3:09pm PT by Jackie Strause
'Survivor' Castoff Lost His Job for Outing Transgender Contestant
Survivor's Jeff Varner has lost his job over what the contestant called the "worst decision" of his life.
After outing his friend and fellow contestant Zeke Smith as being transgender on Wednesday's episode of CBS' Survivor: Game Changers, Varner, 50, was fired from his job as a real estate agent the following day.
The North Carolina native and former news anchor for CBS and Fox affiliates was told he is “in the middle of a news story that we [his bosses] don’t want anything to do with,” according to the Greensboro News & Record.
His employer, Allen Tate Companies, had declined to comment for the story but released a statement Monday morning, stating how they only learned of Varner's actions when the episode aired and that he had been employed for 17 days.
“The Allen Tate Companies were built on core values of honesty, integrity and respect," read a statement from President and CEO Pat Riley to The Hollywood Reporter. "Those fundamental beliefs led us to end our relationship with Mr. Varner, a real estate agent who had become affiliated with our firm just 17 days earlier. To be clear, at no time before the airing of the Survivor episode on Wednesday evening was our management aware of his actions on that episode. We make all decisions such as this one with careful consideration of our clients, employees and our agents.”
The episode went viral after it aired on Wednesday, with CBS standing by its decision to broadcast the tribal council moment, which resulted in Varner's elimination. Immediately following the episode, Varner was criticized for outing Smith, including by LGBT watchdog organization GLAAD.
Varner, who is gay, apologized to Smith on social media following the outcry, saying he wanted to be clear that "outing someone is assault."
He told the News & Record that even though the Fiji season of Survivor had been filmed 10 months ago, he wasn't permitted to speak of it until the episode aired on Wednesday night.
“Being unable to talk about it was challenging,” Varner told the paper. “But having the episode air, there is a sense of relief that now the true healing can begin.”
He claimed one moment didn't make it to final air — that Smith said to him, "There is no deception, I'm not deceiving anybody," which Varner says prompted him to follow up by outing him as transgender — and that CBS paid for therapy for both Varner and Smith afterwards.
Varner said that he has spent the last 10 months “educating myself and advocating even more so for the LGBTQ community. I feel like I was able to do some really good work in that time that I hope to continue.”
Smith, who is still competing on the season, relived the moment in a detailed and emotional guest column for The Hollywood Reporter — which can be read in full here — where he admitted that he has struggled with forgiveness in the months following.
"While I can reconcile the personal slight of him outing me, I continue to be troubled by his willingness to deploy such a dangerous stereotype on a global platform," Smith wrote. "But forgiveness does not require friendship. Forgiveness does not require forgetting or excusing his actions. Forgiveness requires hope. Hope that he understands the injury he caused and does not inflict it upon others. Hope that whatever torments his soul will plague him no more. I have hope for Jeff Varner. I just choose to hope from afar, thank you very much."
April 17, 11:50 a.m. ET: Updated with statement from Allen Tate Companies