Exclusive: Debbie Wanner: Jeff Varner shouldn't be crucified for outing Zeke Smith as transgender on 'Survivor'
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 04/27/2017
Debbie Wanner was voted out of Survivor: Game Changers in the latest episode, and now she's commenting on the high-profile incident in which Jeff Varner outed Zeke Smith as transgender during an earlier episode.
A couple weeks ago, Varner announced at Tribal Council there was "deception on many levels" happening within the tribe, and then mentioned Zeke's undisclosed transgender identity as an alleged example. Varner was desperately trying to save himself from being voted out of his tribe right before the merge.
Zeke was shocked, angry and floored, and he was struggling to forgive Varner more than nine months after the exchange at Tribal was filmed. But Varner said he had assumed Zeke was out, proud and loud since he was willing to put himself out there on television twice. Varner said the thought Zeke may not be ready to share his female to male gender change with the world therefore never even crossed his mind.
Debbie, a 51-year-old from Reading, PA, was present at the Tribal Council when Varner outed Zeke, and now she's opening up about the incident. Below is what she had to say during an exclusive interview with Reality TV World on Thursday.
Reality TV World: Zeke's return toSurvivor was pretty unique because none of the Game Changers castaways were able to watch him on [his initial] Millennials vs. Gen X season since the two seasons filmed back-to-back in 2016.
Reality TV World: So how big of a factor do you think that was in Jeff Varner outing Zeke? Do you think it still would have happened if Zeke's first season had already aired?
Debbie Wanner: Oh God, Beth, oh gosh. Yeah. Honestly, I don't know. I don't know. What I would like to say is I stand by my initial reaction, and that is Varner had no right to do what he did. That was personal information having nothing to do with the game. It was for Zeke to disclose when, where, how, and with whom he felt comfortable.
Having said that, Varner was under -- we all are under [stress] and deprivation, degradation, provocation. And we all -- all of us -- did things we wish we could take back. Whether they got aired on television or not is besides the point. We all know at the end of the day what we did or wish we wouldn't have done or said.
So, to everybody out there ripping Varner to shreds, I would ask, "Would you take a good, hard look in the mirror and if you've lived a perfect life, then good for you. You're the second person to walk the earth, Jesus Christ being the first, who's been perfect. Other than that, can you back off Varner? Because you never played the game, you don't understand the stress, he doesn't deserve to be crucified the way you're crucifying him out there for the rest of his life."
He's a human being too. So, he's my friend and I'm proud to say that.
Reality TV World: Yeah I was wondering that because after he disclosed it, Varner's explanation seemed to be that he thought Zeke had played his first season openly out and the only people who didn't know he was transgender were yourself and the rest of the Game Changers cast.
Debbie Wanner: Well, you know, I'm going to give Varner the benefit of the doubt and say that's true, regardless, in my personal opinion, that is information that has nothing to do with the game.
Strategic moves, strategic alliances -- that just wasn't the right thing to do. Having said that, I would like to reiterate again that we all do things we wish we could take back, and I don't think that Varner needs to be persecuted endlessly for having done it.
Reality TV World: When I talked to Hali Ford last week, she suggested the reaction to Varner over the Zeke situation has been a little too harsh, so it sounds like you definitely agree with her.
Debbie Wanner: A little harsh is an understatement. The guy has gotten death threats for God sakes. People think he was unhinged? What kind of person gives him a death threat in a game they see 0.2 percent of? Yeah, over the top ridiculousness -- unhinged people out there who watch this game and truly don't have a clue.
Check back with Reality TV World soon to read more from our exclusive Survivor: Game Changers interview with Debbie Wanner, the latest castoff.