Guest Post: Why I Won’t Forgive – And Why You Shouldn’t Either

EmandScoutinBK shares her perspective on what happened in the most recent episode of Survivor and the subsequent fallout.

Disclaimer #1:  I am a member of the Queer community, but I am not trans, and I cannot speak for the entire LGBTQ community.  As Jeff Varner demonstrated, we are not interchangeable.  I can only speak from the perspective of a gay cisgender woman who, while enjoying the societal privilege that comes with being cisgender, was affected greatly by the events of Wednesday night’s episode because of my personal history of being outed. I want to thank Purple Rock for giving me the opportunity to share this and for creating this amazing space we have.  I know I’m not the only commenter who’s grateful in times like this to have a Survivor home. I want to also give a big welcome and thank you to commenter RustyShackleford, who helped me with this post.

Disclaimer #2:  Please do not harass Jeff Varner in any way.  Do not cyberbully him and do not send him threats.  What this does not mean is that you should not express your opinion, as I am about to do.

Let’s get something out of the way now: this article is going to be angry. It is not going to be forgiving. It is not going to see both sides of the argument. For me, there is no other side of the argument. I’m also not going to get to everything because I have way too much to say.

If you want to respond to this post with how I should have empathy for Jeff Varner because he got fired, it will be wasted type. I don’t have it. And I’ll tell you why.

This is probably the worst moment in Survivor history. Part of the reason this is so horrible is because this was bigoted hate speech. People- including Jeff Varner himself- have tried to convince themselves that it’s not, but when you equate being trans with being deceptive, it is nothing short of hate speech.

It should go without saying that not giving out your private medical history isn’t deceptive. Trans people are living their authentic selves like anyone else – Zeke is and always was a man. He’s not hiding anything from anyone. This didn’t just hurt one person – this hurt an entire marginalized population. But aside from that, this affects Zeke for the rest of his life.  Zeke will never have the choice about being out ever again. This could be the difference between getting a job. This could be the difference between being able to obtain housing. And it opens Zeke up to danger for the rest of his life.

Initially, I was going to focus on Jeff Varner – on why his apologies aren’t enough. They aren’t. He hasn’t owned what he’s done. Varner is blaming the edit and still failing to own what he did. He won’t claim it as a malicious act (it was). He claims he wasn’t calling trans people deceptive. But even in Varner’s explanation for the outing, he was still using the fact that Zeke was trans to prove deception. He claims he didn’t know he was outing Zeke to the world, which is ridiculous – but even if he ONLY thought he was outing him to six people, that’s still wrong and horrible and inexcusable.

Varner even literally called himself a victim in his Gordon Holmes exit interview. I don’t believe that he’s genuinely remorseful for what he did – I believe he’s genuinely remorseful for the public outcry. But over the last few days, what has stuck with me is the false narrative being put forth by so many people in the Survivor community right now:  that there are two victims here.

There are not two victims in this situation. There is one victim, and there is a person dealing with the consequences of his actions.

One thing that I’ve learned over the years is that when you’re the victim of some kind of bigotry, what can hurt even more is the aftermath and the reactions of the people around you.  I know this because I’ve lived it. Most queer people have. I’ve been outed before. I’m not going to say it’s the same thing that happened to Zeke – because it isn’t. I’m going to quote from Zeke here, because he said it best in the Hollywood Reporter column he wrote about his outing:

“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.” – Zeke Smith

However, there are some parallels. Your agency is taken away. You lose your ability to choose. And then there’s the paranoia about who knows and what they think and how they see you now.

I’ve been outed more than once. One of those times was in high school. You can imagine how that went. Spoiler alert: way back when, being the only out gay kid in high school didn’t go well.

I’ve actually been outed twice professionally. I want to talk about the first time. It was my first college internship in the first week, and I was surrounded by conservatives all summer. One of them, in front of all of the other interns, asked me if I was gay. In that moment, I had about thirty seconds to decide if I was going to lie.

That look on Zeke’s face when Varner asked him why he hadn’t told the others? I know it. It’s probably the look I had in that moment. I had thirty seconds to decide if I was safe with these people – not just if I wanted them to know, but if I was safe with them. I had to decide if it was okay for my employer to know. And I also knew that several of them would never look at me the same again.

I didn’t lie.

