Wednesday night’s episode of CBS’ Survivor: Game Changers ended with a twist when returning contestant Zeke Smith was outed as transgender by a fellow survivor on national TV.
During the episode-ending “tribal council,” fellow contestant Jeff Varner, who was about to be voted off the show, told host Jeff Probst that there was a lot of “deception” on the show.
“There is deception here. Deceptions on levels, Jeff, that these guys don’t even understand,” Varner told Probst. Then he turned to Smith and pointedly asked: “Why haven’t you told anyone that you’re transgender?”
When the other contestants began criticizing Varner, he cited his opposition to North Carolina’s HB 2 to explain that he was not transphobic.
“I argue for the rights of transgender people every day in the state of North Carolina,” Varner pleaded. “I would never say or do anything to hurt anyone here. I’m arguing for my life. I feel like I’ve gotta throw everything at the wall.”
But the pleas apparently fell on deaf ears, as Varner was voted off the island anyway. In an apparent Survivor first, no vote was taken; Probst simply asked whether everyone believed Varner should leave, and he did.
Varner later issued a statement on Twitter addressing the incident.
— Jeff Varner (@JEFFVARNER) April 13, 2017
“Let me be clear, outing someone is assault,” he said. “It robs a strong, courageous person of their power and protection and opens them up to discrimination and danger. It can leave scars that haunt for a lifetime. I am profoundly sorry.”
In a lengthy column for the Hollywood Reporter, Smith — a who was previously a contest on the show during Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X — said he had forgiven Varner.
“I knew that Varner’s actions, though targeted at me, had nothing to do with me and everything to do with him,” Smith wrote. “His terrible utterances were not an effect of my actions, but a reflection of his own personal maladies.”
GLAAD issued a statement after the show reminding that it is “dangerous and unacceptable” to out a transgender person against their will.
“It is heartening, however, to see the strong support for Zeke from the other people in his tribe,” Nick Adams, director of GLAAD’s Transgender Media Program, said. “Moments like this prove that when people from all walks of life get to know a transgender person, they accept us for who we are.”
Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum