As we near the end of a week that brought us such horrors as United Airlines violently removing a passenger from an aircraft they had oversold, White House press secretary Sean Spicer sounding an awful lot like a Holocaust denier and Jian Ghomeshi slinking back to Twitter to promote a new podcast, it’s hard to believe someone could even compete with the douchebaggery. Well, meet your new least favourite person—Survivor’s Jeff Varner, the contestant who OUTED fellow competitor Zeke Smith as transgender on last night’s tribal council episode in a brutally failed attempt to paint him as “deceitful.”
“There is deception here, deception on levels, Jeff, that these guys don’t understand,” Varner said before turning to Smith and asking, “Why haven’t you told anyone you’re transgender?” The moment was awful and the retribution thankfully swift—from both the outraged fellow contestants who defended Smith and ultimately voted Varner off the island (boy, bye!), and pretty much everyone watching the episode at home.
The silver lining in an otherwise horrendous sequence of events: Varner’s realization of the gravity of his actions, saying through tears “I assumed that everyone in his world knew so that’s my ignorance… It never dawned on me that no one knew so I’m just devastated.” After an informal vote—it was so clear that he was leaving, Jeff didn’t even make the competitors write their vote on the little pieces of parchment paper—he also apologized to Smith as he left tribal council and in an inspiring moment of compassion, Smith accepted, hugged Varner and said “It’s okay, man. It’s going to be okay.”
Varner posted a lengthier apology on Twitter after the episode aired, writing “Let me be clear, outing someone is assault. It robs a strong, courageous person of their power and protection and opens them up to discrimination and danger. It can leave scars that haunt for a lifetime. I am profoundly sorry. Zeke is a wonderful man and I will forever be amazed and inspired by his forgiveness and compassion.”
In an interview with People magazine, Smith, a 29-year-old Brooklyn-based asset manager who previously appeared on the show in 2016, said that he didn’t necessarily plan on sharing that he was transgender, despite having been open about it during the audition process.
“I’m not ashamed of being trans, but I didn’t want that to be my story,” he said. “I just wanted to go out on an adventure and play a great game. I just wanted to be known for my game.”
And while some are questioning CBS’s decision to even air the episode (let’s not forget the tribal councils throughout the season are not live, only the finale is), Smith says that the support his fellow competitors showed him and the group’s decision to boot Varner ultimately proves love really does trump hate.
“It’s important people see he lost that fight,” says Smith. “The message should be clear that hate will always lose.”