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'Survivor: Game Changers' recap: Jeff Varner ousted after he outs Zeke Smith as transgender


By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 04/13/2017 

Survivor: Game Changers' new Nuku tribe kicked three-time castaway Jeff Varner out of the game after he outed Zeke Smith as being transgender during Season 34's sixth episode Wednesday night on CBS.

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After losing the season's seventh Immunity Challenge in which Nuku and Mana had to dive for buoys and then solve a 13-letter vertical puzzle that read "Metamorphosis," the Nuku tribe sent Varner, a 50-year-old from High Point, NC, packing -- without even taking it to a vote -- at Tribal Council on Night 18.

The tribe was in agreeance Varner needed to go, not only because he was the outsider of the Nuku tribe's majority alliance but also because everyone was angry he threw Zeke's personal history under the bus.

"I don't even know what I was thinking. It was a horrible move," Varner said of outing Zeke in his final words, bawling his eyes out. "It was me wrapped up in this game trying to do everything I possibly could. Nobody on this planet should do what I did tonight. And I'm so sorry to anyone I offended, especially Zeke and his family and friends. I can't even talk. I'm sorry."

After the season's third tribal swap, Varner and his ally Sandra Diaz-Twine were left dangling for their lives because everyone else in the Nuku tribe had a connection to each other and were clearly working together. Zeke tried to convince Varner that they were both safe, but the tribe ended up sending Sandra home in last week's episode.

The blindside on Night 16 left Varner feeling very angry and disappointed. He told Zeke that he would've voted out Sandra with the group had somebody warned him about the plan. Zeke apologized and let Varner know that he envisioned them being in the Final 3 together. Varner pretended like he was fine with everything to Zeke's face, but he still made it known it wasn't okay to lie to him like that.

On Day 17, an alliance of five was forming on the Mana tribe: Cirie Fields, Aubry Bracco, Brad Culpepper, Troy "Troyzan" Robertson, and Sierra Dawn Thomas. Over at Nuku, Varner attempted to convince Zeke, Andrea Boehlke, Debbie Wanner, and Sarah Lacina to vote for Ozzy because he was the biggest physical threat left in the game. Varner also argued to Sarah he could easily bring castaways on the other side into their alliance come the merge.
 
After Nuku won 10 pizzas in a Reward Challenge, the following day, Mana won the Immunity Challenge. On Day 18, Varner knew he was on the chopping block and asked everyone if he could make his final pitch to each person individually. He also revealed he did not have a hidden Immunity Idol to play. 

Once Sarah spoke with Varner, she considered taking out Ozzy and talked about the possibility with Andrea. Zeke liked Varner and wanted to keep him, but at the same time, he hoped to keep Ozzy in the game to serve as a shield for him going forward. Zeke flat out told Varner his chance of staying was 50 percent, and then Varner came to the conclusion Ozzy and Zeke must be tight and working together.

Varner then warned Sarah that Zeke was working with Ozzy more than he was loyal to the girls. Varner spilled the beans that Zeke had told him the girls would try to make him feel safe, which really upset Sarah and Andrea because such a disclosure to Varner only made Zeke look good. The girls became very wary of Zeke's gameplay and intentions.

Varner accused Zeke of playing both sides and then told the cameras he was ready to reveal an "insignificant" detail about Zeke at Tribal Council.

"If I'm going home tonight, I'm going to cut them all off at the knees... This is not the guy they think he is... If I need to raise mortal hell, I'm going to do it. I am not going quietly off this island," Varner said in a confessional.

That night, Varner announced to Survivor host Jeff Probst that he knew he was going home. However, he revealed that half the tribe seemed willing to vote off Ozzy at one point because he's the total package when it comes to a Survivor player. Varner insisted there was a secret alliance between Zeke and Ozzy and that everyone should vote for Ozzy with him as a result. Debbie admitted it was a "good" plea, seemingly considering it.

"There is deception here," Varner said at Tribal. "Deception on many levels, Jeff, that these guys don't even understand. There's more."

Varner then looked straight at Zeke and said, "Why haven't you told anyone you're transgender?"

Varner addressed his tribe once again and noted, "What I'm showing is a deception."

After Varner outed Zeke, the tribe rushed to Zeke's defensive. It's accurate to say Andrea and Tai were horrified.

"That's personal! You didn't have to do that!" Andrea said, starting to cry.

"That is so wrong of you to bring up!" Tai yelled. "That's so dirty!"

