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'Survivor' sparks outrage after contestant outed as transgender on show

From l-r: Jeff Varner, Sarah Lacina, Zeke Smith and Debbie Wanner at Tribal Council on CBS' "Survivor."

From l-r: Jeff Varner, Sarah Lacina, Zeke Smith and Debbie Wanner at Tribal Council on CBS' "Survivor."  (CBS)

Wednesday night’s episode of “Survivor” caused controversy when contestant Zeke Smith was outed as transgender on the show by fellow competitor Jeff Varner.

When the contestants of CBS’ hit reality series gathered around the fire at Tribal Council, Varner, in a final attempt to prevent himself from being voted off the show, turned to rival Smith, who was standing by his side, and declared, “There is deception here. Why haven’t you told anyone you are transgender?”

The 29-year-old, who made his debut on season 33 last fall and returned for the all-star season 34 in March, was visibly shaken by the revelation. The other contestants erupted in outrage, calling Varner’s comment inappropriate and irrelevant to the game. Varner was ultimately eliminated.

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But the uproar didn't end there. 

Nick Adams, director of GLAAD’s Transgender Media Program, responded to the on-air moment immediately after the episode.

“Zeke Smith, and transgender people like him, are not deceiving anyone by being their authentic selves, and it is dangerous and unacceptable to out a transgender person,” Adams said in a statement. “It is heartening, however, to see the strong support for Zeke from the other people in his tribe. Moments like this prove that when people from all walks of life get to know a transgender person, they accept us for who we are.”

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Adams also added that GLAAD worked with both Smith and CBS for several months to ensure that when the episode aired, the contestant would have the opportunity to speak for himself about the experience.

Still, some on social media questioned why CBS chose to air the moment at all. 

"Suvivor" host Jeff Probst told Entertainment Weekly he was impressed by how Smith tackled the outing on national television.

“...I was still blown away by how he handled the entire situation,” said Probst. “It was as if he had been preparing for this absolutely unpredictable, completely public, and incredibly vulnerable moment for his entire life. His composure was astounding…”

Smith has since spoken up about the outing to The Hollywood Reporter.

“A person’s gender history is private information and it is up to them, and only them, when, how, and to whom they choose to disclose that information,” said Smith. “Keeping your gender history private is not the same as a gay person being ‘in the closet.’ The only people who need to know are medical professionals and naked fun time friends.”

He also added that he chose to forgive Varner for the move.

“I looked to Varner, now the one hunched and quivering, and contemplated the backlash he would face,” recalled Smith. “When he said what he said, he changed both of our lives forever. When he pulled me in for a hug, I felt compelled to reciprocate, both as a sign that I was willing to forgive him and that the shows he had fired missed.”

Varner called outing Smith a mistake in a long message posted on Twitter. 

"Let me be clear, outing someone is assault," he tweeted. "It robs a strong, courageous person of their power and protection and opens them up to discrimination and danger. It can leave scars that haunt for a lifetime."

CBS did not immediately return Fox News' request for comment.

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