This past Wednesday, Jeff Varner was unanimously eliminated from Survivor: Fiji after outing fellow contestant Zeke Smith as transgender in an effort to show how deceitful Smith was. The ensuing backlash from that decision not only resulted in Varner getting eliminated from the game but it got him fired from his actual job.
Variety and the Greensboro News & Record reported that Varner was fired from his job as a real estate agent in North Carolina after the episode aired. The real estate company, Allen Tate Real Estate told Varner he was fired due to being “in the middle of a news story that we don’t want anything to do with.”
Varner himself is gay and apologized to Smith while on the show after realizing Smith had not come out publicly. After the episode aired, Smith said, “I’m not ashamed of being trans, but I didn’t want that to be my story. I just wanted to go out on an adventure and play a great game. I just wanted to be known for my game.”
This all comes close to a year after the episode was filmed. During that time, nobody could disclose what happened so both Varner and Smith knew this would eventually be something that would be talked about once the episode eventually aired.
Not to leave him off the hook or anything but that’s gotta be brutal for Varner to know that you said something terrible that you know will cause a major backlash, that you can’t talk about it and just waiting for the episode to air to have that fallout.
On the other hand, it has to be even more brutal for Smith. Smith himself said he wasn’t ashamed of being transgender but at the same time, I’m sure he didn’t want to publicly reveal he’s trans on a primetime reality show seen by millions of people. The fact that Varner took Smith’s right to reveal in the way he wanted, only compounded that he had to wait a year knowing it would inevitably be aired and would be a big deal once the episode aired.
Reflecting back on what happened, Smith didn’t necessarily had an issue with being outed, he had more of an issue that Varner at that time thought people would agree with him that Smith was deceitful.
“I think he hoped others would believe that trans people are dangerous and fraudulent,” Smith said. “That reasoning is infinitely worse than him outing me because it’s the same one used to discriminate against, attack and murder trans people. What’s great is that nobody bought it…It’s important people see he lost that fight. The message should be clear that hate will always lose.”
Varner lives in North Carolina and the state has infamously been known for its HB2 law that results in people using the restroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate. Many say the law discriminates against trans people and while it has since been amended, many feel the new law hasn’t changed anything.
GLAAD echoed similar sentiments as what Smith said as well as praised the other contestants for turning a negative into a positive and all backing Smith after what happened.
“Zeke Smith, and transgender people like him, are not deceiving anyone by being their authentic selves, and it is dangerous and unacceptable to out a transgender person, said Nick Adams, director of GLAAD’s transgender media program. “It is heartening, however, to see the strong support for Zeke from the other people in his tribe. 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.”