Survivor Game Changers Transgender Outed Jeff Varner Zeke Smith

Survivor Contestant Outs Tribemate as Transgender, Calls Him 'Deceitful'

Survivor might have just seen the biggest — and most unforgivable — blindside of all.

Contestant Jeff Varner outed his tribemate Zeke Smith as transgender during a heated Tribal Council in Wednesday’s episode of the CBS reality show. And what’s more, Varner used that revelation to label Smith as “deceitful” in an attempt to get Smith voted off instead of himself. After his tribe rebuked him for outing Smith on national TV like that, Varner defended himself by saying he did it “to show the deception… it reveals the ability to deceive.” After a long debate, host Jeff Probst finally said, “There’s no question who’s going home tonight,” and Varner left the show of his own accord — but the damage was done.

GLAAD issued a statement on Wednesday responding to Varner’s actions. “Zeke Smith, and transgender people like him, are not deceiving anyone by being their authentic selves, and it is dangerous and unacceptable to out a transgender person,” GLAAD transgender media program director Nick Adams said in a statement. “It is heartening, however, to see the strong support for Zeke from the other people in his tribe. 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.”

Both Varner and Smith are Survivor veterans; the current Game Changers season brings former contestants back for another chance at the $1 million prize. Varner competed twice before, in Season 2’s The Australian Outback and Season 31’s Cambodia. Smith competed in last season’s Millennials vs. Gen X.

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55 Comments
  1. Buffy0531 says:

    That was one of the most gut wrenching moments I’ve seen on TV. I have been no fan of Varner’s, he was as interesting as watching paint dry, but I did no expect him to be so irresponsible. This could have had, and still may, have dangerous repercussions for Zeke, and Varner should have known that! Having said that, the way the tribe responded in such a viscerally supportive and outraged manner was so heartening. And Probst handled the whole thing so very, very well. Wow. Just when I thought I’d seen everything in this game…

    • Amy says:

      Well said. I was stunned. I still feel stunned. Zeke could not have handled it more gracefully. But he shouldn’t have had to. I cried.

    • Paige says:

      It was emotional. I truly believe Varner meant no harm and his remorse was genuine. My biggest Issue is CBS had the option NOT to air that part of tribal, but they did anyway for ratings. Doesn’t that make them the “irresponsible” one?

      • Anne says:

        I’m sure they asked Zeke what he would like to do. Like it definitely had huge implications in th game so it would have been work to not air it and any following comments. But they probably worked with Zeke.

        • Wrstlgirl says:

          I would think they spoke to both Zeke and Varner. The repercussions are big on both sides. Varner is getting death threats on social media.

      • Gospino says:

        Not if Zeke gave them the go-ahead to air it.

      • Paige says:

        Varner outed Zeke to those few on set at the time. CBS outed his trans status to the world. It was their choice to air the footage the way they did. Varner was going home no matter what.

      • Fairmont1955 says:

        If imply someone is deceitful because ethey are trans and don’t announce it to everyone, then yes, you mean harm. I don’t see straight people being called out for not sharing they are straight.

    • Xox says:

      Good lord, I’ve never come across a more attention-seeking group of people than the LGBT community. Always wanting to be seem as victims. Why hide who you are, this is not a big deal, stop trying to always play the victim card. Then why protest and cry out to be seen as equals when you would rather stay in the closet. No one is after you, no one cares if you like dressing up in women’s attire or vice versa, if people bully you or disapprove with the way you are then welcome to the real world. Everyone faces criticism from time to time even straight people, believe it or not. High time the LGBT community realize that if you want the world to see you as normal then stop making a big deal out of such insignificant issues like ‘coming out’.

      • Claire V. says:

        Transgender people, and the entire LGBT community as a whole, have a higher rate of being disowned by their peers for their sexually and gender than straight people do. It’s fact and has been proven time and time again with people being kicked out by their family. I get that you don’t understand that, but dismissing an entire groups struggle because of it is so rude and unnecessary. He didn’t make a big deal about coming out. It was his choice to do so and did not come out on his own. It is completely unfair to make it seem like it’s his fault for being publicly humiliated on television like that.

