‘Survivor’ castaway Zeke Smith opens up about being transgender: ‘A person’s gender history is private information’

In one of the most emotional moments in “Survivor” history, Zeke Smith was outed as transgender in last night’s episode by Jeff Varner, who felt that Zeke was using the secret to deceive his fellow castaways. In truth, Zeke just wasn’t ready to come out, which is what made Varner’s move one of the most epic reality TV blunders of all time. As the tears began flowing and host Jeff Probst looked gobsmacked, Varner was eventually eliminated by a unanimous verbal vote. Now that Zeke’s truth has been revealed to the world, the “Survivor: Game Changers” castaway has broken his silence in the Hollywood Reporter.

“A person’s gender history is private information and it is up to them, and only them, when, how, and to whom they choose to disclose that information,” Zeke says in his own words. “Keeping your gender history private is not the same as a gay person being ‘in the closet.’ The only people who need to know are medical professionals and naked fun time friends.”

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“There’s no playbook for being trans,” Zeke continues. “You make it up as you go along, and I struggled with finding the right time to disclose my gender history to those close to me. What was appropriate? A week? A month? My gut would tell me to fill someone in, but then panic would wash over me. What if that person told other people?”

Zeke first played on last season’s “Millennials vs. Gen X,” where he made it all the way to Day 33. He reveals, “I didn’t discuss my trans status in my initial video because I wanted the show to desire me as a game player and an eccentric storyteller, not as ‘The First Trans Survivor Player.’ They did. Casting called back two hours later, and I began to panic.”

After he was eliminated in Season 33, Zeke explains, “Twenty minutes later, before I could scarf a cheeseburger or peel off my rotting boxers, Probst asked if I was up for doing it all over again … in two weeks … alongside some of the game’s best players. ‘I’m your guy,’ I told Probst.” And before he knew it, Zeke was filming the 34th season of the show as one of the 20 returning “Game Changers.”

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“I remember walking into Tribal Council that night,” Zeke recalls about the night Varner outed him, which was shown to TV audiences on Wednesday, April 12. “I remember the smell of the kerosene in our torches. I remember the smug smirk on his face and the gleam in his eye when he turned to me and snarled, ‘Why haven’t you told anyone that you’re transgender?'”

Zeke was at first caught off guard, but he persevered, confessing, “I am forever grateful that Probst gave me time to collect myself. Were I in the hands of a lesser leader, I’m sure questions would’ve been peppered my way before I was ready to receive them. I could not have responded in the manner in which I did had he not held the wheel while I got my bearings.”

“I don’t believe Varner hates trans people,” Zeke concludes. “Just as I don’t believe conservative politicians who attack trans people actually care where we use the bathroom. For both, trans people make easy targets for those looking to invoke prejudice in order to win votes. Thankfully, my tribemates rebuffed his hateful tactics. After 18 days starving and competing with me, they knew exactly the man I am, and after that Tribal Council, we all knew exactly the man Varner is.”

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