‘Survivor’ Zeke Smith: What It’s Like to Be Outed as Trans on TV

survivor zeke smith
source: Instagram

Zeke Smith didn’t set out to be the trans Survivor contestant. In fact, he had no plans on outing his gender history in front of millions on television. But all that changed when a fellow contestant rudely made the decision for him.

In the most recent episode of Survivor, Smith, a two-time alum of the show, was outed by fellow contestant Jeff Varner in front of the whole cast at Tribal. And although he’s been working on forgiveness for the last couple months (since the taping), he’s still dealing with the fall-out from the event. In an essay for The Hollywood Reporter, he writes,

“I’m not wild about you knowing that I’m trans. An odd sentiment, I realize, for someone who signed up for two seasons of the CBS reality giant, Survivor. See, when I got on a plane to Fiji last March, I expected to get voted out third. I’d return home, laugh at my misadventure, and go about my life, casually trans in the same way that Zac Efron is casually Jewish.”

Obviously, that’s not what happened. He says he ended up being “pretty good” at the competition and went on a two-season run.

And he never had any intention of “coming out” in the process. As he explains,

“Many gay people consider coming out a moment of liberation because sharing their sexual orientation with the world causes them to be seen more authentically. Often, the opposite is true for trans people. When we share our gender history, many see us less authentically — doubting, probing or denying our identities.

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. 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.”

And just because he didn’t want to be outed, doesn’t mean he’s not proud to be trans. It just means he wants privacy. And don’t we all?

He adds that he hasn’t had great experiences in general with “coming out” and often found that even the most accepting people treated him differently once they knew.

“On the whole, the world doesn’t treat trans people with much kindness. Even those who aren’t outwardly hateful crinkle their noses at you. When enough people crinkle their noses at you, you begin to think you stink.”

Luckily, the cast saw through Varner’s attempt to get Smith sent home by outing him and ended up sending Varner home instead.

Still, the event is absolutely heartbreaking. In the moment, Varner relies on a hurtful stereotype of transgender people, that they are being “deceptive” when they don’t out themselves.

“In reality, by being Zeke the dude, I am being my most honest self — as is every other transgender person going about their daily lives.”

Smith’s essay is a beautiful explanation of how to treat trans people you encounter in the world and we hope that this will be a lesson to all other cisgender people out there — although we hate that Zeke Smith had to suffer in the process.

Read Zeke’s full essay here.

Lena Finkel
Lena Finkel is the Editor and Founder of Femestella. Prior to starting Femestella, she worked at People, InStyle, Tiger Beat, and Sesame Workshop (aka Sesame Street). She loves all things Real Housewives and Vanderpump Rules. When she's not busy binge-watching TV, you can find her hanging out with her tuxedo cat Tom.