Why Survivor's Latest Episode Was Incredibly Important Television

There are a lot of spoilers here.

Why Survivor's Latest Episode Was Incredibly Important Television

Image: CBS

I am a Survivor fan. The US Survivor. The one that has been airing since 2000. The greatest show ever invented.

Note: there will be spoilers here. 

Being a Survivor fan can at times be a lonely experience, but the revival of the Australian version of the show has brought more fans out of the woodwork. But in general, US Survivor receives very little coverage in our local media. This is a blessing for anyone who wants to watch the latest episodes unspoiled on Thursday nights. 

Note: I am serious about the spoilers.  

Today, I came across a headline on an Australian news website about something huge happening on today’s episode. I detest spoilers. So I immediately closed every browser on my computer. I sent warnings to my Survivor friends. 

But that wasn’t enough. Because people in the office started talking about Survivor. People that never watch the show. This meant something unprecedented had happened. Something as big as the now disgraced Michael Skupin falling in the fire back in 2001. 

Luckily Channel 9 always upload the latest episodes to their website immediately, and I was able to watch the show completely unspoiled.

If you want to watch the episode you can do so here.

What Survivor fans witnessed today was Jeff Varner revealing at tribal council that Zeke Smith is transgender. Varner chose to use this information in an attempt to further his position in the game, and portray Zeke as untrustworthy. It should be noted that both Varner and Zeke are openly gay men, and they had bonded on the show.

Their tribemates immediately reacted with shock and disgust at Varner’s actions. They banded together against Varner, and threw their full support behind Zeke. They didn’t even vote. Host Jeff Probst simply asked if everyone wanted Varner to leave, and they all unanimously agreed. Varner knew immediately that he had made the wrong decision, but it was too late. What he had done could not be taken back, and there was no way for the show to edit around it.

This season is called Game Changers, and it is filled with returning players. No one present at tribal council was under any illusions as to what Varner was doing or why he was doing it. They knew immediately he was trying to convince them to vote Zeke out. 

Survivor is a game of alliances, of blindsides, of trickery. The aim is to outwit, outplay and outlast, by any means necessary. The way you are in the game is different to your life off the island – everyone who plays knows this. We’ve seen people pretend not to be cops when they really are cops, or pretend not to be lawyers when they really are lawyers. We’ve seen personality clashes. We’ve seen someone pretend their grandma had died.

But we’ve never seen someone use a deeply personal secret to throw someone else under the bus. And Zeke’s gender identity, which he had not spoken about in two season of Survivor, was used as a weapon.

As a Survivor fan, this was shocking television. Survivor is an LGBTQ friendly show. The first winner was Richard Hatch, an openly gay man. Yes, some fans had discovered during Zeke’s first season that he was trans. This was never addressed on the show or in interviews conducted by Zeke after he was voted out, and anyone who had happened to come across this information felt like they were intruding on Zeke’s personal life. 

It was also an important lesson for anyone watching and one I cannot believe we are still having to educate people about in 2017. Outing someone is never okay. The game of Survivor is just that – a game. If someone has not addressed their gender identity in two seasons of a reality show, it's probably not something that should be brought up at tribal council. 


But how did Zeke feel? He has written an article for The Hollywood Reporter about his entire experience with Survivor and what it was like to be outed on the show.

“I’m not wild about you knowing that I’m trans,” he writes. “An odd sentiment, I realize, for someone who signed up for two seasons of the CBS reality giant, Survivor. See, when I got on a plane to Fiji last March, I expected to get voted out third. I’d return home, laugh at my misadventure, and go about my life, casually trans in the same way that Zac Efron is casually Jewish.

“But that’s not what happened. I ended up being pretty good at Survivor. I was invited back immediately for an all-star season, during the course of which I was maliciously outed by a former local network news anchor. What a summer!”

You should read Zeke’s incredible article here and if you still haven’t watched the episode you should do so immediately.

As for why I have referred to Varner by his last name and Zeke by his first, that’s how they are commonly referenced on Survivor.