“Survivor” contestant Jeff Varner has apologized for outing fellow player Zeke Smith as transgender on Wednesday’s episode of the CBS reality competition.
“I offer my deepest, most heartfelt apologies to Zeke Smith, his friends and life allies, his family and to all those who my mistake hurt and offended,” Varner, an openly gay North Carolina real estate agent, wrote on social media. He added: “I was wrong and make no excuses for it. I own responsibility in what is the worst decision of my life.” He said Smith, a Brooklyn-based asset manager, “is a wonderful man and I will forever be amazed and inspired by his forgiveness and compassion. . . . I am deeply saddened at what my mistake unleashed and I promise to use its lessons to do the right thing.”
On the episode, filmed months ago in Fiji’s Mamanuca Islands, Varner, then 50, told his fellow contestants that Smith was guilty of “deception,” and asked him in front of the others, “Why haven’t you told anyone you’re transgender?” The remaining players voiced their disapproval of Varner’s action and he was voted off. Already having been on precarious ground, Varner already knew he was being ejected when he asked the question, according to Smith in a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter. Earlier that day, “I told him he was going home,” Smith wrote. “I thought he deserved to know it would be his last day on the beach.”
Smith wrote that he remembers “the smug smirk on his face and the gleam in his eye” before Varner asked the question. “It’s one thing to lie about someone sneaking off at night to search for hidden advantages. It is quite another to incense bigotry toward a marginalized minority.”
Smith additionally told People magazine that while producers were aware of his gender history, “I didn’t want to be the ‘first transgender Survivor contestant’ . . . I’m not ashamed of being trans, but I didn’t want that to be my story,” he said, adding “I just wanted to go out on an adventure and play a great game. I just wanted to be known for my game.”
Nick Adams, director of GLAAD’s Transgender Media Program, said in a statement after the episode aired, “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. 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.”