EXCLUSIVE: Jeff Varner Tearfully Admits He's Been in Therapy Since Outing Zeke Smith on 'Survivor'
By Jennifer Drysdale
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Jeff Varner is trying to overcome the "trauma" of his actions.
During a Skype interview with ET on Thursday, the three-time Survivor player tearfully opened up about the shocking moment when he outed fellow contestant Zeke Smith as being transgender during Wednesday night's tribal council.
While a media storm erupted in the hours following Wednesday's shocking episode, Varner and Smith have had 10 months to prepare for the outrage and headlines. Varner said he has been going through therapy.
"[I] have been in therapy, CBS has paid for [me]. They wanted [me] healthy," he revealed. "This was traumatic for the both of us and it was ugly. When I came out of that game, I believe I even said, 'Somebody shoot me.' 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. There was a psychologist outside at the path that I walked down and I fell into her arms it was just great for me."
Viewers saw Varner realize the ramifications of what he had done throughout the night's tribal council. Scared of going home, the real estate agent made a last-ditch effort to point out Smith's "deceptive" behavior.
"There is deception here. Deceptions on levels, Jeff, that these guys don't even understand," Varner said, looking at Smith. "Why haven't you told anyone that you're transgender?"
Varner first defended himself by saying he was a supporter of transgender rights, and that he assumed Smith was "out and loud and proud" about being trans to the outside world, before breaking down in tears, admitting that he never should have revealed that piece of information.
Still emotional while speaking with ET on Thursday, Varner said he and Smith made their peace in October.
"Zeke and I spoke in October and just hearing his voice was comforting, hearing his forgiveness was comforting, hearing that he believed both he and I were victims in some way was comforting," he shared -- though in a piece for The Hollywood Reporter, Smith said he still had trouble forgiving Varner. "The LGBT community has enough to fight against today, we don't need to be fighting against each other."
Varner, who didn't speak openly about his sexuality on the first two seasons he played Survivor, also says his boyfriend has been extremely supportive.
"My boyfriend has been wonderful to me. He's been by my side through he whole process having to live with it and not talk about it fro so long, almost 10 months now. [Having to keep a secret so long] is traumatic in itself," he explained. "Part of getting past the trauma is being able to make yourself vulnerable and deal with it, and talk through it. This aired last night, and it was impossible to watch, but now I feel like the healing can begin, not only for me, but hopefully for Zeke, and hopefully for trans people across the world."
As for the LGBT community's response to Varner's actions, he says he's gotten the message that he's a "horrible human."
"The LGBT community, we within ourselves have our own issues. We discriminate against ourselves I think a lot more than a lot of people do out there," he confessed. "I have learned that a lot of these outing situations, LGBT people feel free to out LGBT people more than probably everybody else, and we have got our own issues within our own family to work on. But again, this is about Zeke and where he is, and I just love him and I am so sorry. I am so profoundly sorry to him, his family, his friends, his advocates, his allies, everybody, I am so sorry. This is not who I am."
"Trans people are not deceitful, they are not deceiving people. They are just trying to be who they are. They are trying to live a life that is protected, they are trying to stay safe and I just hate that my arguing of the deception has painted this picture that that is what I am talking about, 'cause that is not what is in my heart," he added.
While Varner says he's "never regretted anything" in his life, he confessed that he does feel "regret" over the situation, despite how prepared he was to watch the episode.
"I was prepared for last night, and I've worked through where I was going to be psychologically and emotionally before I even sat down to watch it. I knew that it would be emotional. I cried a lot. I sat numb a lot. There was relief that this is finally out there," he said.
"That night was a nightmare, and having to sit and ponder it for 10 months has been the worst part of it all, and watching it was even more so, but not for me, for Zeke," he continued. "I just couldn't take my eyes off Zeke, and just seeing his face and where he was, and how he felt...When it was over, it was just a big, deep breath. Because now, the healing can begin. Now we can move forward, both of us, and we will make it through this. I do believe, Zeke said last night in tribal, we'll be fine, and we will be. All of us will be."