Reality TV contestant Jeff Varner spent much of last week apologizing for making the “worst decision” of his life on “Survivor: Game Changers,” and now he’s facing the consequences of that decision in the real world.
Varner claims he lost his position at Allen Tate Real Estate on Thursday because he outed fellow tribe member Zeke Smith as transgender during Wednesday night’s episode of the reality TV competition.
“I didn’t even find out from my company,” Varner told EOnline.com on Saturday. “Suddenly my real estate license was inactive and my current clients [were] left in the dark.”
Varner added, “It took hours after my press junket to get anyone with the company on the phone to tell me personally and even longer to calm my clients, all of whom, by the way, are coming with me to my new firm.”
The 51-year-old, who has appeared on “Survivor” three times, said his termination was directly related to the controversy that instantly erupted after the outing episode aired.
“My former boss told me that I was in a news story they wanted nothing to do with,” he told EOnline.com. “I was devastated.” He said he’d warned the firm that headlines might be coming, “but apparently not the people who needed to hear it.”
In a statement sent to The Huffington Post on Sunday evening, Allen Tate Companies President and CEO Pat Riley wrote, “The Allen Tate Companies were built on core values of honesty, integrity and respect. 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.”
Riley added, “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.”
Varner has faced intense scrutiny and backlash since he tried to save himself from being voted off “Survivor” by asserting that Smith was being “deceptive” by not discussing his gender identity and history with the other competitors.
“There is deception here. Deception on levels ... that these guys don’t even understand,” Varner told his teammates. “Why haven’t you told anyone that you’re transgender?”
Smith, a 29-year-old gay asset manager from Brooklyn who has appeared twice on the show, used the shocking moment to draw attention to the danger that trans people face and the potentially deadly consequences of being outed.
“I think he hoped others would believe that trans people are dangerous and fraudulent,” Smith told People magazine. “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.”
Smith, who worked with CBS and GLAAD in the months between the filming of the episode and its airing on Wednesday, offered more thoughts about his very public outing in an op-ed for The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday, including his current feelings about Varner.
“If we’re being perfectly honest with one another, I’ve struggled with that forgiveness in the months following,” Smith wrote. “I can’t foresee us sipping martinis together in Fire Island. 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.”
Varner, who posted an apology on Instagram just moments after the episode aired, said he has been in therapy during the 10 months since filming to deal with the aftermath of the outing.
“I probably sent all the red flags up that I was going to kill myself over this, which, of course, I would never do that as much as I felt like I probably deserved it,” Varner told EOnline.com. “There was a psychologist outside at the path that I walked down and I fell into her arms. It was just great for me.”
Ultimately, he’s just happy to have it out in the open.
“I knew that it would be emotional,” Varner said. “I cried a lot. I sat numb a lot. There was relief that this is finally out there.”