Win at all costs took on new meaning when Varner, an alum of seasons two and 31, went ahead and outed fellow contestant Zeke Smith during the CBS’ juggernaut’s 34th season in 2017.
During Tribal Council, apparently desperate to stay in the game, Varner announced, “There is deception on levels here that these guys don’t understand.” Looking at Smith, he asked, “Why haven’t you told anyone you’re transgender?” Everyone, including Smith, was blindsided.
When host Jeff Probst explained that he had outed Smith not just to the other players, but also to the entire world, Varner said, “It never dawned on me that no one knew. I’m just devastated.”
When the episode featuring that pivotal moment aired, Varner wrote on Instagram, “Yep. I did that. And I offer my deepest, most heart-felt apologies to Zeke Smith, his friends and life allies, his family and to all those who my mistake hurt and offended. I recklessly revealed something I mistakenly believed everyone already knew. I was wrong and make no excuses for it. I own responsibility in what is the worst decision of my life.”
Smith, meanwhile, opened up to The Hollywood Reporter about the unequivocally traumatic experience, and said that, while he didn’t necessarily think Varner was transphobic or a bad guy, he wasn’t automatically forgiving him either.
“If we’re being perfectly honest with one another, I’ve struggled with that forgiveness in the months following,” he explained. “I can’t foresee us sipping martinis together in Fire Island. While I can reconcile the personal slight of him outing me, I continue to be troubled by his willingness to deploy such a dangerous stereotype [that trans people are deceptive] on a global platform. But forgiveness does not require friendship. Forgiveness does not require forgetting or excusing his actions.”