During a tribal meeting, Varner accused Smith of deceiving the others, asking, “Why haven’t you told anyone that you’re transgender?” Other castaways quickly and passionately came to Smith’s defense, before voting Varner off the island.
“I cannot imagine anyone thinking what was done to Zeke was OK on any level, under any circumstances,” Probst told Entertainment Weekly in an interview published right after the shocking moment aired on national TV.
The host, who said he knew Smith was transgender shortly after casting him, voiced his complete disapproval of Varner’s actions, which prompted a statement from GLAAD, the LGBTQ advocacy group. As Probst told EW:
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 OK 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.
Given plenty of time between filming “Survivor” and the episode’s debut, Smith has attempted to make sense of the outing. Writing in a lengthy heartfelt essay for The Hollywood Reporter that he is “not wild” about the reveal, and Varner’s reasons for it. Smith concludes that it ultimately had “nothing to do with me and everything to do with him.”
“In reality, by being Zeke the dude, I am being my most honest self — as is every other transgender person going about their daily lives,” Smith wrote.
Probst, who has hosted the show since it’s 2000 debut, believes Varner regrets his comment ― which was unprecedented in the show’s history.
“It was one of the most raw and painful studies of human behavior that has ever happened on ‘Survivor,’” the host told EW.
Probst went on to praise Smith’s composure after Varner’s comment. Making the best out of the situation, Smith said on the Wednesday night episode, “Maybe there’s someone who’s a ‘Survivor’ fan, and me being out on the show helps someone else, and so maybe this will lead to a greater good.”
But the host said he also worried about Varner, who had just made “one of the worst decisions of his life.”
Varner met with the show’s full-time psychologist, Probst said, in the aftermath of the incident.
UPDATE (5:30 p.m. ET): CBS released a statement confirming they spoke with Zeke Smith to get his approval on airing the moment.
After the tribal council scene in last night’s ‘Survivor’ was filmed, we consulted with Zeke Smith and with GLAAD in advance of the broadcast, including the issue of how Zeke would tell his story after the episode aired. This is his second consecutive season on ‘Survivor.’ From his first season through the current edition, we have always been guided by the principle that this is his story to tell, and it remains so.
We support how Jeff Prost and the producers handled a very sensitive situation and marvel at the grace Zeke exhibited under extraordinary circumstances. We also have respect for how Jeff Varner has expressed remorse for his mistake, both in the episode and in his subsequent dialogue with the media. In the end, we believe this episode, accompanied by Zeke’s own remarkable writing and speaking on the subject, has provided an unexpected but important dialogue about acceptance and treating transgender people with respect.