"Survivor: Game Changers" had quite a memorable night last night, and both Zeke Smith and Jeff Varner are now speaking out to share their sides of what happened.
Varner knew he was about to be voted out, so he got desperate at tribal council and -- in an attempt to show Zeke's "deception" -- asked why he hadn't told anyone he was transgender. When that got a huge, instant, angry response from the rest of the tribe, Varner tried to argue that he thought Zeke was already out -- at least to the world and "Survivor" at large, just not the people in their tribe. But Zeke had decided not to reveal he was transgender in his first season on "Survivor," hoping to just play as Zeke and not "the trans Survivor player," and this was his very public outing in front of the tribe, Jeff Probst, and millions of viewers.
Fans reacted on social media with support for Zeke, and Varner posted a statement acknowledging he did a very bad thing:
— Jeff Varner (@JEFFVARNER) April 13, 2017
And yet his Twitter is also filled with supportive retweets like "I know tonight may be rough, but as someone who has said a lot of things I shouldn't have, I support you no matter what" and "just 2 preface...know ur not intentionally malicious, when we make mistakes luckily cameras aren't 'round...no matter...love ya!"
Jeff Probst had his usual post-episode Q&A with Entertainment Weekly to talk about what happened, but he never explained how the conversation went when it comes to sharing all of that on TV. The show decides what to leave in and what to edit out, and even though it would've been dang near impossible to cut the outing of Zeke -- since the tribe didn't even vote out Varner, he just left after they agreed Varner should leave -- it would be interesting to know if there was a conversation in which Zeke had a say on what to show.
— Jeff Probst (@JeffProbst) April 13, 2017
You should read Zeke Smith's guest column in The Hollywood Reporter about his whole experience, including how he felt during that tribal council. Here's a section:
"I am forever grateful that Probst gave me time to collect myself. Were I in the hands of a lesser leader, I'm sure questions would've been peppered my way before I was ready to receive them. I could not have responded in the manner in which I did had he not held the wheel while I got my bearings.
I tuned back in to the conversation and found chaos — tears, yelling, anger, but mostly confusion. I needed to calm everyone down. My chance to re-enter appeared — an opportunity to provide clarification. I spoke as calmly as I possibly could. Each word came slowly. Typically, my brain races far ahead of my ability to form words, but then it trudged, carefully selecting its path. My right leg settled down, but my left still jittered.
I took solace in my tribemates. They defended me passionately. Even Probst, the most neutral of arbiters, had my back. My left leg settled, and with it the group. Tears dried, voices lowered, and the attention turned to me to make sense of what happened. I didn't know what to say. [...]
I don't believe Varner hates trans people, just as I don't believe conservative politicians who attack trans people actually care where we use the bathroom. For both, trans people make easy targets for those looking to invoke prejudice in order to win votes. Thankfully, my tribemates rebuffed his hateful tactics. After 18 days starving and competing with me, they knew exactly the man I am, and after that Tribal Council, we all knew exactly the man Varner is.
[....] I looked to Varner, now the one hunched and quivering, and contemplated the backlash he would face. When he said what he said, he changed both of our lives forever. When he pulled me in for a hug, I felt compelled to reciprocate, both as a sign that I was willing to forgive him and that the shots he had fired missed.
But, if we're being perfectly honest with one another, I've struggled with that forgiveness in the months following. I can't foresee us sipping martinis together in Fire Island. While I can reconcile the personal slight of him outing me, I continue to be troubled by his willingness to deploy such a dangerous stereotype on a global platform.
But forgiveness does not require friendship. 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."
Read the full post. "Survivor," with Zeke still competing, continues Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBS.
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