Jeff Probst Reacts to Jeff Varner Outing Zeke as Transgender in Emotional 'Survivor' Episode
As host of Survivor, Jeff Probst is often the ultimate neutral party. Probst never takes sides when arguments break out at Tribal Council and tries to mediate for the hungry, desperate and scheming contestants. Yet when Jeff Varner outed Zeke Smith as transgender Jeff broke with tradition and came down harshly on for Varner his actions. 10 months has passed since the filming of the incident. In his weekly Survivor blog post at Entertainment Weekly, Probst is just as critical of Varner as he was during filming.
Probst was aware that Zeke was transgender but due to Zeke's own wishes Probst and the show never intended to reveal that information to the audience. "I met Zeke in casting and loved him. I still have my original notes from that meeting," Probst recalled. "He was very engaging, gifted in his ability to manipulate with his words, and he wore this crazy Hawaiian shirt and had poofy hair ... It wasn't until after he left that I was told he was transgender. From that point forward we agreed that if his story was to be told, he would be the one to decide when, where and how."
"Zeke is a massive Survivor fan and his point with us was very clear," Jeff continued. "He wanted to be seen as a Survivor player. Not the first transgender Survivor player. I really respected that distinction and I understood it."
"In 34 seasons of Survivor, I have rarely, if ever, personally commented on what is said or done in the game," Jeff said. "But this is a unique situation that falls outside the normal boundaries. I cannot imagine anyone thinking what was done to Zeke was okay 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."
"It was one of the most surreal moments I've ever encountered on the show," Jeff said of the incident. "From the outside, it looked and sounded like a regular Tribal Council but in reality, it was one of the most raw and painful studies of human behavior that has ever happened on Survivor."
Probst clarified that there are therapists available for the Survivor contestants after they are eliminated or done filming. These therapists were on hand for Varner after he outed Zeke and they also worked with Zeke after the season was over. Producers were on hand to check on Zeke after Tribal as well, despite how composed he was in the immediate aftermath.
Probst has also talked to Varner since the season wrapped and said, "I hope Varner is able to take this moment and turn it into something positive. People make mistakes. Granted this happens to be a pretty severe one, but as you saw even with Zeke -- there is hope that something good can come from this. That would be my wish ... that Varner will seize this as an opportunity to be a catalyst for positive change by owning his mistake and moving forward in a new direction."
What do you make of Jeff's comments? Do you hope that Varner will be able to turn this into a positive? Should Jeff have interjected his personal comments at Tribal Council?
Survivor: Game Changers airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on CBS.
(Image courtesy of CBS)