Survivor is still one of the most influential television shows that is still on the air. Though not as popular with the younger demographic as it was once it first aired in 1999, Survivor still makes a lasting impact taking up to 18 Americans and dropping them on an island to “outwit, outplay, and outlast the elements and each other” for the not only the one million dollar prize; but the coveted title of “Sole Survivor”. In Survivor’s 34th season entitled Game Changers, one castaway may have pushed the limits of the game to the furthest extent and stepped into reality in order to win a game for one million dollars.
Castaway Jeff Varner who has played the game two times previously on season two The Australian Outback and more recently in Cambodia: Second Chances. But this season on Game Changers was being gunned for by the rest of his tribe, the Nuku tribe, and in an effort to sway the rest of the tribe to vote his way he wanted to prove that one of the players Zeke Smith was capable of deception. In tribal council, the open forum portion of the game, Jeff stated “There is deception in here on levels they don’t even understand” he proceeded to look at Zeke and questioned, “Why haven’t you told anyone you are transgender?” This was information that Zeke gave to Jeff in private and nobody else knew, not even the millions of viewers watching at home. The world was in shock. Zeke Smith who played in the season previous, Millennials vs. Gen X, never revealed to anyone his secret and so when this came out, the world was outraged just as the players were “My primal instinct was to, run, but I couldn’t run, I came to Survivor to face great challenges” Smith said in later interviews. Everyone in that tribal council started yelling and screaming at Jeff in Zeke’s defense. They said statements such as “That is so wrong” and “you didn’t have to do that”. Debbie Wanner, one of the castaways present at the tribal council said, “It was for Zeke to discuss when he was comfortable discussing it”. Zeke looking like a deer in headlights revealed that in both of his seasons he never told anybody except for Jeff. The point that Jeff was aiming for was “the ability to deceive”. Jeff immediately apologized. “You are playing with people’s lives at this point” Ozzy Lusth also stated. “I feel horrible, I thought he was out and loud and proud about it” and he crossed the lines of the game itself. Zeke kept himself composed through all of this madness, host Jeff Probst even described him as “On an island of his own” and faced adversity to explain that he didn’t tell because on Survivor he wanted to be known as “Zeke the Survivor player, rather than Zeke the trans Survivor player”. What was truly inspirational was when Zeke said, “I am certainly not a role model for anyone else, but maybe there is someone out there who is a Survivor fan and me being out on the show will help them and will lead to a greater good”. Jeff Probst didn’t even have the traditional vote out and sent Jeff Varner home, Zeke stood up and hugged a remorseful Jeff Varner.
The world was also outraged when they saw this episode, giving a lot of love for Zeke, but hate for Jeff Varner, making national news and headlines. This has gone so far from the game as Jeff was fired from his job as a real estate agent because the agency was receiving too many hate calls and they didn’t want to get involved. Many people even blame CBS for airing this controversial episode. Zeke in an interview on “The Talk” stated that Jeff Varner and himself did get a say in how they wanted the episode presented to the audience. Zeke has since moved on from this incident. He wanted to keep the integrity of the show and didn’t even tell casting at first that he was transgender and told them as their relationship developed. “I knew it was up to me how that night would evolve in chaos, yelling and name calling or we can all rise above and find something positive in it.”
As for Jeff Varner, he has done many interviews with the press and even posted on twitter another apology to Zeke and his family. “Yep. I did that. And I offer my deepest, most heartfelt apologies to Zeke Smith, his friends and life allies, his family and to all those who my mistake hurt and offended” he even goes on to say that outing someone is assault and it robs someone of their protection and opens them up to public discrimination. Though Jeff Varner did apologize, much of the world is still scarred by his move to “change the game”. Sharing someone’s deep and darkest secrets opens them to hate and violence and nobody desires to be put through that kind of torture in their daily life. Now Jeff Varner will have to cope and learn how to live with the looming guilt that is like a storm cloud overhead. Hopefully, just as Zeke said the world can find some peace with this situation and come out as better people as a result.