Zeke Smith has appeared on Survivor: Game Changers twice in two seasons, but he’s now making headlines for reasons he’s not happy about.
Zeke Smith has appeared on Survivor: Game Changers twice in two seasons, but he’s now making headlines for reasons he’s not happy about. Zeke was outed as trangender by fellow contestant Jeff Varner in an episode that aired Wednesday night.
“Why haven't you told anyone you're transgender?" Jeff, who is openly gay, asked Zeke during a tribal council meeting. Fellow contestants defended Zeke as Jeff claimed, “I’m not outing him.” Jeff later said he was “so sorry,” but was booted off the show.
Now, in an essay for The Hollywood Reporter, Zeke explains that he’s not happy about being outed. “I’m not wild about you knowing that I’m trans,” he writes. “See, when I got on a plane to Fiji last March, I expected to get voted out third. I’d return home, laugh at my misadventure, and go about my life, casually trans in the same way that Zac Efron is casually Jewish.” Instead, Zeke says, he ended up doing better than he thought and was invited back for an all-star season “during the course of which I was maliciously outed.”
While Zeke acknowledged that it's ironic that he didn't want attention on his gender, he says that Survivor helped him through a tough period in life. Zeke says he once suffered from depression and transitioning from female to male “blasted away my confidence.” “I stopped dreaming. I stopped leaping. I found it difficult enough to simply put one foot in front of the other," he wrote.
But then he started watching Survivor and became hooked. “Transitioning created the opportunity to remake myself—to really consider and construct the man I wanted to be,” he wrote. “Whether I was conscious of it or not, 'Survivor player' became part of the remodel blue prints.” Suddenly he was doing things to try to prepare him to get on the show, like running obstacle racing and backpacking the Grand Canyon.
“I lost many from my life when I transitioned,” he said. “Most were supportive in theory, but distanced themselves, unsure and a little weirded out by the process. On the whole, the world doesn’t treat trans people with much kindness. Even those who aren’t outwardly hateful crinkle their noses at you. When enough people crinkle their noses at you, you begin to think you stink.”
Zeke says that his biggest concern with opening up about being transgender is that if people knew, their opinion of him would change. However, he decided to open up to Jeff. Zeke says that when he was outed “something primal deep inside me screamed run,” but he couldn’t move. “It’s one thing to lie about someone sneaking off at night to search for hidden advantages,” he says. “It is quite another to incense bigotry toward a marginalized minority.”
Zeke says that he’s struggled to forgive Jeff. “I can’t foresee us sipping martinis together in Fire Island,” he says. “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 on a global platform.”
Zeke ended with this: “To adventure is to invite hazard into your life. The thrill of adventure comes from accepting this risk, and the reward from confronting whatever might be thrown at you. But you cannot control the hazards you face, be they repeated misfortune or the harmful actions of others. You can only control how you respond. It’s up to you to decide whether the hazard will define you or you will define the hazard.”