And yes – from that point on, I was “the other.” And that, my friends, is why it doesn’t matter if it’s national television or just a few people. I didn’t want them to know – that’s reason enough. Zeke didn’t want them to know – that’s reason enough. When Jeff Varner did what he did, every moment I’ve had like that came flooding back to me. That’s the lens through which I see this malicious act.

So why are people bending over backwards to forgive Varner for what he did? Because people like Jeff Varner. They REALLY like Jeff Varner. Jeff Varner’s funny. Jeff Varner’s delightful! Jeff Varner looks like that cat in a purple shirt! He made a joke about a crab biting his ass! It’s very difficult for them to reconcile the person they thought Jeff Varner is with the person he is revealing himself to be. It’s hard when the people you know don’t measure up. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t hold them accountable.

And who are these people? Let’s take them one by one.

Survivors respond on social media

In case it was up in the air whether Scot Pollard is human garbage or not, it’s now been settled. He has taken it upon himself to victim-blame in this situation. He has decided that since Zeke was out 8 years ago, that means that Varner did no harm in this situation and that Varner is the true victim here.

In fact, he has gone as far as to tweet pre-transition photographs of Zeke without Zeke’s consent (cropped out of the above tweet). He is actually harassing Zeke. And when that tweet was apparently taken down, he reposted it. That is who Scot Pollard is. He deleted the tweet two days later, but only after he was publicly called out by Adam Klein. Several people had told him it was wrong and horrible two days ago, but it didn’t matter until a Survivor winner said it.

Don’t give him any credit for taking it down – after saying that he agreed that it wasn’t fair game, he immediately took it back. Adam Klein replied by thanking him for listening and learning, and guess what Scot Pollard wrote back: “Only thing I learned is that someone who signed up to go on reality tv would expect to keep secrets.” And lest I be accused of not including the end of the tweet, he said “welcome to the family kids – all love.” He has learned nothing. He is still victim-blaming. Make no mistake – this is an act of bigotry.

Every single Survivor who liked or retweeted that initial post is guilty of endorsing that bigotry. So let’s talk about them, because it’s pretty upsetting.

Kyle Jason retweeted it, and Diana Ogden (I know, right?) replied to it and told Scot that he’s just awesome and not to let CBS bully him. Let’s just digest the irony of that statement. Corinne Kaplan, someone who claims to “love the gays” (see, we’re not interchangeable!), also liked it.

The next part is hard for me to write. The person who hurts the most is someone that actually has a huge gay fan base: Peih-Gee Law. Peih-Gee is one of my favorite players. I rooted for her all through China. I picked her to win in Cambodia. I hate that I am writing anything negative about Peih-Gee because I felt connected to her, and she has genuinely broken my heart.

But she liked Scot Pollard’s post. She “liked” this bigotry. And while she made some statements that she probably thinks are supportive, she’s made some seriously problematic statements otherwise. Jeff Varner is her friend, and she loves him. And she can’t seem to separate that from what he did. But that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t be held accountable.

She’s since made a statement, in all caps, that “everything that people feared would happen to Zeke is now happening to Jeff.” This is a false equivalence, and it only further shows her ignorance on this matter. Many trans people are literally murdered for being trans. The comparison she made trivializes what Varner did to Zeke, and that’s dangerous.

You know why the apologists for Varner are wrong? Because when you apologize for Varner too quickly, when you make Varner the victim, Scot Pollard is what you get. Scot Pollard feels so empowered by this situation, so quick to defend Varner, that he doesn’t care how he does it. To that point, anyone contributing to the environment that allows this to take place should be banned from Survivor and all related events going forward.  If I see Scot Pollard on a future villains tribe, so help me gd…

But don’t get it twisted – the Scot Pollard tweet is not an isolated incident. LJ McKanas sent out some choice transphobic tweets in which he TAGGED ZEKE: “@Zekerchief I hate to skew this episode, but ALL I can think is… Where is the vagina?”

He deleted that tweet, but followed up with (and did not delete): “Maybe my context was misunderstood by immensely shallow sheep. I’m amazingly mind blown that @Zekerchief used to be a female. Snap out folks.” Where do I even begin, other than cursing him out?  Don’t ask trans people about their genitals. It’s offensive and none of your business. Nobody’s a shallow sheep – he’s a transphobic asshole. Zeke didn’t used to be a female – he was always a man. And at the end of the day, LJ needs to educate himself and shut his mouth.

