'Survivor': CBS Stands by Decision to Broadcast Transgender Outing

Two-time contestant Zeke Smith was outed as transgender during Wednesday's episode.
Courtesy of CBS
Zeke Smith on 'Survivor'

CBS is standing by Wednesday's controversial Survivor episode.

During the most recent installment of the network's long-running reality hit, contestant Zeke Smith was outed as being transgender by one of his fellow competitors, Jeff Varner. The Survivor: Game Changers episode featured castaway Smith — who returned for his second appearance in two seasons — being outed by his fellow contestant and friend Varner as transgender as the latter attempted a by-any-means necessary approach to remain on the series. (He ultimately was voted off during the installment.)

The reaction to Varner's actions went viral as the contestant was criticized for outing Smith. Immediately following the episode, LGBT watchdog organization GLAAD blasted Varner, who apologized to Smith on social media following the outcry.

In a statement Thursday, CBS stood by its decision to broadcast the very personal episode.

"After the tribal council scene in last night's Survivor was filmed, we consulted with Zeke Smith and with GLAAD in advance of the broadcast, including the issue of how Zeke would tell his story after the episode aired," the network said in a statement. "This is his second consecutive season on Survivor. From his first season through the current edition, we have always been guided by the principle that this is his story to tell, and it remains so. We support how [host] Jeff Probst and the producers handled a very sensitive situation and marvel at the grace Zeke exhibited under extraordinary circumstances. We have also 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."

Immediately following the episode, GLAAD issued the following statement: "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. It is heartening, however, to see the strong support for Zeke from the other people in his tribe," said Nick Adams, director of GLAAD's transgender media program. "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."

For his part, Smith responded to the events of the episode with a deeply personal essay for The Hollywood Reporter in which he expressed hope that society can learn from his experience.

Watch Zeke's message to fans on Thursday:

Watch the segment from the episode, below.

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