April 13, 2017 9:57 am

‘Survivor’ contestant Zeke Smith outed as transgender during Tribal Council

Timothy Kuratek/CBS Entertainment ©2017 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved./ ET Canada

Things took an unexpected turn at Tribal Council during Wednesday’s edition of Survivor when Zeke Smith was outed as transgender by one of his fellow castaways.

Jeff Varner — who previously competed in season two and again in Survivor: Cambodia — was discussing how he felt upended after thinking he knew “where people stood,” until “it was revealed to me today how little I knew,” Varner said.

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“There is deception going on right here. Deception on levels that you guys don’t even understand. There’s more,” Varner added, looking straight at Smith. “Why haven’t you told anyone that you’re transgender?”

While Smith appeared to be stunned, several of the other castaways took Varner to task for outing Smith. “That is so wrong,” said Tai Trang.

“That has nothing to do with the game,” added Andrea, bursting into tears.

RELATED: Post Tribal: The ET Canada ‘Survivor: Game Changers’ podcast – Episode 5: Sandra

Varner, however, didn’t feel that he did anything wrong. “I argue for the rights of transgender people every day in the state of North Carolina,” he claimed, but Trang wasn’t buying it. “No one has the right to out anybody,” he declared.

Then Smith spoke up, saying that throughout his entire Survivor experience, “I’ve told nobody.”

It slowly dawns on Varner that his assumptions that Smith’s tribe mates knew his secret were just plain wrong. “I didn’t understand what I was doing here,” he admitted. “I’m going to beat myself up over it. I assumed that everyone in his world knew, and that was my ignorance. It never dawned on me that no one knew. I’m just devastated.”

Smith explained his secrecy: “I didn’t want to be the trans Survivor player. I wanted to be Zeke, the Survivor player.”

Tribal Council ended with Varner heading home, without a vote being taken, and the departing castaway hugged Smith as he exited, admitting he was sorry. “It’s OK, man,” reassured Smith.

RELATED: ‘Survivor: Game Changers’ Castaway: Zeke Smith

In an interview with People, Smith reasserts his reasoning for not revealing his status as a trans man.

“I didn’t want to be the ‘first transgender Survivor contestant,’” he says. “I’m not ashamed of being trans, but I didn’t want that to be my story. I just wanted to go out on an adventure and play a great game. I just wanted to be known for my game.”

Commenting on Varner outing him at Tribal Council, Smith says: “I think he hoped others would believe that trans people are dangerous and fraudulent. That reasoning is infinitely worse than him outing me because it’s the same one used to discriminate against, attack and murder trans people,” Smith says. “What’s great is that nobody bought it.”

Smith is quick to praise his fellow castaways for immediately coming to his defense. “It’s important people see [Varner] lost that fight,” says Smith. “The message should be clear that hate will always lose.”

After the episode aired, Varner took to Twitter to offer an apology, admitting: “I own responsibility in what is the worst decision of my life.”

He adds: “Let me be clear, outing someone is assault… I am deeply saddened at what my mistake unleashed and I promise to use its lessons to do the right thing.”

Also taking to Twitter was Survivor host Jeff Probst, praising Smith for his “ability to remain composed, strong and yet still compassionate, despite the very vulnerable situation,” and hoping “this emotional and powerful conversation will bring awareness and understanding…and ultimately effect change.”

Smith wrote about his experience in a guest column published in The Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday.

“I’m not wild about you knowing that I’m trans,” Smith wrote.

“Forgiveness does not require friendship,” he wrote. “Forgiveness does not require forgetting or excusing his actions. Forgiveness requires hope. Hope that he understands the injury he caused and does not inflict it upon others. Hope that whatever torments his soul will plague him no more. I have hope for Jeff Varner. I just choose to hope from afar, thank you very much.”

You can read Smith’s full column here.

Survivor: Game Changers airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Global; you can also watch full episodes online.

© 2017 Entertainment Tonight Canada, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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