Survivor: Game Changers Recap

What Happens on Exile, Stays on Exile

By Kim Hollis and David Mumpower

April 13, 2017

The most uncomfortable moment in Survivor history.

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“I'll be doing everything I can to guarantee I'm not the one going home,” says Jeff Varner, and we cringe. Eesh. This episode feels like a horror movie.

By the way, the Immunity Challenge ends at the 33-minute mark. If the news hadn't highly publicized tonight's traumatic Tribal Council event, we'd be wondering what's up. As it is…

It's time to play It's Anybody But Jeff Varner. We'll go ahead and spoil this one. It's totally Jeff Varner. He's the one in danger, and he spends the rest of the episode making the decision to pour gasoline on himself before jumping into an open flame. Survivor gets uncomfortable from time to time, but what happens next tonight is unprecedented. It's actually a social issue, and the only thing we can recall that would be equivalent was when Colton on Survivor: One World appeared to have racial motivations to vote out Bill. It's that kind of moment, only it feels worse since it's so calculated.

We'll just go ahead and get right to the Moment. There's really no reason to talk about what leads up to it. Jeff Varner knows that he's on the bottom of this tribe and that he is the likely vote tonight. So, to deflect, he starts hinting around that there are people on the tribe who might not be trustworthy. Initially he doesn't really say why, but then he brings up Zeke. Zeke hasn't shared the fact that he's transgender with the group, which in Jeff Varner's mind somehow equates to Zeke being a liar.

In fact, Zeke has told no cast members on Survivor that he is transgender. In fact, it's something that he has shared with friends and family members, along with the casting team and producers of Survivor, who have agreed to keep his secret and also understood Zeke's desire not to be defined on the show by the fact that he is transgender. We should note that Zeke didn't tell Varner his secret. Varner just figured it out.

The reactions from the people present in the Tribal Council area are swift and harsh, other than Zeke, who handles the whole thing amazingly well. Ozzy looks at Varner with disdain, clearly unable to process the fact that Varner would make such an impossibly bad move.

Andrea breaks down in tears, saying that she can't believe that Varner would have done that to Zeke. Tai is similarly in utter disbelief and has a few waterworks of his own. Debbie is Debbie, appalled by what happened but gleeful that she's surviving another day. After another moment, Sarah also cries, making the point that she is so happy she's gotten to know Zeke and considers him a friend.

Initially, Varner defends himself, but at some point reality sets in. He realizes that what he has done is utterly despicable and soon he too is bawling. We're not really sure what he hoped to accomplish with this tactic, but since the show made a point of foreshadowing the mental challenges the players face as the game goes deeper, we're going to chalk it up to that.


Probst reveals his own feelings when he asks the tribe if there is even a need to vote. The universal consensus is no. Varner is out and there is no further discussion. Zeke hugs Jeff before he takes his leave of the tribe.

In his confessional, Varner breaks down again and sobs. Here is the statement he made today:

“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 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 for what is the worst decision in my life.

“Let me be clear, outing someone is assault. It robs a strong, courageous person of their power and protection and opens them up to discrimination and danger. It can leave scars that haunt for a lifetime. I am profoundly sorry. Zeke is a wonderful man and I will forever be amazed and inspired by his forgiveness and compassion. I thank God for that and the gift of being an example as to why you should never do what I did.

“We cisgender Americans live with an enormous amount of privilege and should spend time pondering how we can use that for greater good. When we disrespect or discriminate, or turn blind eyes to it, we wound all of us. I am deeply saddened at what my mistake unleashed and I promise to use its lessons to do the right thing.”

For his part, Zeke offered this link to GLAAD's tips for allies of transgender people. It's worth your time to read it.

Additionally, he shares his thoughts in this article he wrote for Hollywood Reporter.

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