Jeff Probst makes a rare visit to one tribe's campsite to deliver surprising news in the season 42 premiere.
Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you have not watched Wednesday's two-hour season premiere of Survivor.
Castaway Jackson Fox, a 48-year-old healthcare worker hailing from Pasadena, Texas, is the franchise's first openly transgender contestant and he had quite a whirlwind 48 hours on Survivor. Things didn't pan out the way he hoped after he was asked to leave the game (more on that later), but the mark he left on his Taku tribemates and the season was certainly felt.
During a nightside chat by the campfire on one of the first days of the 26-day adventure, Jackson revealed his story as a transgender man, sharing that he first applied to Survivor 10 years ago but as a woman. His parents weren't quite understanding of his feelings and situation so he moved away. But when his mother became terminally ill a few years ago, he moved back home to help take care of her. And his strained relationship with his parents got better the more time they spent together.
"My father would ask me, 'Why'd your mother get sick?'" Jackson said to the camera. "And I'd say, 'Well, I think this was the plan. You and I got a relationship and Mom got to know who I was.' Survivor makes you take everything and peel it off, be vulnerable and open. And for me, that's a huge testament for someone who's always hid who I was. My goal is to get to a million dollars, but if that doesn't happen, the fact that I tried it is a huge testament to someone who hid their whole life."
However, things got increasingly more complicated when host Jeff Probst -- who rarely visits a tribe's camp during an active Survivor season -- paid a visit to Taku, catching them all by surprise. He was there to have a difficult, but important conversation with Jackson about his future in the game. As Probst delicately opened his one-on-one chat with Jackson, he outlined the requirements the producers have when bringing a castaway on board for a season -- one of which includes disclosing any and all medical information. Apparently, Jackson failed to disclose one key medical situation until the day before filming was to begin.
Producers decided to cast him anyway so he could start the game "because nothing's going to happen in 24, 48 hours so nobody's worried about you at this point," as Probst explained. But, with lack of resources for testing due to their remote location, and as the season wears on, the side effects of the intense Survivor game was a concern to production. As Jackson would quickly reveal, he was currently on lithium medication, which he began taking around 2016 when he started taking care of his ill mother to help him sleep and deal with his anxiety.
When Probst asked why Jackson disclosed this at the last possible moment, he didn't shy away from the question, explaining that he "didn't need it anymore." "I remember talking to my wife -- she's a nurse -- and I said, 'Well, I'm on lithium,' and she's like, 'Well, you're weening yourself off of it. You'll probably be off of it [when Survivor begins]," Jackson said, prompting Probst to understand that to mean he believed he could get himself to a point where he was no longer taking it and because of that, "I don't need to bring it up because I'll be fine."
"It's a stigmatism. I'm a human to know the fear is everyone hears the word, lithium, and they go way back in time. And they're like, 'That was a huge drug back in the day.' That was a scary drug to be on," Jackson said. "Their first thought is: the transition. Was it because of the transition? I'm like, 'That had nothing to do with it.' If that was the case, I would've been on lithium 20 years ago because I was so unhappy. But that wasn't the case."
When Probst commented that Jackson was being extremely open about the situation, he was frank, saying, "I think you should talk about everything. I'm not ashamed to say I need help with certain things. That's life."
As the Survivor host detailed, flags were raised when potential side effects Jackson could suffer from the game while on medication could be crippling. Probst mentioned the game often finds contestants dehydrated, stressed, with lack of sleep and engaging in physically demanding activities and challenges -- all factors that would not go well for Jackson. "That's where our concern came," he shared with the castaway. "The cumulative effect of the show would have a potentially very bad impact on you. And we don't want that. Your safety is paramount. We can't do it. We can't."
Of course, Jackson understood the corner he put himself and producers in. "I get it and I appreciate you talking to me about it," he told Probst. "It's weird that I'm getting emotional about it but even to test yourself for 48 hours, it is such an adventure. I take this with love. I know I will be friends with these people. I appreciate you giving me this opportunity. For someone who didn't like anything about them for 40 years, then have someone say people liked things about you that you didn't know that you were capable of, speaks volumes. And I appreciate it. It was the best 48 hours ever."
Jackson later broke the news to his tribe that he was being asked to leave the show, causing them to have a very visceral, emotional response to his early exit. With the tribe already down one member, they entered the immunity challenge at a disadvantage. Fortunately for them, they ended up winning the Immunity idol and was safe from tribal council.
The tribe that wasn't so lucky, Ika, ended up voting out 22-year-old Zach Wurtenberger, who unsuccessfully tried to play an advantage.
Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.
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