Watching Wednesday night’s Survivor: Game Changers episode left me feeling a mix of disgust and hope as a controversial tribal council produced one of the most shocking moments in the show’s history.
I’m filled with admiration and respect for Zeke Smith following what was a disgusting and evil act by Jeff Varner.
Before we get to Zeke, I want to be clear: That doesn’t make Varner an evil *person* … but what he DID was malicious (as Sarah Lacina said). It was so, so wrong; he should have known better, particularly as a gay man living in North Carolina. Even though he backtracked by saying he thought it was public knowledge, Varner’s initial premise was this: Zeke was being “deceptive” by not telling the world he was a trans person.
Uh, no. It’s not being “deceptive” to keep your biggest secrets to yourself. Zeke had a right to not tell anyone, and it wasn’t Varner’s news to make public. That was really sickening to watch, and it’s no wonder Zeke said in a People.com story he’s still struggling to forgive Varner.
That said, Zeke could not have handled himself any better. Imagine being put in that position in front of millions of people (and yeah, I assume he gave CBS permission to air it, although I don’t know if he could have prevented it if they decided to do so anyway). He said all the right things and was easily the bigger person, and I have so, so much respect for Zeke as a human being.
And by the way, I think after tonight, I still will view him first as a phenomenal Survivor player more than “Zeke the trans Survivor” as he feared would be the case.
What was also very important was how the rest of the tribe reacted. Andrea’s emotions, Tai’s anger and Sarah’s strong defense and support of Zeke were so valuable for America to see.
I really hope that some good comes out of this. Let’s be honest: This is a show watched by conservatives and liberals alike, by those in middle America and those in big cities — young, old, black, white, Hispanic and everything in between. And what ultimately emerged from the shocking and dirty assault by Varner was humanity — from Zeke, from his tribemates, from Jeff Probst and, yes, even from Varner (after he realized what he’d done).
I hope Zeke can become sort of a role model for a community whose biggest spokesperson is Caitlyn Jenner (which often doesn’t seem helpful to the cause). Zeke is so damn likable that maybe he can open some eyes and change minds about something that is obviously very misunderstood.
I’m rooting for him.