Zeke Smith on Forgiving Jeff Varner After 'Survivor' Outing: 'I Didn't Want Him to Feel the Pain That I Had'
By Desiree Murphy
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Zeke Smith is speaking out about the chaos that erupted on the latest episode of Survivor.
After the two-time player was outed as transgender by fellow tribe member Jeff Varner during tribal council on Wednesday's episode of Game Changers, he gave his first on-camera interview on Thursday during a guest appearance on The Talk.
"It didn't quite hit until I looked at [host] Jeff Probst, and Jeff Probst looked away from the tribe and he never takes the tribe out of his eyesight," Smith recalled. "So, that's what signaled to me that the worst had happened."
"The lights got really bright, all sound faded away, and there was this primal instinct in me that just said, 'Run!'" he went on. "But, I knew I couldn't run, because I came on Survivor to confront great challenges."
"I took a moment to compose myself, and I was really glad that Jeff gave me that moment," he continued. "And when I came back, I went, 'You're gonna have to fight. You're gonna have to explain why what happened is wrong. You're gonna have to defend yourself.' But, I didn't need to, because my tribemates rose up and defended me loudly."
As for how Smith was able to forgive and hug Varner after moment, he explains, "I looked to him, and he was crying and hunched and quivering. I knew what it felt like to feel pain alone at tribal council. I couldn't help but hug him, because I didn't want him to feel the pain that I had."
When asked how he felt about producers leaving that part of the tribal council in the broadcast, he said what drew him to applying for Survivor in the first place was "the integrity in the storytelling."
"I love Survivor," he exclaimed. "When I first applied, I didn't tell casting that I was trans. That was developed later in our relationship. And I had a chat with Jeff Probst, where we agreed, if -- how and when -- I'm gonna talk about this part of my life, it's gonna be up to me, as opposed to being outed by a fellow contestant, being the exception."
"But, in the aftermath of being outed, I have been granted unprecedented autonomy in how I want to tell my story," he added. "I was determined to milk something positive out of that moment, and sort of -- at the end of tribal, everything settled and I was really proud of myself."
ET caught up with Varner via Skype on Thursday, where he got emotional while talking about how he's been trying to overcome the "trauma" of his actions. He reminded fans that although the episode aired on Wednesday, he has had about 10 months to prepare for this.
"This was traumatic for the both of us and it was ugly," he told ET. "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."
"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 continued. "The LGBT community has enough to fight against today, we don't need to be fighting against each other."