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Jeff Varner fired from job after outing Zeke Smith as transgender on 'Survivor'


By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 04/14/2017 

Jeff Varner has reportedly been fired from his job after outing his tribemate, Zeke Smith, as transgender on Survivor: Game Changers.

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Varner, a 50-year-old former news anchor from North Carolina, was fired on Thursday from his job as a real estate agent, Greensboro's News & Record newspaper reported.

Varner told News & Record that he was told he's "in the middle of a news story that we don't want anything to do with."

Efforts to reach Varner's employer for comment, however, were reportedly unsuccessful on Thursday.

According to Raleigh's The News & Observer newspaper, Varner was hired about three weeks ago as an agent for Allen Tate in Greensboro, but his name and contact information are no longer listed on company websites.

Varner reportedly began working as a real estate agent in December.

"I wanted to come home," he told the Triad Business Journal in February. "All my friends seem to be in real estate. I'd always wanted to give it a try. And I figured now is the time."

Prior to working for Allen Tate, Varner was also reportedly briefly an agent for Greensboro's Tyler Redhead & McAlister real-estate firm.

On Survivor: Game Changers' Wednesday night 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 target, Varner was attempting to deflect the vote onto the tribe's biggest physical threat, Ozzy Lusth, whom Smith, a 29-year-old asset manager from Brooklyn, NY, had been protecting for his own benefit come the merge.

Not only was Smith shocked and shaken by his former friend's disclosure, but 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.

An extremely remorseful Varner insisted to the magazine, however, that he was not insinuating that Smith was being sneaky because he's transgender or that trans people as a whole are deceitful.

After outing Smith, 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 first Survivor season before Game Changers was filmed because the two editions were filmed 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?" Varner said.

"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. "But I think it's so great that you see his hateful tactics rebuffed with such amazing love and from such a diverse group that responds to him."

Smith and Varner's other Nuku tribemates were irate and rushed to Smith's defense after Varner out him. Without even asking the tribe to vote, Survivor host Jeff Probst declared it was time for Varner to leave the game.

"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 that that's what happened," he continued.

"And that's the way it is. I can talk much more about the future and where I'm headed and what I'm planning on doing. There's a lot I've been up to and there's a lot in the works, but today is not about me. Today is about Zeke. And if he wants to take some swings at me, I will hand him the bat, because I deserve it and he has every right."

Varner also revealed he's been receiving therapy since the incident occurred.

"When I walked out of that game, I fell into the arms of Dr. Liza Siegel, the show's psychologist who has done so much for me. And the show has been wonderful for me. When I got to Ponderosa, it was very difficult for me to tell the other pre-jury members what happened. I had to. But I couldn't speak of it," he told Reality TV World.

"It took me weeks before I could talk about it to anyone, privately, without breaking down. It was an emotional situation and I'm so grateful for CBS, for Dr. Liza and for the people who were there to help me. (Begins crying). Sorry, I'm getting emotional. This is difficult. They were wonderful to me. They were wonderful."

Click here to read more from Reality TV World's interview with Jeff.


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