The shocking moment took place at the end of the episode, during the tribal council, when Varner, suspecting he might be voted out, made a desperate ― and despicable ― move to stay in the game.
“There is deception here. Deceptions on levels... that these guys don’t even understand,” Varner said. “Why haven’t you told anyone that you’re transgender?”
Smith and the other tribe members were shocked and outraged by Varner’s move and he was subsequently voted off of the show.
“I offer my deepest most heart-felt apologies to Zeke Smith, his friends and life allies, his family and all those who my mistake hurt and offended,” Varner, who identifies as gay, wrote in a post on Instagram on Wednesday night.
Calling the move the “worst decision of his life,” Varner added, “let me be clear, outing someone is assault… it robs a strong, courageous person of their power and protection and opens them up to discrimination and danger.”
He went on to praise Smith as a “wonderful man” and thanked God for Smith’s “forgiveness and compassion.”
Varner ended his post by noting the “enormous amount of privilege” cisgender Americans have and urging them to use that privilege for “greater good” before promising to use the “lessons” of his mistake to “do the right thing.”
In a piece published on People.com on Wednesday night, Smith, who had identified as gay during the two seasons he's been on "Survivor" but had not discussed being trans, addressed being outed by Varner.
“I think he hoped others would believe that trans people are dangerous and fraudulent,” Smith said. “That reasoning is infinitely worse than him outing me because it’s the same one used to discriminate against, attack and murder trans people. What’s great is that nobody bought it.”
He added, “It’s important people see he lost that fight. The message should be clear that hate will always lose.”
“In 34 seasons of ‘Survivor,’ I have rarely, if ever, personally commented on what is said or done in the game,” Probst said. “But this is a unique situation that falls outside the normal boundaries. I cannot imagine anyone thinking what was done to Zeke was OK on any level, under any circumstances, and certainly not simply because there was a million dollars on the line. I think the response from the tribe, as it so often does, mirrors what the vast majority of society will feel. You just don’t do that to someone.”