But ignorant, obvious bigots are easy to spot. The apologists who are pushing the narrative of Varner the Victim are guilty, too. I know these folks don’t think they mean harm, but intent is not impact. The rush to forgive is a rush to forget. It’s a rush to trivialize. It’s a devaluing of trans lives and minimizing of Varner’s actions. It creates the environment that allows blatant discrimination to take place. And I’m going to go one by one, because this is important:


How about you have some love and compassion for Zeke, Abi? Jeff Varner is rightfully being judged for what he did. And no, I don’t understand why he did it – because there’s nothing to understand.  It was a malicious, hateful act. There’s nothing to understand about it.

As I mentioned above, Kyle Jason-Jason Kyle also retweeted Scot Pollard’s transphobic BS. But this is a problem, too. He’s drawing a line in the sand and making sure that you know where he stands.

Mario Lanza isn’t a Survivor, but he’s a figure in the community. He tweeted nothing about Zeke. Here, it’s an acknowledgment that Varner is hurting. The perpetrator is hurting. There’s no acknowledgment of the victim.

No, we can throw stones (not literally). Again, don’t harass Jeff Varner, but we are all allowed to criticize him for the very real horrible thing that he did. And he sent no tweets of support for Zeke.

No, he didn’t.

No, Varner hasn’t. I’ve seen the idea that “Zeke has forgiven Varner, so we should, too” thrown around a lot. It’s wrong on several levels. First of all, the entire trans community was harmed by Varner’s actions. When he said that trans people are deceptive, he harmed an entire community.  Nobody is obligated to forgive. Secondly, to say that Zeke has forgiven is not to fully read his words. I’m going to link to his article at the bottom of this article so that you can read his words for yourself, but Zeke has made it clear that he struggles with what forgiveness means and that it is not traditional forgiveness.

Only a few of these people even bothered to tweet about Zeke otherwise – just Gordon Holmes, really. The other people I just quoted only sent their support to Varner. Because that’s whom they stand by. That’s the person that has their support. Think about how messed up that is.

What absolutely kills me is the amount of people saying that Varner has been punished enough because of how much he’s beating himself up. I don’t believe he’s genuinely sorry about what he did – but by how it’s affecting his life. As for his losing his job, I don’t think people should have been calling up his employer to call for his firing, but actions have consequences. He was a new employee, and they didn’t want any part of this. It was a legal firing. And it doesn’t make him any more of a victim.

When someone gets attacked, when there’s an act of bigotry, the bystanders have a choice.  Because this was nationally televised, we were all bystanders in this situation. We can do what’s comfortable and urge moving on. We can shift the burden to the victims for forgiveness. Or we can acknowledge the wrong that was done and sit with it. We can acknowledge the gravity of what Jeff Varner did. We can choose not to give him a pass because he gave some funny confessionals. We can challenge ourselves not to forgive.

Because a choice not to forgive is not a choice to inflict pain on the attacker. It is a choice to hold the attacker accountable. It is a message to trans lives that they matter, that we support them, and that they haven’t been silenced by a rush to forgive.

I’d like to post a few links here: how to be a trans ally, Zeke’s article, and an article by Cameron Johnson.

How to be a Trans Ally

Zeke’s column on being outed and his Survivor experience

Survivor: Mamanuca Islands #6: Queer Eye



Em has watched the show since the first season, though her enthusiasm for it skyrocketed during Philippines. Her favorite Survivor-related moment was when she and her best friend of several years both realized that the other was secretly a huge Survivor fan as well. Em also has a crush on Ken McNickle, which is very confusing for everybody.

Favorite seasons: HvV, Pearl Islands, Micronesia, Amazon, China, Philippines.

Favorite players: Sandra, Denise, Yul, Parvati, Kim

427 thoughts on “Guest Post: Why I Won’t Forgive – And Why You Shouldn’t Either

  1. Powerful piece, Em. Really happy to have read it. Nothing else to add as you covered my thoughts precisely. I’m throwing all my love to Zeke. He showed us through all this that he is a brave, intelligent, amazing person.

  2. Okay I’ve been very quiet so far, mostly because I got behind and watched the last couple of episodes late. But I’m going to take issue with a few things in this article, because I think the issue is being framed the wrong way.

