HOLLYWOOD—I have been eagerly watching this latest installment of “Survivor: Game Changers” since its debut back in March. Yes, plenty of people have questioned rather, ALL the contestants on the series are actual game-changers, and I would indeed have to agree with that assertion. However, recent weeks fans have viewed some amazing TV, I mean that group tribal council with two separate tribes saw fan favorite Malcolm get the boot, then just a week later it was J.T. who left his idol at camp and saw himself voted out. Soon after, ‘The Queen’ of survivor Sandra, saw her game come to an end after being the ONLY two-time winner on the series.
However, this past week’s episode left me stunned, horrified and just wondering to what extreme players will go to win the game, and to what extreme CBS will go to deliver entertaining TV. At tribal council, contestant Jeff Varner knew he was at the bottom of the totem pole being the odd man out on the tribe. He did his best to try to make a few moves to have things work in his favor, but made an epic and just stupid move that has totally changed the game in my opinion.
During a heated tribal council where Jeff was fighting to stay in the game, he decided to call out contestant Zeke Smith on why he hadn’t revealed to his tribe that he was transgender. Yes, it was a shocking moment that left the entire tribe and host Jeff Probst speechless. My first thought: did Varner actually think revealing this detail would garner him points with the tribe? No, no, no, that’s too personal of an issue to divulge and I’m stunned a contestant would go that far to win a million dollars. I’ve said this time and time again, reality TV is entertaining, but that’s until someone gets hurt. Zeke was stunned by the revelation, but at the same time in awe; he never expected a guy he trusted to divulge such news that Zeke was not ready to divulge to the public or for that matter to the world.
Varner seemed to realize he made a grave mistake, when the tribe consisting of Tai, Debbie, Sarah, Ozzy and Andrea were appalled by Varner’s actions and scolded him in every possible way. As the tension escalated, Varner tried to backtrack in as many ways as possible, but the damage was already done. Zeke’s speech was composed and emotionally poignant to the viewer. He wanted to play the game as Zeke, and now that has totally changed with this revelation. I would almost argue that Zeke is off limits to be voted out.
I mean I seriously can’t see any of his tribe mates voting him out, once others discover what has transpired, I’m certain they will give him a few weeks off from the game. And I respect this about Zeke; he wanted to play the game as Zeke, not Zeke, the guy who is transgender. Totally not fair for Jeff Varner to out him in such a disgusting manner.
However, I raise an even bigger question: was CBS right for airing the controversial episode? Yes, I get the idea of the importance of initiating a dialogue of such a touchy topic in the public sphere. We’ve heard the reports of both Zeke Smith and Jeff Varner receiving counseling after the incident transcribed. However, please understand this was months ago, so for over 10 months both of these guys were well aware of what transpired and could not talk about it. I am almost driven to make the argument that maybe CBS should not have aired the episode, or the tribal council segment.
I just don’t think it was right to air such an episode of that magnitude that has a vital impact and I mean vital impact on Zeke’s life. Like EVERYONE knows he’s transgender and that is a LOT for someone who wasn’t ready for that news to come out to have to take in. Varner is also feeling the heat with so much media staking and public backlash he has lost his job (which I already expected to happen). I mean CBS has a history of dealing with controversial contestants, just Google “Big Brother 15” for anyone who is wondering what I’m talking about.
Now, fans of the show are left wondering if this revelation has totally changed the course of the game and in my opinion it has. Zeke, who never wanted to become a token character, has now become the token character, and it will be apparent allies of his and even those who are NOT allies of his will dance around the issue and weigh options on rather to vote him out or keep him in the game out of fear of potential public backlash. That is one thing people fail to realize; when you compete on reality TV all bets are off.
Everything you do is being recorded, which means the idea of crafting your narrative comes to light. Was Jeff Varner thinking about that while playing the game? I have the slightest idea, but for Zeke he didn’t ask for this media attention, and I think people need to let him tell his tale in his way on his terms.