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The Outing of Zeke Smith as Transgender on “Survivor” Was Brutal

Zeke Smith endeared himself to Survivor fans last year when he competed on Millennials vs. Gen-X so it’s no surprise that the show asked him back for Survivor: Game Changers. Despite the huge amount of screen time given to Smith, no one could have expected what happened on the most recent episode.

As his team went to tribal council, fellow tribe member, Jeff Varner, suspected that he was on the chopping block. As a last-ditch effort to paint Smith as deceitful, Varner turned to him and said: “There is deception here. Deceptions on levels, Jeff, that these guys don’t even understand. Why haven’t you told anyone that you’re transgender?”

Honestly, it seemed like all of the oxygen had been sucked out of everyone’s lungs (even host, Jeff Probst) but it didn’t take long for the group to recover and immediately begin defending Smith. They didn’t even go to a vote – everyone elected to send Varner home.

One of the things I wondered, after watching the gut-wrenching moment, was how Varner knew that Smith was transgender. After all, when this all happened, Sminth explained that he hadn’t told anyone. Varner has since said that he had his suspicions but never brought it up until the tribal council.

Now, 10 months later, Varner defends what he calls an “emotional decision” and explained: “I had not planned that at all. There’s no way I could have planned that. What you don’t know by watching the show is that that tribal council was two hours long.”

Varner has been seeing a therapist since the show wrapped but, really, it sounds like he still has some work to do. First, he claims that he didn’t think he was outing Smith since he assumed that everyone already knew. If that’s true, then why did he think Smith was being deceptive? Some of the people in tribal council had already played Survivor with him and didn’t seem to know and it was, obviously, not a topic of conversation…

On top of that, Varner said: “I wasn’t trying to gain or prove anything by doing this. This just happened [and] I can’t explain how it happened… and unfortunately, the editing connects dots that don’t really connect and things happen that, you don’t get the full situation there.”

Hmmm… of course, he was trying to gain something by saying that. He already admitted that he was trying to prove that Smith was deceptive. There’s a lot of double-talk here. The strangest part of all is that Varner agrees that the situation was “portrayed accurately” and that, over his three appearances on different seasons of Survivor, the team has been “wonderful.”

For now, Zeke Smith is trying to put a positive spin on the horrifying moment and hopes that this will help other people be more responsible when discussing transgender issues. Let’s hope he’s right.

The Outing of Zeke Smith as Transgender on “Survivor” Was Brutal

Jeanne Croteau

Jeanne has been a celebrity blogger for eight years and also teaches psychology at the college level. In addition to her passion for mental health, she is an avid reader, hockey fan and mother of four.

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APA Reference
Croteau, J. (2017). The Outing of Zeke Smith as Transgender on “Survivor” Was Brutal. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 21, 2020, from


Last updated: 13 Apr 2017
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