    1. I don’t understand the legions of people flocking to say “I give/don’t forgive” Varner. When it comes down to it, “forgiveness” is not yours to grant. Varner’s horrific actions were not done to you, they were done to Zeke. Even if you are a member of the LGBT and especially trans community, these actions were still not done to you. Forgiveness is not yours to grant or not grant. That is for Zeke and Zeke alone. So whether you yourself forgive or don’t forgive Varner is ultimately meaningless.

    2. There isn’t a finite amount of support or sympathy to go around. I sympathize with Zeke, what happened to him is awful. I fully support him in ways that I definitely can’t say I fully support Varner. Anything Zeke ever needs from me to help and get through this (which to be clear, will be nothing, but speaking in a theoretical sense), I am 100% willing to give him whatever he needs. But I also sympathize with Varner, because I believe people make mistakes and I believe that while a flawed human being, Varner still is a human being. And I sympathize with screwing up, because I screw up a lot. And yeah this is a big screw up, and yeah there should be consequences. But I think the punishment for this has outweighed the crime. It seems unfair that this one very awful thing he did has caused him to have his life destroyed and him even contemplating suicide. No one deserves that for one stupid thing they did on TV. So yes, I sympathize. And while I can’t provide my full support in the same way I can Zeke, I can’t absolve him of what he’s done, if in theoretic magical world if he ever needed me for something I’d help him, just like any other human being. If he was stranded in the desert I would give him a drink. And he is a victim, he’s been a victim of online harassment, he’s a victim of a deep depression and self-loathing and the fact he did something wrong and he victimized someone else doesn’t mean he is incapable of being a victim in a different circumstance.

    3. Just in a general sense referring to the tone of this article, I don’t like being told that to be a good human being you should, in the terms of this article, not forgive. Because I think that’s a very personal belief thing. There are people who believe that people have to be 100% accountable for their actions and any punishment resulting in it deserves no sympathy. And that’s fine I’m not going to say that’s wrong. But it’s not who I am. I believe that mistakes should have consequences yes, but I also cheer for the perpetrator of the mistake, in hopes they can learn and grow and become a functioning human being again. And I bristle at being told that I’m not allowed to do that.

    1. I think a huge part of what Em is saying is that these and many other people have only shown public support to Varner. They automatically chose to support and rally behind the aggressor in this situation.
      I think your use of victim here ignores the fact he did something wrong and the reaction he is receiving in the consequence of that. I don’t believe the harassment is right but to say he is a victim ignores that people are reacting to his actions. However out of proportion what he is receiving is, it is completely a consequence of his own action.

      1. Okay, but let’s say that a person steals someone’s shoes and runs off. Someone down the road sees it, grabs their handgun, shoots the thief in order to return the shoes. Is the thief therefore not a victim of homicide considering it was a result of their wrongdoing?

        I’m overstating and exaggerating obviously, but you can still be a victim even if what you’re a victim of is the result of something you’ve done.

        1. Let’s say someone punches someone in the face and someone else pushes the aggressor over? Because your situation has the second person being much more damaged than the original victim and that is not the case here. Zeke was outed, he cannot ever decide not to be, he can never have control over his own story ever again. Varner has had some nasty messages and his employer decided not to keep him around because of the bad press.
          Zeke’s injury is much worse and was completely undeserved. Varner’s is all consequence of the disgusting behaviour he displayed on national tv.

          1. I think the question of who suffered more damage here is up for debate and can’t really be determined by anyone. The only one who knows how damaged Jeff Varner is over this is Jeff Varner, and the only one who knows how damaged Zeke is over this is Zeke.

          2. I guess a key distinction would be that they are both suffering over the actions of Jeff Varner.

          3. Of course, I’m certainly not calling Varner an “innocent” victim.

            But I do believe in finite degrees of suffering for bad and mistaken actions, and just from my own personal evaluation of the situation and what Varner is going through, the degree of suffering has surpassed what seems just to my eyes. Other people’s evaluations may differ, but my main point I’m trying to make here is there is room for that difference of opinion.

          4. One person was outed! Which is an attack from which you cannot ever recover (and I mean you cannot be back before it happened, before the knowledge is out there). He will not gain back control of his story, of his identity. Ever. All Zeke can to is own how it will go from now, but the decision about his story was taken away from him. It’s a huge damage. Do you understand that every employer ever will know his status, every guy he dates, every friend he makes, without him deciding if they need to know his history?
            The other is seeing the consequences of his actions. He did this to himself unfortunately and he doesn’t get to play the victim about it.