      • Hannah says:

        What’s the harm? Are you really that ignorant? Statistics show us that transgender people are murdered, physically assaulted, and sexually assaulted at drastically higher rates than the general population. If you don’t care that someone is transgender, that’s great, but there are a lot of horrible people who do and threaten the safety of trans people on a regular basis. But yeah, they’re playing the victim card. *eyeroll*

  2. Wrstlgirl says:

    That absolutely should never have happened, I was crying it was painful to see. But I don’t believe Varner was being malicious and truly feel he feels like sh*t about it. This will haunt him for a very long time. Zeke took it like a champ and if he can rise above it then so should we.

    • Fairmont1955 says:

      He implied Zeke was deceitful because he was trans and didn’t tell people. How can you say that it isn’t malicious to associate being deceitful w being trans or in the closet?

  3. Lois says:

    I truly never thought that would happen on this show. If ever there’s something you could do to prove you don’t deserve the million dollars, it’s what Varner did in this episode. I’m still pretty speechless over it. Zeke handled the situation incredibly well.

  4. Ron says:

    When I watched that happened, I sat stunned, jaw dropped to the floor, with my hands over my mouth. And I was pretty much like that for the remainder of the episode. Varner, being a gay man, I thought would’ve known better. I truly think he feels bad about it, but that doesn’t erase the damage he did. And I’m not particularly a fan of Zeke as a player, but my heart broke for him in that moment. I was stunned when it happened. After the show ended, and had time to think about what just happened on my tv screen, I broke down in tears. To be LGB is scary enough in our society. But that T is arguably even more scary. The death rate amongst the trans community (either due to suicide or murder) is saddeningly high. And with Varner horrifyingly outing Zeke on national television, he put his life in danger. I’m tearing up again just typing this. If I ever did something as damaging as what Varner did, I don’t think I’d ever be able to look at myself in the mirror again.

    • LaDonna says:

      I agree with you. Although I believe that Varner’s remorse and regret were genuine, his lack of forethought was inexcusable. He assumed that Zeke was out and proud? Seriously? Honestly, when Varner commented earlier in the show that he knew a secret about Zeke, that was NOT even on my radar. If Zeke wanted to make his trans-status a “thing”, he would have told everyone right away. Yes, Varner, as a gay man himself, should have had more respect for Zeke than to just blurt it out at tribal council like that. I do think that it would have been possible for CBS to edit the whole thing out, but seeing and hearing Zeke’s comments, I firmly believe that CBS had his permission and support in airing the footage. Zeke seems to be the type of person who would give the shirt off his back, and if his story helps someone else, he was very likely supportive of having it shown in the final edit. But shame on Varner for going there.

    • Jami says:

      As a lesbian, I was stunned. Varner a gay man, outing another gay person was deplorable. I have read the comments and happy to see the compassion from the fans. I work with Trans gender Veterans, and you are correct about the suicide rate and hate crimes.

  5. Louis says:

    That was just horrible. I got chills when I watched this episode. I can’t believe he stooped that low for a game. Coming out is very hard. Being forced out is worse. I was outed to my mother by a very very close friend. I did not speak to my mom for a long time because I was scared what she was going to say. When I finally spoke to her she told me she loves me no matter what. Nobody should be forced out that way. I’m so glad my mom didn’t shun me or hate me. Once she knew it was easier to tell other people. I love Zeke as a player. I liked Varner too. But what he did was malicious. I’m still crying over this.

    • Anne says:

      Thank you for sharing. I’m so sorry that happened to you. Forced outings are awful. I’m glad your mother was open to a conversation and has accepted you for who you are. :)

  6. Rob says:

    I just felt sorry for everyone involved. Especially Zeke, of course. It was just a terrible, terrible choice Varner made and I know the mean streets of twitter won’t treat him kindly and, even if he deserves just that, I wish we could all just, instead, learn to be kind to everyone and to have empathy and be sensitive to every person’s own needs on a human level.

    • Diane says:

      Totally agreed. Just read a piece by Zeke in THR and he said he forgave Varner, but from afar. He doesn’t want to be friends with him, but hopes he heals what wounds he has. Very well written essay.

