The Gay Man Who Outed a Trans Survivor Contestant Has Been Fired From His Job

Jeff Varner

The gay man who outed a fellow Survivor contestant as transgender to ostensibly avoid elimination on this week’s episode has now been fired from his job as a real estate agent, according to North Carolina's Greensboro News & Record. Since Wednesday’s episode of Survivor, when Jeff Varner callously outed his opponent Zeke Smith, who was also up for elimination, the Internet has erupted in outrage at Varner, whose appearance this season marks the third time he’s been on the long-running reality show contest. Varner tearfully apologized to Smith following his actions, but there was no erasing the damage done. 

A former news anchor for Fox and CBS news affiliates, Varner, 50, was fired amid the uproar over his outing Smith during the episode that was shot 10 months ago in the Mamanuca Islands of Fiji. Not only was Varner sent packing by his castmates that night, but he explained during interviews Thursday that his employer let him go, saying that he is “in the middle of a news story that we don’t want anything to do with.”

While Varner’s despicable actions have been called out by people like Transparent’s Trace Lysette, who tweeted, “Outing a transgender person is an act of violence,” the victim of the outing, Smith, worked with GLAAD to determine how to best tell his story since he would be remaining on the show following being outed. 

Smith has also been afforded an opportunity to tell his side of the story, according to Jezebel. He appeared on The Talk this week to explain why he wanted to appear on the reality show and to elaborate on how his experience may be a teachable moment:

“I love Survivor and I was drawn to apply to Survivor because of the integrity in the storytelling. And when I first applied, I didn’t tell casting that I was trans. That was developed later in our relationship. And I had a chat with Jeff Probst in which we agreed if, how, and when I’m gonna talk about this part of my life—it’s gonna be up to me, as opposed to being outed by a fellow contestant being the exception.

“But in the aftermath of being outed, I’ve been granted unprecedented autonomy in how I wanted to tell my story. We started having conversations all the way back in Fiji nine months ago about the care with which this episode was going to be handled. I came to Jeff and asked if I could write a personal essay about what happened and he immediately said yes. And I was really proud of how I responded. And I wanted the world to see how much I’d grown and I also thought by showing what happened, maybe it wouldn’t happen to someone else and something good could come of it.”

Having worked with Smith and CBS to tell the story in a thoughtful, respectful manner, Director of GLAAD’s Transgender Media Program, Nick Adams, supported Smith in a statement following the episode this week. 

“Zeke Smith, and transgender people like him, are not deceiving anyone by being their authentic selves, and it is dangerous and unacceptable to out a transgender person,” Adams said. “It is heartening, however, to see the strong support for Zeke from the other people in his tribe. Moments like this prove that when people from all walks of life get to know a transgender person, they accept us for who we are.”

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