Varner reminded the group that he fights for transgender rights every day in North Carolina and that his disclosure was not meant to be taken negatively. 

"You just outed him! No one has the right to out anybody," Tai yelled.

"I agree. It was for Zeke to discuss when he was comfortable," Debbie pointed out.

Zeke sat at Tribal Council with tears in his eyes and didn't say a word until this moment: "Two seasons I've played Survivor, I've told nobody."

Varner didn't want the perception to be that he's an evil, hateful person. He said his goal was to show the deception or at least reveal Zeke's ability to deceive. But the tribe argued that opting not to share such a personal fact about oneself is not deceiving anybody.

Probst said it was "a giant leap of logic" for Varner to think Zeke's decision to not reveal he's transgender equals deception to his friends in the game. Varner immediately felt horrible and apologized to Zeke, saying he absolutely supports him.

"You should be ashamed of yourself for what you're willing to do in a game for a million dollars. You're playing with people's lives at this point," Ozzy told Varner.

As Zeke kept repeating, "I'm so sorry," to Zeke, Probst pointed out the Zeke -- usually so connected at Tribal Council -- looked like he was alone on an island.

"There's a great kicker to this," Zeke began. "I really liked Varner. I thought we connected over the past couple of days. We shared a lot of stories. He shared a lot about his life. It's been tearing me up that I had to vote this guy out, and I'm the one who gave him a heads up today because I didn't want to blindside him."

Varner said the LGBTQ community knows his feelings on the subject and he's "not this horrible monster." Varner confessed he was just desperate to get ahead in the game.

"It's a game for a million dollars and I clearly have made the wrong choice tonight and my conscience is in pain," Varner explained to the group. "I feel horrible. I did not think that would be the reaction. I thought he was proud and out and loud about it. And I did not understand what exactly I was doing here."

Sarah told Varner that didn't make any sense, and Probst agreed it was a hypocritical statement because he can't accuse Zeke of deception while also arguing the player was out, proud and loud.

Tai and Andrea understood Varner was grabbing at straws because he was on the chopping block, but they said he crossed the line and seemingly regretted it. Andrea noted it was "painful" to watch a person out someone like that.

"Varner, is it starting to hit you? The gravity that you didn't just tell six people, you told millions of people?" Probst asked.

"I assumed that everyone in his world knew, so that's my ignorance. I thought he was just deceiving them. It never dawned on me that no one knew, and so, I'm devastated," Varner said.

Zeke remained strong and told Probst that transitioning was a "very long and difficult process" for him, adding that some people in his life know he's transgender but he stopped telling people because he didn't want that to define him. Zeke wanted to play Survivor without the label of being the first transgender castaway.

Zeke confessed he was okay because he was prepared to talk about being transgender in case someone picked up on it. Although the news came out in a "crappy" way, Zeke said he's now glad his true identity can be a part of his Survivor experience.

"I've started two fires with just bamboo. I've won challenges and have been part of blindsides. I have done all kinds of crazy stuff, and I am a changed, stronger, better man today than I was then. So Varner's really not cool, but I'm fine," Zeke insisted.

"I'm shocked. I can't believe that I did that and I feel horrible," said Varner.

But the conversation didn't stop there, as Sarah cried and called Varner's decision "a malicious attack," which Varner firmly denied.

"There's no malice there, and I don't treat people that way," Varner said. "I don't want you to paint me as something I'm not."

"That is an ironic statement," Probst quipped.

Sarah was glad she got to know Zeke for who he is because she comes from a conservative background where she's not exposed to many people in the LGBTQ community. She gave a beautiful speech about acceptance and how Zeke's real identity changes nothing for her. Sarah told the tribe that she went through a "metamorphosis" herself, and something of that nature is "invaluable."

"I'm certainly not someone who should be a role model for anybody else," Zeke announced. "But maybe there's someone who's a Survivor fan and me being out on the show helps him or helps her or someone else. And maybe this will lead to a greater good."

The tribe had Zeke's back and Varner sealed his fate. It was clear who was going home, and Probst decided the castaways didn't even need to vote.

"I'm ready to go," Varner noted as he was completely choked up with tears.

Zeke kindly hugged Varner goodbye, saying it was okay as Varner repeatedly apologized.

Varner previously finished in tenth place on Survivor: The Australian Outback and placed 17th on Survivor: Second Chance.


Roberts Voets/CBS

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