          5. I’m not saying what happened to Zeke isn’t horrible and deserving of support.

            But I just don’t believe in the rational that because someone made a massive mistake any consequence they suffer is just and undeserving of sympathy. That to me is not justice, otherwise we’re all deserving of a life of misery.

          6. I personally believe that there is room for forgiveness of Varner, or even leaving the door open to forgiveness down the road. I think that’s a positive, human thing.

            I also question people (not saying you, but people in general) who instantly want to forgive and demand others do the same (again, not you).

            And to Em’s point, I REALLY question people who publicly support Varner and not Zeke. A lot of which seems to boil down to “I’ve known Varner longer”. And also “I can see myself making a big mistake on Survivor that would make me look bad, but my privilege keeps me from ever seeing myself victimized by such a mistake”.

          7. I’m trying my best to not make any of my dialogue that defends my sympathy for Varner about what he did. I’m not forgiving his actions, because as I said, that’s not mine to grant.

            I’m trying to make my sympathies about what he’s going through now. He doesn’t really need public support and really I have no interest in giving it to him, I had fully intended to mostly stay quiet on this issue. And really I don’t think that’s what Peih-Gee was doing with her post either, she was just giving an update as someone who was a close friend of Varners, as people were asking for it, and perfectly reasonably calling for the hatred to stop.

            And I think the biggest reason that people will show open support to Varner and not necessarily to Zeke that you don’t mention is that, BY APPEARANCES (not saying reality), Varner is going through a much harder time and thus they feel he just needs it more. They may be wrong on that and they probably should give open support to both if they are going to give it to one, but that’s just their interpretation of the current circumstances.

          8. “I’m trying my best to not make any of my dialogue that defends my sympathy for Varner about what he did.”
            I think you’re doing well in this regard.

            “And I think the biggest reason that people will show open support to Varner and not necessarily to Zeke that you don’t mention is that, BY APPEARANCES (not saying reality), Varner is going through a much harder time”

      2. “I think a huge part of what Em is saying is that these and many other people have only shown public support to Varner.”

        Yes. I think this is the key point.

    2. I want Varner to learn and grow from this massive wrong he did. I want him to make genuine strides and not try to hedge what he did, the way he is currently doing. I don’t wish ill on Varner and absolutely condemn bullying. I’m not going to come to his defense though on what happened. I don’t feel like he deserves it.

      1. For the record, you will never see me defend Jeff Varner’s actions. I do believe they were malicious, it was an attack, and if Zeke never forgives him that is no one’s fault but Jeff’s. Any support that comes my way towards Jeff Varner is 100% not at the expense of Zeke and 100% all about what he is dealing with now and how he moves forward.

        1. I hope I didn’t come across as calling you a defender. That was not my intention. Just sharing my own perspective on the situation. I’m sorry about that.

    3. I think the other points are being well addressed by other people, but I wholeheartedly disagreed that Varner’s actions were only done to Zeke. When Varner put forward that trans people are deceptive, he harmed an entire community.

    4. I agree completely. I liked Em’s post, and I totally respect her opinion and the fact that she doesn’t forgive Varner, but I feel she lost me when she started blaming others for showing support for him, especially his real friends.

      The fact is that we simply don’t know how Varner is doing right now. He might be depressed (as it actually seems to be the case), he might even be contemplating suicide. I am sure that no one wishes him to harm himself as payment for what he done.

      And isn’t the entire concept of friendship, that his friends will look after him and his safety, even when he is wrong? Okay, you might say that they should do this privately, but 1) private support won’t help stopping the cyber bullying, and 2) isn’t the right way of treating friends, to defend them in public and criticize and educate them in private?

      (Of course, my defense only counts for those like Pee-Gee that are defending Varner out of friendship, not like Pollard, who does it out of transphobia.)

      1. I expected disagreement, especially on Varner’s sincerity and displays of public support of his friends.

        I did want to address one point – I want to address the fact that you specifically said you were defending Peih-Gee. Peih-Gee was the most difficult person for me to write about – I had to challenge myself to do it. She was easily my favorite person on that list. I liked her way more than Varner – and I liked Varner. But she broke my heart when she liked Scot Pollard’s tweet that shared pre-transition photos of Zeke – and not only that, but in a comment I didn’t share in the post, she defended it. It wasn’t ignorance – she knew the photos were in the tweet. I understand that she’s his friend. I understand that she cares about him. It doesn’t excuse that or other problematic statements.

