Reacting to shocking Survivor controversy (SPOILERS)

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 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.

6 Replies to “Reacting to shocking Survivor controversy (SPOILERS)”

  1. Hey Jeff, you couldn’t have written that more elequently. Well said.
    I was so stunned, I’m still digesting it all. Zeke was incredibly gracious. Watching how the rest of the cast reacted…I almost felt like I was given a voice…we all wanted to say what they said. I think you are right, Zeke probably gave the “ok” to air the episode, but who knows what would have happened if things would have gone sideways after Varner’s comment.
    In the end, I really hope this turns into a wonderful opportunity. Zeke is the person who can make this a positive. He’s such a likable guy and very well spoken.
    Varner…I’m so disappointed. I was actually liking him better this year. What he did was vicious and pretty unforgivable. I read his statement. I’m sure he whole-heartedly regrets what he did. It will be tough for him moving forward, but I need more time before my feelings of disgust for him start to fade.
    Good Luck to Zeke! Hope he outplays, outwits and outlasts till the end!

  2. I read we hadn’t seen anything yet concerning Tribal this season and boy, were they right! My mouth dropped. God Bless Zeke. I don’t think I would have handled things the way he did. I pray Jeff is able to forgive himself. I am sure this has caused him a lot of depression for what he did to Zeke.

  3. I could not believe what Varner did! He went from being one of the most liked players to possibly the most hated player ever in 10seconds. Zeke was amazing in how he handled it.
    Your thoughts Gluck on the episode were so spot on and said what I only wish I could express

  4. I have always been an ally. I know I’m a naive optimist, but I live for the day when we stop putting labels on people and judging them by anything other than what they say and do.

  5. I liked Varner and was shocked as a gay man he would even bring this up as a defense to stay in the game. How did he think the tribe would react did he really think they would see it as deceptive. I am shocked Zeke would even tell him he said he stopped telling people in his normal life why tell a guy you will know for 39 days. Curious to see if Varner comes to the reunion show

    1. For the record, the tribe did not speak. When Varner’s fire was extinguished, it was Jeff Probst’s assumption about the vote. None of the survivor cast really voted. What’s to stop Probst from doing this again during
      this or another season? Next time it could be: “Pretty obvious who is going home tonight. Roll your eyes… if you want _________to go home”. “The tribe has spoken….”

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