  7. dan says:

    It was a shocking revelation by Varner that never should have been made public. Zeke handled it with dignity as did the other tribe members (especially Sara who was so honest and sincere in her comments). Kudos to Jeff Probst for handling this unforeseen event so gracefully and not trying to sensationalize it. I’ve watched Survivor since the beginning, but I don’t recall ever shedding tears while watching a tribal council. I always liked Varner and I’m sure he hates what he did, but I don’t think it was done maliciously. He deserved to leave after his unfortunate gameplay.

    • LaDonna says:

      I agree with you about Probst and his handling of the situation. He was obviously just as upset as everyone else at Varner outing Zeke, and didn’t pull any punches in his capacity as “host” of the show. And after it was all said and done, you could see on his face, he was just as happy as everyone else to see Varner go.

  8. Seems it’s okay for homosexuals to out so-called ‘conservative’ politicians and celebrities, but use terms like ‘despicable’ for those outing their closeted bufddies.

    Personally, I quit the repetitive inhumane Survivor five seasons back. But I enjoy the occasional headline ripping someone for violating the Marxist Media’s social agenda. It’s like watching Seinfeld all over again seeing these hateful ‘GLBT’ eat their own!

    Too funny – if it weren’t so tragic….

  9. Alec says:

    Only who’s LGBTQ will know how this hurts…

  10. Mark says:

    I agree with everyone’s comments so far. The way Jeff and the tribe handled this and the way Zeke reacted was class personified.

    But what truly baffles me is what Varner was even thinking? How did he not see this blowing up in his face? Seriously, this was the worst idea he could have ever had to save his skin. There was no way it would end in any way but how it did.

  11. Ben says:

    Ugh. Deeply misguided, but not ‘despicable’, and not ‘unforgiveable’ either (what is and isn’t forgiveable depends only on the heart of the person in the position to forgive, not on the severity of the damage).

    It’s so sad to see this play out – for both Zeke and for Jeff. It’s going to leave a deep scar for both of them. No amount of standing in judgment is going to help.

  12. Tea says:

    Is everyone going to ignore that Varner and Zeke have repaired their relationship now?

    • Anne says:

      That’s up to them whether they choose to repair a relationship. It doesn’t change what he did.

    • LaDonna says:

      Read Zeke’s guest commentary on The Hollywood Reporter site. He did not repair his relationship with Varner. In Zeke’s words “Forgiveness does not require friendship.” Forgive, but do not forget.

  13. Anne says:

    It’s disgusting what he did. Though I think we can take some pride in seeing how far we’ve come on the issue of trans rights. We obviously have a loooong way to go, but in the moment, everyone at that council knew it was wrong and called out the hateful behaviour. And the network stood by that position. Five years ago, this may not have been the case, and definitely not 10 years ago.
    .
    Tides are changing.

  14. 1% of all births result in “hermaphroditism” or “intersex” babies (who are born having either both sets of genitalia or born with ambiguous genitalia).

    This phenomenon occurs in various species throughout nature and has been documented in humans as far back as 1st-century AD. The term “hermaphrodite” is a derivative of Greek god names Hermes, Aphrodite and their son Hermaphrodites that dates back to 3rd-century BC.

    We accept that the birth anomaly of hermaphroditism exists, because we can SEE evidence of it in the genitalia. So why is it hard for some to accept the birth anomaly of transgenderism or gender identity when it is essentially the same thing?

    • Abe Froman says:

      Because it’s not ‘essentially the same thing.”
      Actual genetic or endocrine disorders are not comparable to manifestations of mental illness. Modern times suggest that a woman saying she’s a man is normal. If she’s says she’s a specific man, say like Napoleon, she’s crazy. Using surgical and hormonal treatments to fit the desired gender expression does not always remedy the obviously existing need for psychological therapy.
      Cutting off functional genitalia is not scrutinized. The desire to cut off particular limbs, as evidenced with Body Identity Integrity Disorder, is. Flooding a healthy body with powerful hormones is also not a sensible treatment option, and puts the person at greater risk of disease and suicide. The track record, especially when considering how follow up of those treated is nowhere close to being thorough, indicates that the widely accepted solutions of today are not as successful as claimed by some.
      All too often activist movements are more concerned about agendas instead of individual people’s health and wellbeing.
      All that said, it’s a still di ck move to out someone with such malicious self-interest.

