The big question regarding last night’s Survivor scandal, in which contestant Zeke Smith was outed as trans by his fellow contestant Jeff Varner, was how much culpability could be placed on CBS for airing the outing of a man who started his lengthy Hollywood Reporter essay on the matter with, “I’m not wild about you knowing that I’m trans.” Writing about this earlier today, I wondered how much agency Smith had in this matter.
Smith was asked a question about this on Thursday’s episode of The Talk (which, like Survivor, airs on CBS), though I’m afraid we’re no closer to understanding exactly went on behind the scenes. On the talk show, Julie Chen asked Smith if he ever asked Jeff Probst or the show’s producers not air the segment that effectively outed him to the world. Smith’s answer is transcribed in full below:
I love Survivor and I was drawn to apply to Survivor because of the integrity in the storytelling. And 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 in which 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’ve been granted unprecedented autonomy in how I wanted to tell my story. We started having conversations all the way back in Fiji nine months ago about the care with which this episode was going to be handled. I came to Jeff and asked if I could write a personal essay about what happened and he immediately said yes. And I was really proud of how I responded. And I wanted the world to see how much I’d grown and I also thought by showing what happened, maybe it wouldn’t happen to someone else and something good could come of it.
So that’s neither a yes or no, and in many ways brings up more questions, such how these conversations started all those months ago after the events that aired during the episode took place. Was it with CBS saying, “Well, we’re definitely airing this footage, so you can either work with us or...not”? Now that both Varner and Smith have explained themselves, it seems that CBS should take some responsibility and do the same.