Things took an unexpected turn at Tribal Council during Wednesday’s edition of Survivor when Zeke Smith was outed as transgender by one of his fellow castaways.
Jeff Varner — who previously competed in season two and again in Survivor: Cambodia — was discussing how he felt upended after thinking he knew “where people stood,” until “it was revealed to me today how little I knew,” Varner said.
“There is deception going on right here. Deception on levels that you guys don’t even understand. There’s more,” Varner added, looking straight at Smith. “Why haven’t you told anyone that you’re transgender?”
While Smith appeared to be stunned, several of the other castaways took Varner to task for outing Smith. “That is so wrong,” said Tai Trang.
“That has nothing to do with the game,” added Andrea, bursting into tears.
Varner, however, didn’t feel that he did anything wrong. “I argue for the rights of transgender people every day in the state of North Carolina,” he claimed, but Trang wasn’t buying it. “No one has the right to out anybody,” he declared.
Then Smith spoke up, saying that throughout his entire Survivor experience, “I’ve told nobody.”
It slowly dawns on Varner that his assumptions that Smith’s tribe mates knew his secret were just plain wrong. “I didn’t understand what I was doing here,” he admitted. “I’m going to beat myself up over it. I assumed that everyone in his world knew, and that was my ignorance. It never dawned on me that no one knew. I’m just devastated.”
Smith explained his secrecy: “I didn’t want to be the trans Survivor player. I wanted to be Zeke, the Survivor player.”
Tribal Council ended with Varner heading home, without a vote being taken, and the departing castaway hugged Smith as he exited, admitting he was sorry. “It’s OK, man,” reassured Smith.
In an interview with People, Smith reasserts his reasoning for not revealing his status as a trans man.
“I didn’t want to be the ‘first transgender Survivor contestant,’” he says. “I’m not ashamed of being trans, but I didn’t want that to be my story. I just wanted to go out on an adventure and play a great game. I just wanted to be known for my game.”
Commenting on Varner outing him at Tribal Council, Smith says: “I think he hoped others would believe that trans people are dangerous and fraudulent. That reasoning is infinitely worse than him outing me because it’s the same one used to discriminate against, attack and murder trans people,” Smith says. “What’s great is that nobody bought it.”