It was an important night for Zeke Smith, but the next morning, he just wanted to get back to the game.
Viewers were shocked by last week’s episode of “Survivor: Game Changers”, when Jeff Varner outed Smith as transgender at tribal council, in a last ditch effort to save himself from elimination.
While Smith delivered an eloquent speech about his own metamorphosis and how the experience of being outed might be able to help others going through similar experiences, fans — and even host Jeff Probst — were concerned with how Smith and the rest of the Survivor cast would move forward after the bombshell.
This week’s episode of “Survivor” saw Smith give the same even-tempered response to his outing the morning after — and even decide to take control of his story by telling the remainder of the show’s castaways that he was transgender after the merge.
“I didn’t want people to cry and yell, so I was just like, ‘All right. We’re OK,'” Smith told his Nuku tribemates pre-merge. “I was very touched by how everyone responded.”
The Nuku tribe was quick to defend Smith — and reprimand Varner — after the outing during last week’s tribal council, and some of the tribe still wasn’t over the emotional event.
“Last night, every last one of you forgave Varner, and I don’t forgive that guy yet. And it’s OK if you do,” Sarah (who was the most angry last week) said to Tai.
“I wanted to give Varner a little comfort, just [be] compassionate. That’s who I am,” Tai replied, starting to cry. “He took away so much from Zeke. Thinking about it right now, I”m emotional.”
“You know, I come from a very conservative background. I don’t know any transgender people until now, and the fact that I know Zeke, and have gotten to know him as a person from day one, I love that guy. And it doesn’t change who he is to me,” Sarah told the camera. “If anything, it makes us stronger.”
In his own interview to camera, Smith said he was looking forward to moving on with the game.
“One of the reasons I didn’t tell people is I sort of wanted people to see me as myself. Often in my life, when I tell people I’m trans, that’s what they’re interested in, and everything else about me sort of becomes pushed the wayside. But, you know, Survivor, it makes you tough, it makes you resilient, and it makes you adaptable. And I think I had all those qualities before, but they’ve certainly been strengthened and grown,” he explained. “And I think I was able to be a little more brave and a little bolder to help others, and also to get over my own fears, and to get over my own, issues and complexes and insecurities with being transgender.”
“I really, really like the people that I’m playing with, and it is heartening in this game, that often your lowest moments, when something like that does happen to you, that people that are out to get you in some regard, do stand in your defense, and I was truly touched,” he continued. “But in the meantime, there’s still a task at hand, and a task that I’m still committed to. I’m here to win a million dollars. So let’s just get back to it.”
Before he could “get back to it,” however, Smith decided to be open with the newly-merged tribe, and describe what had transpired at last week’s tribal council.
“We’re not five minutes in, and Jeff takes it upon himself to say, ‘Zeke is deceiving you, because what Zeke is not telling you is that Zeke is transgender.’ Which is true. I am. So, it happened in a way that I wasn’t happy about,” he shared as his new tribe embraced him. “Like all of you, I am forever changed, and forever evolved by my experience on Survivor, and was such a more stronger and more capable person in that moment.”
Though Varner almost immediately regretted outing Smith — and has apologized profusely for his actions — the three-time Survivor player is seeing real-world repercussions after Wednesday’s episode.
Varner revealed to ET on Saturday that he was fired by Allen Tate Real Estate in “what I felt was an ugly, knee-jerk reaction kind of way.”
In a statement to ET, Allen Tate Real Estate CEO Pat Riley said that “the Allen Tate Companies were built on core values of honesty, integrity and respect. “Those fundamental beliefs led us to end our relationship with Mr. Varner, a real estate agent who had become affiliated with our firm just 17 days earlier.”
“Survivor” airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.
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