Controversy on Survivor last year. Picture: CBS
Controversy on Survivor last year. Picture: CBS

‘Worst Survivor moment ever’: What happened next

IT'S been a little over a year since a shocking moment in an episode of Survivor US made headlines worldwide - and now, the contestant at the centre of the scandal is speaking out about the effect it's had on his life.

During a heated tribal council in the show's 34th season, contestant Jeff Varner publicly outed Zeke Smith as transgender, explaining that it showed Smith had an "ability to deceive".

For his outburst, Varner earned the wrath of his fellow contestants, host Jeff Probst and the show's millions of viewers, with one calling it "the worst thing anyone has done in 34 seasons".

As Varner left the show, he broke down in tears and confessed to his mistake.

"Nobody on this planet should do what I did tonight - ever," he said. "And I am so sorry to anybody I offended, especially Zeke, and his family and his friends. I can't talk. I'm sorry."

For those watching at home, Smith's hurt and shock was palpable - the fierce competitor clearly hadn't expected this aspect of his identity to be used against him as reality TV fodder.

Now, in a new piece penned for The Hollywood Reporter, Smith reflected on how his life has changed, one year on from the history-making reality TV moment.

"Before we left Fiji, host Jeff Probst and I committed ourselves to not allowing what happened to be remembered as tragedy, nor I as victim. I looked Probst in the eye, shook his hand, and made him this promise without having the slightest idea as to how the task might be accomplished," Smith wrote.

Returning home, in the time before his episode was to air, Smith googled "trans outing" - and found countless stories of despair and trauma, with news reports of trans people who had been killed or committed suicide after being outed. He was determined that his story would be different.

"I spent months refining my messaging and learning how to speak to the press. Probst assured me that I had the full force of the Survivor team behind me, and when the day came for my outing to air, I stood with the confidence I hoped I would," he wrote.

The TV moment caused a flurry of media attention in support of Smith, and created a wider dialogue about transgender issues. A proud moment for Smith came after the dust had settled, when googling "trans outing" instead brought up positive stories of his outing on the show.

Smith said that, in the thousands of interactions he's had with fans of the show since his season aired, he has "not had a single negative encounter".

"Sometimes fans remember the incident. Sometimes they don't. Heck, sometimes they don't even remember my name. To them, I am the guy from S urvivor, to whom they can ask their most burning question about their favourite show: What's the deal with pooping?"

A question, by the way, has previously answered for fans of the show.

Smith's experience is in contrast to that of the man who outed him. Jeff Varner was fired from his job at a North Carolina real estate agency in the wake of the controversy, with the company saying it was because he was "in the middle of a news story that we don't want anything to do with".

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