Zeke Smith, a contestant on CBS’s Survivor, has been publicly outed as transgender by another contestant.
Smith, who has twice appeared on the reality show, was outed by Jeff Varner, who is gay, in front of other contestants during the April 12 episode.
Varner outed Smith after he eliminated another contestant from the competition.
“There is deception here. Deceptions on levels, Jeff, that these guys don’t even understand,” Varner said to host Jeff Probst.
Then, looking at Smith, he said: “Why haven’t you told anyone that you’re transgender?”
“Being trans and transitioning, it’s a long process. It’s a very difficult process. There are people who know,” Smith said. He had apparently planned to open up about his gender identity, but didn’t expect to be publicly outed by another contestant.
“I got to a point where I stopped telling people, because when people know that about you, that’s sort of who you are,” Smith said. “There are questions people ask, people want to know about your life, they want to know about this and that. It sort of overwhelms everything else that they know about you.”
Smith said that he didn’t want to be the “trans Survivor player.” However, he was happy if his outing eventually helps a person at home who isn’t yet open about their gender identity.
“Maybe there’s somebody who’s a Survivor fan and me being out on the show helps him or helps her or helps someone else, so maybe this will lead to a greater good.”
Varner, who apologized repeatedly for outing Smith, was sent home.
Host Jeff Probst called it a “unique situation that falls outside the normal boundaries” in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.
“I cannot imagine anyone thinking what was done to Zeke was okay on any level, under any circumstances, and certainly not simply because there was a million dollars on the line,” he said. “I think the response from the tribe, as it so often does, mirrors what the vast majority of society will feel. You just don’t do that to someone.”
Probst also commended Smith for the way he reacted to the outing.
“I was still blown away by how he handled the entire situation,” he said. “It was as if he had been preparing for this absolutely unpredictable, completely public, and incredibly vulnerable moment for his entire life. His composure was astounding.”
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