“I was really scared because I didn’t know what was going to happen to my world. I didn’t know what the reaction was going to be," Smith said. "Growing up in Oklahoma, I didn’t always have a lot of friends and even throughout my life up, people haven’t always stuck by my side through the hard times. But this experience has shown me is I have so much love in my life. My friends are here tonight and they were there with me that night [when the episode aired], and my friends are a big part of my family. I do not get through this without them.”
"I have never felt as loved as I do right now," he added, to cheers and applause from the studio audience.
Smith revealed that since the episode has aired, he has partnered with GLAAD and is actively using his platform to speak about his experience. “I’m so proud to be part of Survivor and CBS because you have always empowered me to speak authentically and to tell my story on my own terms and I feel like our partnership is the model for how trans stories should be approached in the media moving forward," he said.
Varner also spoke about the aftermath of his controversial outing, admitting that his life had been "difficult."
“This has been a very difficult situation for both of us and I don’t ever want to talk about my journey without acknowledging the fact that the real victim in this situation is Zeke. It’s about him; it always has been for me. He’s been top of mind. But this has been very difficult. I got hit hard," he shared, before crediting Probst for warning him that it would get difficult.
"We knew we would. You told me it would: ‘Prepare yourself,' and it was really ugly for a period of time. But then it changed and I was told that the way that I reacted and the way that I handled it -- I’ve always been taught to stand up and admit your mistakes, own them and turn them into something positive and I did that every minute of every day and I’ve heard that from everybody," he said. "As much as he’s happy with the love in his life, I’m thrilled with the support in mine and it will ultimately be a very good thing.”
Varner revealed that he has since gotten a new real estate job after getting fired -- "cowardly, I'd like to say." "I got a new job," he said. "Keller Williams, the No. 1 real estate agency in the country hired me and I’m so proud of them. Business has been great. All my clients went with me, it’s been great.” And at the end of the reunion show, Varner shared that he was writing a book called Surviving Shame, promising Probst that he'll "get the first copy."
A source tells ET that though Varner and Smith kept things professional when the cameras were rolling, the two did not interact with each other during commercials or while the show was live.