Zeke Smith: Jeff Varner's outing cost me my 'Survivor' game, nobody wanted to sit next to me at the end afterwards
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 05/04/2017
Zeke Smith has no doubt about what he believes was responsible for his Survivor: Game Changers exit.
"After what had happened with Varner, my life in the game was pretty short. It became abundantly clear on the first day of the merge," Zeke told The Hollywood Reporter following his Survivor: Game Changerselimination Wednesday night.
Zeke is of course referring to the memorable Survivormoment when Jeff Varner publicly outed Zeke as transgender at Tribal Council the day before the merge as a desperate attempt to save himself from being voted out of the game.
Zeke added, "I was just like, 'Well, f-ck.' I had a perception problem. There was a perception that I was going to beat everybody, because I had this compelling story."
After Varner got sent home, Zeke said he was left with the repercussions of such a personal disclosure at camp. And once the merge came, the 28-year-old New York asset manager felt the need to reveal his "secret" to all of the remaining castaways in order to prevent gossip and help explain Varner's elimination.
"My name started getting tossed around [for vote-off], and the reason why is that nobody wanted to sit next to me in the end, because I had a very compelling story," Zeke explained.
"The biggest sign was that I had a lot of great relationships with a lot of people, and all of the sudden, nobody was coming to me to talk to me, about anything. The events of what transpired at that Tribal Council were really never spoken of again, after I had the fireside chat with everyone after the merge feast. I would chase people down and we would have conversations, but they were very surface level."
Zeke noticed that even people he previously was "tight with," like Andrea Boehlke and Cirie Fields, were only engaging in shallow discussions.
"We went from a ride-or-die Final 3 deal to saying, 'Let's lock in a really great Final 7.' I knew it was over," Zeke said.
When thinking back to the moment Varner unfairly and unexpectedly outed his female-to-male gender change, Zeke told The Reporter, "What happened at that Tribal is probably the meanest thing that's ever happened to me, and there was no calling my best friend or hugging my dad or even having a night alone to process."
Varner tried to associate Zeke's decision not to reveal he's transgender with the tribe as being deceitful, therefore suggesting Zeke was not a great person to align with or trust. But Zeke said he kept his transgender identity under wraps only because he wanted to play Survivor as simply Zeke -- not Zeke, the first transgender castaway to ever compete on the franchise.
Zeke did not share the fact he was transgender with anyone on either of the two Survivor seasons he played until Varner took it upon himself to share the intimate detail, however, Varner claimed in recent interviews he had assumed Zeke was out, proud and loud since he was willing to expose himself on national television two seasons in a row -- Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X as well as Survivor: Game Changers, which filmed back to back in Fiji.
When Zeke realized the odds were not in his favor on Game Changers, he told The Reporter he chose to continue fighting rather than give up and quit.
"If you play, there's no crying, no woe is me, no sitting around moping. You suck it up and you play the bold and reckless way you play. When I saw that I didn't have a shot to win, that my time would be so immediately cut short -- I knew it could come any day -- I just said, 'You gotta go out swinging, man. You have to swing your sword while you have a shot,'" Zeke explained.
"Maybe if I wasn't on the tail end of a second season, and really running out of mental gas, maybe I would have had more patience. But where I was emotionally... I had been in Fiji for a long time. I agreed to do a second season within 48 hours of being voted out the first time. My life back home was already a question mark, and when [the outing] happened, I knew it was going to turn my life completely upside down."
Zeke continued, "And my game life was in total chaos. So, dear god! What do you do? Well, I couldn't stop playing."
Zeke said it was necessary to remain strong because he suddenly represented trans people on Survivor, and he wanted to do right by them.
"Trans people report violence and hate crimes on a daily basis. Ninety percent of trans people report being harassed or discriminated against in the workplace, and often the result is depression or self-harm or suicide. I felt I was in a position where it was very important to model resilience," Zeke said.
"No matter when I went, I needed to go out swinging. Sure, I did not play well in the merge. I did not make great decisions. I'll give you that. My options were limited. I wouldn't do anything differently. I was proud that when I was backed into the corner and the cause was lost, I never stopped swinging my sword."