  15. SJ says:

    And the PC police is out in full force again. Can we not say ANYTHING anymore without being branded as the devil and/or getting death threats on social media? Jesus…

    • Anne says:

      You want to say transphobic things *that* badly that you don’t care that comments like that can result in violence towards other people? That trans joke or comment is sooooo important to you?
      .
      But it’s not really. There are better things to say, better jokes to make.

  16. Donna says:

    Reality TV is staged and scripted whether you want to hear that or not! But it accomplished exactly what the network and show wanted didn’t it? As far as transgender people being outted, if they changed gender then why be ashamed of it. OWN IT PEOPLE!

    • Lois says:

      He wasn’t ashamed of it. He just didn’t want it to define him. Like he said, he wanted to be known as ‘Zeke the Survivor player’, not ‘Zeke the first transgender person on Survivor’. The point is that it wasn’t his choice to tell his tribe mates or the millions of people who watch the show. Nobody should ever be outed by anybody, no matter the circumstances. It’s extremely harmful and can put people in danger.

      • Paige says:

        I’ll say it again… Varner outed Zeke to his tribe mates and that was wrong. CBS is the one that outed Zeke to the millions who watch the show.

        • Wrstlgirl says:

          You can keep saying that all you want but the fact is that it was aired with Zeke’s blessing.

          “According to the organization, GLAAD’s Transgender Media Program worked with both Smith and CBS “for several months to ensure that when the episode aired Zeke would have the opportunity to speak for himself about his experience.”

          • Paige says:

            I was responding to Lois. Perhaps if you’d read the post, you’d understand better….

          • Wrstlgirl says:

            LMAO!!!! I read the post and it doesn’t change the fact that you are trying to blame CBS for something that both parties mutually agreed upon.

    • LaDonna says:

      So, here’s another one who should go read Zeke’s guest commentary on THR. Zeke gave a very clear and honest description of what it’s like to be a transgender man. He also talked about the difference between being out as a gay man or lesbian woman and being out as transgender. It’s not about being ashamed or owning it, it’s about being seen as who he feels he really is. As for scripting, sure Probst can lead the discussion in a specific direction if he wants to, but CBS did NOT tell Varner to blurt out Zeke’s trans-status in front of everyone and you can’t tell me they did. What CBS did do was edit the conversation to show us the impact, and with something this sensitive, I’m sure they did it with Zeke’s permission and cooperation.

  17. Fido says:

    So Zeke will win this now, right ?! Don’t watch the show but what were Zeke’s odds before this happened ? If low, maybe the two got together and came up with this plan for a 50:50 split. Or have I been watching too many tv copy shows. :)

    • LaDonna says:

      Unfortunately, I think this makes Zeke a bigger target. For a week or two, he’s going to ride comfortably along, but eventually, someone is going to make the connection – if he gets to final 3, he wins. And then they’re going to try to target him. Honestly, I always liked Zeke and his game-play, but I’m fully Team Zeke now!

  18. meg says:

    Strangely enough while I never liked Varner, I don’t think he meant to out Zeke on national tv. He definitely was outing him to the tribe which is despicable and deserves all the hated. But since this was filmed directly after Millennials vs Gen X, the rest of the cast never saw Zeke’s shows before filming this version and Varner probably assumed that Zeke had already been outed on that version. I saw that in Varner’s face when he realized that he was the one outing him on national tv. I’m impressed that no one found out during the last season. I don’t think this is CBS’s fault. I’m sure Zeke signed away his life to get on the show, but even forgetting that, the entire tribal revolved around this incident. There was no way to edit it out even if they wanted to which I’m sure they didn’t since it made for compelling tv.

  19. michael b says:

    This is the first time I really felt like survivor is scripted. The immunity challenge that spells out the word “metamorphisis”, Then the outing of Zeke?? Really?? After being a life long fan of this show, you have lost me. Just another Faked reality show, pushing the liberal agenda. PATHETIC!