“” contestant Zeke Smith was outed as transgender on TV in tonight’s episode. The 29-year-old, who returns for “Game Changer” after first competing in the “Millennials vs. Gen-X” installment, had always been openly gay on the show and had told producers that he’s trans during his audition, but never told his fellow contestants.
During a tribal council, in an attempt to paint Zeke as “deceitful,” his teammate Jeff Varner revealed Zeke’s personal information. “There is deception here. Deceptions on levels Jeff that these guys don’t even understand,” Jeff said before looking at Zeke. “Why haven’t you told anyone that you’re transgender?”
But Jeff’s action fired back as other cast members expressed anger toward Jeff for outing Zeke. Jeff then defended himself, “I argue for the rights of transgender people every day in the state of North Carolina. I would never say or do anything to hurt anyone here. Jeff, I’m arguing for my life. I feel like I’ve got to throw everything at the wall.”
Jeff eventually apologized, but he was still voted off the island. He later approached Zeke and hugged him, expressing his remorse.
Speaking to about being outed on TV by his teammate, Zeke says, “It’s tough with Varner. I don’t think he hates trans people. I just think he has a lot of misconceptions about trans people. I think if he wants to be an ally to trans people, he has a long way to go.”
He adds, “Trans people are a highly vulnerable population. We make easy targets. We’re attacked a lot and I expected a lot more from Varner. But I think it’s so great that you see his hateful tactics rebuffed with such amazing love and from such a diverse group that responds to him.”
Months after filming the episode, Zeke admits that he’s still processing how to forgive Jeff. “In the moment, it felt like the right thing to do was accept his apology and say that we’d find a way to work it out, but I don’t really – I really struggle with forgiving him every day,” Zeke admits. “I’ve had to think a lot about what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is not forgetting what happened. It’s not excusing what happened. I don’t even think forgiveness means I have to be his friend – and I don’t think I ever will be his friend.”
On why he did’t tell his fellow contestants that he’s trans since the beginning, Zeke explains, “When you tell people you’re trans, you get two reactions. Either they look at you funny and pull back, or they go, ‘Aww, that must be so hard.’ I’m a goofy, fun-loving guy, so neither of those reactions work well for me.”
“Survivors” airs Wednesdays at 8 P.M. on CBS.