        1. Yes, I didn’t know about that (I don’t follow survivor contestants on social media), and I agree with you that while I didn’t see harm in her Facebook post, sharing those photos is completely unexcusable. (And it also tarnishes the good view I had of her.)

          1. I understand the gut reaction to my post, appreciate the willingness to engage with me on this, and respect your disagreement with me. I tried to be very careful in who I criticized and who I didn’t. I only criticized people who either a) made statements or endorsed statements with which I had a problem or b) only sent support to Varner to the exclusion of Zeke. Gordon Holmes would be the closest to not be on that list because he sent support to Zeke (which I mentioned), but I wanted to point out the issues with “Zeke forgave him, so we should, too.” I was also slightly disappointed to see his “Quickie #Survivor Recap: Uh…eh…I don’t wanna talk about it.” tweet today because that is my point. It’s a privilege to be able to not talk about it, for it not to impact your life – the fact that it makes you uncomfortable prompts you to want to to forgive. But I digress. My point is, my purpose was not to call out every personal friend who asked for compassion.

            And again, I certainly do not endorse cyberbullying or harassment, nor do I wish Varner harm.

  3. On the one hand, I want them to throw puppies around tomorrow and make it all happy vibes and we can go back to a time when our outrage can be related to pointless nonsense like Cochran showing up and stupid twists that cost us beloved Malcolm.

    On the other hand, it’s empty to “move on” when the whole situation still basically sucks and will never not suck. Obviously CBS will shoehorn it into the reunion and Varner/Zeke will have a highly phony moment of reconciliation and forgiveness and well, it won’t make it not ugly. Compassion and forgiveness won’t make it not ugly. Richard/Sue and Ghania/Ted and Will/Shirin are all still ugly moments and we ought to remember them (and this is me, but hope the contestants cuts it out with this crap). Ideally some good comes from the dialogue, but like they said in the podcast, *rushing* to forgive is another way to just toss the issue in the cupboard. It was shitty and ugly and let’s just make sure to not let the importance be marginalized, whatever folk’s personal feelings on the matter of atonement.

    Also, wouldn’t it be great if “don’t ask trans people about their genitals” didn’t need an explanation? Frankly, “don’t ask people about their genitals” should just be one of those things. It isn’t, but, like… wouldn’t it be loverly?

    1. OH MY GOD, I FORGOT ABOUT THE REUNION SHOW : ( Oh, man, you are so right. They are totally going to force them to do some cringeworthy reconcilition. They’re for sure going to contractually make Varner attend against his will and then pressure Zeke it making another public forgivenss statement. Blick.

      1. It’s so set in stone that the only actual mystery is which celebrity will be there to mediate the discussion.

        1. If only that Katherine Heigl show Doubt was still on, because a costar of that show was Laverne Cox. However, since one of their soaps has had a transgender character for a few years, CBS has connections with trans activists like Chaz Bono that would surely come in to help mediate.

      2. I think because of how they’ve been handling it (maybe forced to handle it), there’s a chance that this will be the one time they don’t do that. They’ve been working with Zeke throughout this process, so there’s a good chance that they’ll continue to do so until then.

        No matter what happens, it’ll be the elephant in the room.

          1. This is what I hope happens, but he has not yet proven himself able to turn down publicity and/or a chance to make excuses for his actions :/

          2. Hmm, I’m not sure. I’m thinking they would film themselves apologizing and then also be the person who edits it into gif form.

          3. After Michael Richards stand-up act ended with him calling an African-American member of the audience the n-word (and other offensive comments), Jerry Seinfeld was on Letterman talking about the issue. He arranged for Richads to call into the show to apologize; they had him in a small screen in the corner during the call. It did not go well and the audience even started laughing, which led to Seinfeld saying “Stop laughing.”

        1. Yeah, CBS handled this about as well as they could have (just think for a couple seconds of all the ways they could have bungled it). There’s reason to think they’ll handle it well in the reunion as well. Of course I’m the lonely voice saying that there’s reason to believe the post-merge won’t be a shitshow.


