The Tribal Councils on Survivor are known for being dramatic affairs, but last night's episode saw one man take things to a new low.
As recounted in his guest column for The Hollywood Reporter, castaway Zeke Smith was outed as a trans man by fellow contestant Jeff Varner. Varner, an openly gay former news anchor from North Carolina, was on the chopping block at last night's Tribal Council, and called out Smith in an attempt to save himself from elimination.
"There is deception here," he told Survivor: Game Changers host Jeff Probst. "Deceptions on levels, Jeff, that these guys don't even understand."
He then turned to Smith, who is also openly gay but had yet to share his gender identity with castaways, and asked, "Why haven't you told anyone that you're transgender?"
The move backfired. The Tribal Council reacted with anger and disgust at Varner's outing of Smith, insisting that his being a trans man was "personal" and irrelevant to the game. Varner was ultimately voted off the island.
"I argue for the rights of transgender people every day in the state of North Carolina," Varner told tribe members in an attempt to defend his actions. "I would never say or do anything to hurt anyone here. Jeff [Probst], I'm arguing for my life. I feel like I've got to throw everything at the wall."
Smith hugged Varner on his way out, but his guest column for THR revealed the turmoil brewing inside him after Varner's reveal.
"The lights magnified in brightness," he wrote of hearing Varner's accusations. "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. To my left was The Abyss. I could’ve made a clean break for it, but I knew there was no running from what had happened. Cameras would follow me, if not that night, then eventually. Running was not an option. So I sat blank, almost in a trance, unaware of what happened around me, trying to form a plan."
Smith also rejected Varner's defense that everything was fair game given the long-running CBS reality show's history of cutthroat tactics.
"It’s one thing to lie about someone sneaking off at night to search for hidden advantages," he wrote. "It is quite another to incense bigotry toward a marginalized minority.
"In calling me deceptive, Varner invoked one of the most odious stereotypes of transgender people, a stereotype that is often used as an excuse for violence and even murder," he continued. "In proclaiming 'Zeke is not the guy you think he is' and that 'there is deception on levels y’all don’t understand,' Varner is saying that I’m not really a man and that simply living as my authentic self is a nefarious trick. In reality, by being Zeke the dude, I am being my most honest self — as is every other transgender person going about their daily lives."
Smith has also spoken about the intense moment on social media, and is using it as an opportunity to offer support to others in the trans community.
Varner, meanwhile, has issued this apology to the 29-year-old writer and comedian.