronted a sea of puppies and rainbows,” wrote Smith, who admitted that he and Nick Adams, director of GLAAD’s Transgender Media Program, “shook our heads in disbelief.”
“We’d never seen a trans story responded to with such overwhelming outrage toward the wrongdoer and sympathy toward the wronged,” he added. “Typically, trans victims of crimes far worse than what I endured are ridiculed and the perpetrators let off scot-free.”
As Us Weekly previously reported, Varner was publicly condemned for his actions and was subsequently fired from his real estate job.
Admitting that “the story became so much bigger than anyone anticipated,” Smith was surprised by “the outpouring of love from the public.”
“I remain at a loss to fully explain the reaction, but I am grateful and humbled,” he continued. “I am optimistic that this moment — both the example set by Survivor and ‘The Episode’s’ response — will serve as a model for how trans people will be treated by the media in the future.”
“To the trans person who enters the spotlight next, I hope you get it as good as I did,” Smith concluded. “To the person after, I hope you are met with utter indifference.”
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