“Unmasking Jeff Varner: The Controversial Survivor Who Crossed the Line” 

 March 30, 2023


Survivor is a popular reality television show where players compete for a cash prize by surviving challenges and tribal councils. The show has been running for over twenty seasons and is known for its twists, drama, and controversies. One of the most talked-about controversies in the show’s history happened during the 34th season in 2017. In a game-changing move, Jeff Varner, a veteran player, outed his fellow contestant, Zeke Smith, as transgender during a tribal council. This incident sparked a massive backlash and raised important questions about privacy, respect, and human decency.

Jeff Varner – A Quick Background Overview

Jeff Varner appeared as a contestant in three different seasons of Survivor, starting with the second season in 2001. He was known for his strategic gameplay, cunning moves, and ability to create alliances. However, his controversial move in Survivor: Game Changers season 34, shocked both his fellow contestants and the audience. In one of the tribal councils, Varner exposed Zeke Smith’s gender identity, which resulted in widespread criticism and his immediate elimination from the game.

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What Happened During Tribal Council?

During a tribal council in season 34, Varner attempted to save himself from being voted out by exposing Smith’s transgender status. He asked Smith if being transgender was the reason why he wasn’t revealing his alliance’s plan. Smith was stunned and uncomfortable, and the other contestants reacted with shock, sympathy, and disappointment. The move was seen as a desperate and unethical attempt by Varner to stay in the game by exploiting Smith’s vulnerability. The host, Jeff Probst, immediately reprimanded Varner and described his actions as “outing someone is assault.” Probst also highlighted the importance of dignity and respect for all players, regardless of their gender identity, race, or sexual orientation.

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The Backlash and Public Reactions

Following the episode, an immense backlash ensued both on social media and in the mainstream press. Many people, including celebrities, activists, and past contestants, expressed their anger, sadness, and frustration towards Varner’s behavior. People saw Varner’s act as a blatant violation of Smith’s privacy and dignity. Several petitions were launched demanding Varner’s removal from the show, and he was widely condemned by the LGBTQ+ community. Varner, on the other hand, faced severe criticism and had to apologize publicly for his actions. He later revealed that he was fired from his job due to his behavior on the show.

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Privacy and Respect in Reality Shows

Varner’s move sparked important conversations about the role of reality shows in promoting privacy and respect for diversity. Many people argued that reality shows have a responsibility to promote positive images of marginalized communities and not to exploit them for ratings. They also stressed that outing someone’s sexuality or gender identity can have devastating consequences for their relationships, careers, and mental health. Reality shows are not immune to criticism, and it is essential to hold their producers and contestants accountable for their actions.

Zeke Smith’s Response

After the incident, Zeke Smith became an advocate for transgender rights and spoke about his experience of being outed on national television. He stated that being transgender was just one aspect of his identity and he did not want to be reduced to it. He also thanked his fellow contestants and the host for supporting him during this difficult time. Smith’s response was widely praised as mature, compassionate, and eloquent.

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Varner’s Apology and Aftermath

Following his elimination, Varner apologized publicly to Zeke and the LGBTQ+ community. He stated that he did not fully understand the weight and gravity of his actions and that he had caused irreparable harm to Smith’s life. Varner later revealed that he was in therapy to address his behavior and had been struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. He also stated that he felt ostracized and isolated by his former Survivor family. The incident shows how a single mistake can have long-term consequences for individuals’ lives and mental health.


Q1. Why did Jeff Varner out Zeke Smith?

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Jeff Varner outed Zeke Smith as transgender in Survivor: Game Changers to save himself from being voted out of the game.

Q2. Was Jeff Varner removed from the show?

Jeff Varner was eliminated from the show after the incident and faced severe backlash from both the audience and the LGBTQ+ community.

Q3. What did Zeke Smith do after being outed?

Zeke Smith became an advocate for transgender rights and spoke about his experience of being outed publicly, thanking his fellow contestants and host for their support.

Q4. What impact did the incident have on Jeff Varner?

Jeff Varner faced severe criticism, lost his job, and experienced depression and suicidal thoughts following the incident.

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Q5. What did the host, Jeff Probst, say about the incident?

The host, Jeff Probst, reprimanded Jeff Varner and stated that outing someone was “assault.” He also stressed the importance of respecting diversity and dignity for all contestants.

Q6. What was the public reaction to the incident?

The incident sparked widespread backlash on social media and in mainstream press, with several petitions launched to remove Varner from the show.

Q7. What did the incident teach us about reality shows?

The incident highlighted the need for reality shows to promote positive images of marginalized communities and respect diversity.


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The Jeff Varner incident on Survivor: Game Changers left lasting memories on everyone involved and changed the show’s trajectory. It taught us that no matter how desperate a situation can be, it is never appropriate to out someone publicly. The incident also showed the importance of dignity, respect, and compassion towards diversity in reality shows. We should always hold people accountable for their actions and promote positive images of marginalized communities. Let us learn from this regrettable incident and create a better and more inclusive world.


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