Two-time “Survivor” contestant Zeke Smith was outed by a fellow castaway as transgender, now he reflects on the chaos.
Smith was called out for being trans on episode seven of “Survivor: Game Changers”. At risk of being sent home, Jeff Varner made a last-ditch effort to avoid elimination by revealing Smith’s gender to the tribal council and the audience. Varner tried to defend himself, protesting, “I argue for the rights of transgender people every day” and saying that he would “never say or do anything to hurt anyone here,” but was unanimously sent packing.
Smith penned a guest article for The Hollywood Reporter, describing how the controversial reveal has impacted him. “I’m not wild about you knowing that I’m trans,” he wrote. “An odd sentiment, I realize, for someone who signed up for two seasons of the CBS reality giant, ‘Survivor’. See, when I got on a plane to Fiji last March, I expected to get voted out third. 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.”
“But that’s not what happened,” he continued. “I ended up being pretty good at Survivor. I was invited back immediately for an all-star season, during the course of which I was maliciously outed by a former local network news anchor. What a summer!”
The reality TV contestant, who made his debut on the “Millennials vs. Gen X” season, hadn’t opened up about his gender. He did not want to be labelled as “The First Trans ‘Survivor’ Player”. He also didn’t know how people would receive him.
“I remember walking into Tribal Council that night. I remember the smell of the kerosene in our torches. I remember the smug smirk on his face and the gleam in his eye when he turned to me and snarled, ‘Why haven’t you told anyone that you’re transgender?'”
“The lights magnified in brightness. The cameras, though 30 feet away, suddenly felt inches from my face. All sound faded,” Smith explained. “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.
“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.”
He doesn’t take Varner’s actions personally, but says it relates to a bigger problem in society. “I knew that Varner’s actions, though targeted at me, had nothing to do with me and everything to do with him. His terrible utterances were not an effect of my actions, but a reflection of his own personal maladies.”
“But 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.”
“I don’t believe Varner hates trans people, just as I don’t believe conservative politicians who attack trans people actually care where we use the bathroom,” Smith adds. “For both, trans people make easy targets for those looking to invoke prejudice in order to win votes. Thankfully, my tribemates rebuffed his hateful tactics.”
“After 18 days starving and competing with me, they knew exactly the man I am, and after that Tribal Council, we all knew exactly the man Varner is.”
“Survivor: Game Changers” airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Global; you can also watch full episodes online.