UPDATED, 2 PM: CBS released a statement Thursday expressing support for the way producers handled Wednesday night’s episode, in which a contestant told his tribemates that a fellow contestant is a transgender man, outing his castmate against his will. You can read the statement below in full:
“After the tribal council scene in last night’s Survivor was filmed, we consulted with Zeke Smith and with GLAAD in advance of the broadcast, including the issue of how Zeke would tell his story after the episode aired. This is his second consecutive season on Survivor. From his first season through the current edition, we have always been guided by the principle that this is his story to tell, and it remains so.
We support how Jeff Probst and the producers handled a very sensitive situation and marvel at the grace Zeke exhibited under extraordinary circumstances. We also have respect for how Jeff Varner has expressed remorse for his mistake, both in the episode and in his subsequent dialogue with the media. In the end, we believe this episode, accompanied by Zeke’s own remarkable writing and speaking on the subject, has provided an unexpected but important dialogue about acceptance and treating transgender people with respect.”
PREVIOUS, April 12, 8:01 PM: Tonight’s episode of Survivor: Game Changer, titled “What Happens on Exile, Stays on Exile,” featured an unexpected moment when contestant Jeff Varner (on the right in the photo above) told his tribemates that their fellow contestant Zeke Smith (on the left) is a transgender man, outing his castmate against his will.
Smith was in last year’s Millennials vs. Gen X season before he was brought back for the current season. During both seasons, it was known that Smith was a gay man, but he chose not to share his gender history to his tribemates or to the viewing audience.
During the episode, Varner felt like he was going to be sent home and revealed to everyone the truth about Smith during a Tribal Council.
“There is deception here. Deceptions on levels, Jeff, that these guys don’t even understand,” Varner said. He then looked at Smith and said, “Why haven’t you told anyone that you’re transgender?”
Many cast members seemed upset at Varner for outing Smith, and once he realized his mistake, Varner tried to explain his reasoning.
“I didn’t want to be the ‘trans’ Survivor player, and I wanted to be Zeke the Survivor player,” Smith later explained. “I don’t even need a cheerleader because I know I can do whatever I want to do.”
After the episode, Smith tweeted, “We cannot control the hazards we face, we can only control how we respond. Love each other,” adding, “To learn how to be a better ally to trans people, click the link below. *Spoiler alert* Don’t out people.”
Varner also released an apology on Twitter, stating that he offers his “deepest, most sincere apologies to Zeke Smith, his friends and life allies, his family and to all those who my mistake hurt and offended.” He added that he “recklessly revealed something” he mistakenly believed everyone already know. “I was wrong and make no excuses for it. I own responsibility in what is the worst decision of my life.” Here is his full statement:
Nick Adams, Director of GLAAD’s Transgender Media Program, issued a statement tonight: “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.”
Denise Petski contributed to this story.