      You are 100% right and I could repost this 100000x
      So important!!!

    3. “Frankly, “don’t ask people about their genitals” should just be one of those things.”

      On the one this makes. On the other hand, I badly want Probst to turn to Troyzan at the reunion and say “So, Troyzan, rumor has it you’ve got a pipe they could transport oil with?”

  4. First of all, shout out to Em for a fantastic write up. I am saddened to see how many people are “siding” with Varner and not even giving a thought to Zeke.

    I want to be clear, cyberbullying is WRONG. It’s okay to feel badly for the fact that he lost his job and is being attacked online, but that doesn’t mean he is the victim in this situation. At all. Attacking Varner doesn’t change the situation into something more positive for Zeke, it turns Varner into a victim. Varner fucked up. Plain and simple. And he fucked up in a way that is incredibly damaging for a community that is already misunderstood and mistreated. He did it on a public stage and seems to not understand the reasons WHY what he did was wrong, just that it was wrong. Don’t attack him, don’t try to educate him (it seems like no matter how anyone tries, he still doesn’t get it), and don’t “forgive” him (Varner doesn’t know you; Varner didn’t hurt you personally–you can’t “forgive” him.)

    The person who needs support here is Zeke. If the people in the Survivor community who have known Varner for years want to support him (Varner), they have their own ways of contacting him and can do so privately. Public support for Varner ESPECIALLY without public support for Zeke demonstrates to people that “it’s okay to out someone as long as you’re really really sorry about it.” No. It’s fucking not okay. Ever. You can feel badly about how Varner has been attacked, but that makes him the victim of cyberbullying–not the victim in what happened. There seems to be confusion about that point across the internet over the last week.

    There is no defense for what Varner did. He continues to make excuses, but there is footage–footage IN THE EPISODE–of him planning this. He talked about how he knew Zeke was being deceitful because he “knows something Zeke is keeping a secret” (I’m paraphrasing). And then echoed that sentiment when he outed Zeke. It was malicious, premeditated, and unforgivable. And trying to make excuses for him or ignoring how hurtful it was is harmful to the entire LGBT community. If you believe that a person should not be judged by their worst hour or best hour (a totally legitimate perspective), then you may believe that Varner shouldn’t be defined by what happened, that’s fine. But don’t take away from how truly horrendous that outing was.

    Personally, I feel like, since Zeke will be forever defined by Varner’s actions, Varner should have the same consequence. But that’s just me.

    1. Love everything you said here. You bring up a great point about public support. I feel like it really diminishes the crime and the pain the victim feels.

    2. This. No one is saying that friends and family of Varner should be judged for supporting him personally in a time of real personal crisis (although I also wouldn’t judge them for deciding this was a bridge too far, and ending their relationship with Varner).

      But that has nothing to do with what people post on twitter and Reddit, or the commentary made by media folks in exit interviews.

      1. Why do we have to unequivocally do anything? We all know it was wrong what Jeff did…what’s else do you want ?

    3. Very well said!
      I also think something that might be contributing negatively to the way this has all played out in the press/Twitter is that Varner is at a publicity advantage here because he had a built in round of exit interviews while Zeke is still in the game and therefore most likely isn’t at liberty to do a ton of press interviews because of CBS rules. Also, Zeke appears to be taking the high ground and minimizing public bickering about this because he is classy while Varner seems all too happy to “explain his side” (aka make endless excuses for himself).
      Basically what it boils down to is that Varner is begging for everyone’s pity and some people are obliging, while Zeke has been unbelievably strong and stoic about this whole situation and I guess that means that some of the less thoughtful fans and former Survivors end up forgetting that he is actually the one we should be supporting?

  5. Yeah people don’t seem to understand that you can think attacking Varner online is gross but you also don’t have to forgive him.

    Also I applaud investigating the liking of tweets.

    1. Thank you. I can’t take credit for finding all of it myself – just bringing it together.

  6. WOW! Fantastic job Em! I wanted to reward you with a double Ken GIF (you get to Kens!) but I can’t figure out how to make that yet ; )

        1. You know what? In honor of such a well written article I am officially going to retire a certain extremely popular and well loved hashtag.

        2. Loved your article, and I’m sorry I hadn’t read it until today. Also, thanks for inspiring all these gifs. 😍

  7. If Scot, