Surprise Of The Week: Transgender Controversy On 'Survivor'

When a controversy erupted this week on Wednesday night’s episode of “Survivor” over the outing of a transgender contestant, millions asked the same question: Is that show still on?

It turns out the answer is yes. “Survivor” is still here — a relic that’s so old it premiered during the Clinton administration. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

To our knowledge, the subject of transgenderism (is that a word?) has never before come up during a “Survivor” season. The current season, which started March 8, is the 34th go-round for this show since its premiere on May 31, 2000.

This season, the show is titled “Survivor: Game Changers.” It’s a special version of the show in which all of the contestants have appeared previously.

They were apparently chosen for this “Game Changers” edition because they all made names for themselves on their previous turns on “Survivor” by coming up with strategies deemed innovative and unprecedented – “game changers,” if you will.



On Wednesday night’s show, one contestant named Jeff Varner (inset photo, above) confronted another named Zeke Smith (above right) and demanded to know if Smith had informed his tribemates that he was a transgender person.

This aspect of Zeke Smith’s private life had apparently not been made public before, and Varner was roundly condemned in the court of social-media opinion for outingthis man, who did not want to be outed on a national TV show.

For the record, Wednesday night’s show, which aired from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. EST on CBS, drew the biggest audience in network prime time that evening: 8.31 million people. Varner was voted off the show on Wednesday too.

Following the broadcast, Varner apologized and CBS issued a statement that framed the controversy in the context of transgender rights and respect, a subject that is much talked-about today.

CBS’s statement read, in part: “We support how ['Survivor' host] Jeff Probst and the producers handled a very sensitive situation and marvel at the grace Zeke exhibited under extraordinary circumstances.

“We also have respect for how Jeff Varner has expressed remorse for his mistake, both in the episode and in his subsequent dialogue with the media. In the end, we believe this episode, accompanied by Zeke’s own remarkable writing and speaking on the subject, has provided an unexpected but important dialogue about acceptance and treating transgender people with respect.”

So what happens next? Tune in next week to find out. In fact, many millions will likely watch the show now to see how this event will play out in the competition going forward.

Various aspects of the outing are still unclear. One might assume that just about everyone who knows Zeke Smith personally already knew he was transgender.

Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that he just didn’t want his “secret” (if that’s what he considers it to be) to go national — and, among other things, become a distraction on the show.

Well, it should go without saying, but one way to prevent one’s story from being spread across the country would be to avoid appearing on a prime-time TV show on a major network.

So now, “Survivor” has gone transgender. You gotta give the old show credit for keeping up with the times.

5 comments about "Surprise Of The Week: Transgender Controversy On 'Survivor'".
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  1. Chuck Lantz from, network, April 14, 2017 at 5:41 p.m.

    I'm certain that Zeke isn't the first person on a TV reality show to have a personal secret that preferably remains a secret, or at least one where the contestant themselves choses the time and circumstance for revelation.  Reality shows were never meant to be criminal trials, where just about anything can be asked and answered, under oath. 

    Hell, for that matter, at least in court you can plead protection under the Fifth Amendment. 

  2. Brigitte Clark from Access Media, April 14, 2017 at 7:26 p.m.

    While what Varner did was certainly wrong I agree that if you have any secrets you don't want to be made public it's best not to go on a reality tv show. On a side note Zeke would be my pick to go home next because of the whole sympathy factor. It is a game for a million dollars after all.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited replied, April 14, 2017 at 8:27 p.m.

    Fine print. They do not get it all at once. Think it is over a 20 year period.

  4. Dan Smith from Funco, Inc., April 17, 2017 at 7:56 a.m.

    Unless the outing was live, then it really was up to the producers of Survior to decide if the national element of the outing happened or not.  The responsibility rests with them.

  5. John Grono from GAP Research replied, April 17, 2017 at 10:31 p.m.

    Paula are you sure it is over a 20-year period.

    Judging by what John Cochran said they do get the cheque for the full amount ... "All those zeroes, my God," Cochran marveled when I asked to see the freshly cut check. "I haven't seen six zeroes since the Stealth R' Us alliance."

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