Disgruntled Survivor contestant outs other player as transgender
UPDATE: Comments added below today from Zeke Smith and leading LGBT rights group GLAAD
Once again a shocking Tribal Council overshadowed the previous hour of fighting for pizza and Survivor players commiserating like Vietnam veterans.
In one of the most out-of-bounds attacks the show has ever shown, Jeff Varner outed Zeke Smith as transgender on national television. "There's deception here," Varner said while under attack at Tribal Council. Then he looked to 29-year-old Smith, a two-time contestant of the CBS show, and said, "Why haven't you told anyone that you're transgender?"
It was so off-the-charts stupid that after letting everyone else unload their anger on Varner, host Jeff Probst didn’t even bother having contestants write a name down. It was obvious who was going home.
Varner said he did it “to show the deception… It reveals the ability to deceive.”
That didn’t fly with his tribe, who universally lashed out at Varner. That to imply that someone is a deceitful person because he did not tell people he had just met on a reality show that he is transgender is as low as it gets.
“It was for Zeke to discuss when he was comfortable discussing it,” said Debbie, who remarked that her even saying that showed how someone like her from a small conservative Midwest town had grown.
It was actually touching how Tai, Andrea, Debbie, Ozzy, and Sarah had an instant united front of decency.
It’s worth noting how understated Zeke was. He could have justifiably cursed Varner out, but instead he calmly explained his point of view.
He hadn’t revealed his transition on this or his previous Survivor appearance “because when people know that about you, that’s sort of who you are.” It leads to uncomfortable questions, he said and “overwhelms” everything else they know about you.
“One of the reasons why I didn’t want to lead with that is I didn’t want to be, like, the trans Survivor player. I wanted to be Zeke the Survivor player.”
“It’s really not cool,” Zeke then said to Varner. “But I’m fine.” He hugged Varner on his way out.
“There’s no question who’s going home tonight right?” Probst said to nods from the other players. “We don’t need a vote.”
Varner showed regret in his final words. “Nobody on this planet should do what I did tonight — ever,” he said. “And I am so sorry to anybody I offended, especially Zeke, and his family and his friends. I can’t talk. I’m sorry.” And then he began sobbing.
This took place last summer so CBS had months to prepare for the reaction. Leading LGBT rights group GLAAD said it worked with Zeke Smith and CBS "for several months" to prepare Smith for the publicity blitz that would accompany the episode's airing.
The day after the show aired, Smith penned an essay in The Hollywood Reporter. He wrote that the experience was a step toward becoming the man he wants to be.
By calling him deceptive, Varner invoked "one of the most odious stereotypes of transgender people, a stereotype that is often used as an excuse for violence and even murder."
GLAAD also criticized the outing of Smith.
"Zeke Smith, and transgender people like him, are not deceiving anyone by being their authentic selves," said Nick Adams, director of GLAAD's Transgender Media Program, "and it is dangerous and unacceptable to out a transgender person."
Adam noted the show of support Smith had received since the episode's airing.
"Moments like this prove that when people from all walks of life get to know a transgender person, they accept us for who we are," he said.
Culpepper watch: We can’t do a recap without checking out how Tampa lawyer Brad Culpepper did this week. I still find it charming how Jeff Probst calls the ex-Buccaneer “Culpepper” and never Brad. The bromance is alive.
But it’s not just Probst, the women of his tribe are clearly warming to the charms of the Southern gentleman who wears his heart on his sleeve. He literally teared up in front of his tribe talking about how he didn’t appreciate how hard it must have been for his wife, Monica, to have survived the game for 39 days on the Blood vs. Water season.
His tribe was dejected and starving after they lost a reward challenge that awarded the tribe 10 pizzas -- more than 1 pizza per player! That's when Culpepper led what looked like an encounter group. They all agreed that people who have been on Survivor have a unique connection, like war vets. They talked about how different they feel when they get back home. Having endured starvation and mind games, they all acknowledge that their families tell them they are different.
“Brad is to me the most genuine person that I’ve met out here,” Aubry said after Culpepper confessed tearfully that he didn’t appreciate how hard it must have been for his wife to get that far. Cirie also opened up because of his show of vulnerability.
Next week: The tribes merge and we’ll see if Culpepper’s charms can carry him forward.
Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at email@example.com. Follow @SharonKWn.