“Survivor: Game Changers” contestant Zeke Smith is opening up about the emotional fallout from being outed as transgender by his castmate Jeff Varner on Wednesday’s episode.
Smith was competing on the show for a second time following his first appearance on “Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X.” In a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter, Smith says he never expected to last for long during his initial season.
“I’d return home, laugh at my misadventure, and go about my life, casually trans in the same way that Zac Efron is casually Jewish,” Smith writes.
The 29-year-old asset manager from Brooklyn found out he had a knack for playing the game and was invited back for the all-stars season of “Game Changers.” Smith became close with gay contestant Jeff Varner and during Wednesday’s Tribal Council meeting Varner outed Smith in a last ditch effort to keep himself from being voted off. Varner tried to pitch the idea that since Smith hadn’t mentioned his transgender identity on the show he was being deceptive in the game.
While the other contestants were outraged Varner chose to disclose the information, Smith says he dissociated from the situation.
“The lights magnified in brightness. The cameras, though 30 feet away, suddenly felt inches from my face. All sound faded. Something primal deep inside me screamed: run. I lost control of my body, my legs bounced up and down uncontrollably, willing me to flee, but the rest of me sat dead as stone,” Smith writes.
Host Jeff Probst pointed out Varner had outed Smith to not only the contestants but the world causing Varner to apologize on the show. His plan didn’t work and Varner was still voted off. He issued another apology on Instagram after the episode aired.
“Yep. I did that. And I offer my deepest, most heart-felt apologies to Zeke Smith, his friends and life allies, his family and to all those who my mistake hurt and offended,” the 50-year-old player wrote. I recklessly revealed something I mistakenly believed everyone already knew. I was wrong and make no excuses for it. I own responsibility in what is the worst decision of my life,” Varner writes.
Smith writes that he “struggles” with forgiving Varner but hopes the best for him.
“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,” Smith writes.
GLAAD’s Transgender Media Program and CBS worked together to ensure Smith was able to tell his story in his own words after the episode aired.
Smith also appears on “The Talk” on Thursday at 2 p.m. on CBS.