Jeff Varner "devastated" to be fired from real estate job after outing Zeke Smith as transgender on 'Survivor'
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 04/17/2017
Jeff Varner says he's "devastated" to have been fired from his real estate job for outing Zeke Smith as transgender on the latest episode of Survivor: Game Changers.
Varner, a 51-year-old former news anchor for CBS and Fox affiliates from North Carolina, was fired on Thursday, April 13 from his job as an agent for Allen Tate Real Estate in Greensboro, NC.
The three-time Survivor castaway told Entertainment Tonight in a statement that he was fired in "what I felt was an ugly, knee-jerk reaction kind of way."
"I wasn't even given the chance to explain or right the wrong," he explained.
"In the real estate world, buyers and sellers want to know they're signing up with a company that won't dump them or turn their backs on them in time of trial. So I'm talking to several firms now that I know will care about and believe in their employees. I have had several reach out [and] I'm confident I'll find a better home."
Varner, who reportedly began working as a real estate agent in December 2016, worked for the company for only a few weeks before he was let go. His name and contact information are no longer listed on company websites.
"As I'm spending hours doing press [on Thursday], I discover I can't access my email. Then the MLS association emails to say, 'You've been terminated.' I didn't even find out from my company. Suddenly my real estate license was inactive and my current clients [were] left in the dark," Varner revealed.
"It took hours after my press junket to get anyone with the company on the phone to tell me personally, and even longer to calm my clients, all of whom, by the way, are coming with me to my new firm. It was an ugly day. My former boss told me that I was in a news story they wanted nothing to with."
On last week's Survivor: Game Changers episode, Varner announced at Tribal Council on Night 18 there was "deception on many levels" happening within the tribe, and then mentioned Smith's undisclosed transgender identity as an alleged example. Knowing he was the tribe's target, Varner was trying to throw a couple of his fellow castaways under the bus in order to save himself.
"Not only was Smith visibly shocked and shaken by his former friend's disclosure, he also recently told People that he continues to be "troubled by [Varner]'s willingness to deploy such a dangerous stereotype on a global platform," referring to Varner's suggestion Smith was deceitful for not being open about his gender change.
Varner said he was "devastated" to be fired from his new position, adding in his statement that he "warned the company that headlines might be coming], but apparently not the people who needed to hear it."
After outing Smith on national television, Varner appeared to try to explain that he had assumed -- incorrectly -- that Smith had played his prior Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X season as openly transgender and was just keeping it from his fellow Survivor: Game Changers castaways.
However, none of the Game Changers contestants were able to watch Smith's firstSurvivor season before Game Changers was filmed because the two editions were taped back-to-back in the Mamanuca Islands of Fiji in Spring 2016, and Smith's Millennials vs. Gen X season did not premiere on CBS until September 2016.
Varner recently told People that the idea he would be publicly revealing Zeke as transgender had not even crossed his mind.
"I didn't even realize I'd done anything wrong. I thought Zeke was out and loud and proud. Who comes on a reality show not once but twice with a secret like that and nobody knows?" said Varner, who has been in therapy for months.
"That was my messed-up thinking at the time. I thought that the viewers knew and everybody knew. So when I was arguing at Tribal and I say, 'I thought everybody knew,' I was talking about everybody at home watching."
Smith transitioned from female to male during his college years at Harvard University, a process he called "long and difficult" on the latest Survivor: Game Changers episode.
"Trans people are a highly vulnerable population. We make easy targets. We're attacked a lot and I expected a lot more from Varner," Smith told People, adding that Varner utilized "hateful tactics."
"It just was an emotional moment that just happened, and it should not have happened. I regret it and will regret it for the rest of my life," Varner told Reality TV World during an interview on Thursday. "What I did to him was horrible. And nobody should ever have to deal with what I did, and I love Zeke. I am 100 percent focused on that."
"I want to make sure he's safe and he's comfortable, and I can only imagine what he and his family and friends are dealing with today. They don't know me. They don't know that I'm not a hateful person. I'm not a bigot, there -- there's not an ounce of hate in my body. It's just so unfortunate... If he wants to take some swings at me, I will hand him the bat, because I deserve it and he has every right."
Click here to read more from Reality TV World's interview with Jeff.