On last night’s episode of “Survivor,” Zeke Smith was publicly outed as transgender by fellow contestant Jeff Varner.
During a tribal council, Varner asked, "Why haven't you told anyone you're transgender?”
Before Varner was voted off, Smith defended his decision to stay quiet, saying, "I wanted to be Zeke the 'Survivor’ player.”
Varner eventually apologized and hugged Smith after his elimination. Smith reflected on the moment, telling People magazine, "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. 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.”
“But I think forgiveness is about hope — hope that he understands why what he did was wrong, hope that he doesn’t ever do something like this again and hope that whatever compelled him to give into his worst instincts in a dark moment is resolved for him,” the 29-year-old reiterated. “I do wish him the best, I just think I wish him the best from afar.”
As for the hug, Smith shared, “It was hard to see me hug him that night and tell him that it was going to be okay. But it was important for me to show that he had not cowed me; that whatever shots he meant to take at me, he missed; that I was the stronger man and he was the one weeping.”
Despite Jeff’s actions, Zeke argues, “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 went on to say that the openly gay Varner is not an “ignorant bigot.” Zeke elaborated, "He knows better. I think because he’s gay, people give his words a little more weight and I don’t know if he believes what he said — but he definitely hoped others would.”
Host Jeff Probst also called out Varner for outing Smith. He told Entertainment Weekly, "In 34 seasons of 'Survivor,' I have rarely, if ever, personally commented on what is said or done in the game. But this is a unique situation that falls outside the normal boundaries. I cannot imagine anyone thinking what was done to Zeke was okay on any level, under any circumstances, and certainly not simply because there was a million dollars on the line. I think the response from the tribe, as it so often does, mirrors what the vast majority of society will feel. You just don’t do that to someone.”
On Zeke’s calm reaction to the outing, Probst commented, "I was also very impressed with the compassion Zeke showed Varner. I wonder if some people will say he shouldn’t have hugged him or shouldn’t have forgiven him. But as a viewer to that moment, I found his ability to still find some level of humanity for someone who had just injured him so severely may be his crowning moment.”
On Thursday, Smith opened up about the emotional tribal council on "The Talk." He said, "It didn't quite hit until I looked at Jeff Probst and Jeff Probst looked away from the tribe and he never takes the tribe out of his eyesight. And that's what signaled to me the worst had happened... there was this primal instinct in me that just said 'run,'... I took a moment to compose myself... my tribemates rose up and defended me loudly and passionately."
He continued, "I've been granted unprecedented autonomy in how I want to tell my story. We started having conversations all the way back in Fiji nine months ago about the care with which this episode was going to be handled... I was really proud of how I responded... I also thought that by showing what happened maybe it wouldn't happen to someone else and something good could come of it."
Watch the interview below!