The wait for my official scarlet letter was getting shorter.
I knew that within a few weeks, a man’s life could be ruined forever and I had caused
it. He would be hurt and no one would be happy. I couldn’t see it yet, but I
could hear the tidal wave of contempt heading my way. It would be massive.
In my reading, I’d learned a little bit about contempt. When
we battle our deepest shame we unwittingly give birth to destructive energies
and damaging tactics to protect ourselves. Contempt is one of those. When we’re
hurt and angry, we use it to fire the focus off of us in an effort to protect
our shame, so no one sees it’s there. I began to realize that all the anger and
hate on its way to me, at the end of the day, had nothing to do with me. And
that changed everything. Understanding the simple notion that haters are just hurting
helped me see
things from their perspective. Empathy. The secret to shedding your shame is to
put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
As the season began to air I found myself practicing empathy
more and more, getting stronger every time. For the first time in months I was
beginning to feel OK. Since Zeke was always top of mind for me, I started to
struggle with guilt for having a good day. Despite Zeke’s forgiveness, I still
felt obligated to torture myself. And there were still many nights I didn’t
sleep at all. But healing was upon me and I was feeling more and more ready as
each episode passed.
Week after week I watched, looking for any clue as to how
the producers would choose to portray that moment. You know your story in the
game. You lived it. But you don’t know the narrative producers will choose for
you. Knowing where my story would eventually end, I became obsessed with how
producers would choose to get me there. I convinced myself the harsher the
edit, the harder the fallout. And it was a tough watch. Week after week,
peppered with the predictable Probst declaration, “Varner, absolutely
worthless,” I grew more convinced we were building to a version of me no one
had seen in 17 years. I bounced from feeling OK and comfortable to deep sadness
and panic. The death of the Varner everyone loved and enjoyed was days away,
about to give birth to a new coat of ugly I’d wear forever.
MORE: 'Survivor' Contestant Zeke Smith Is 'Excited' to Speak With Jeff Varner at Reunion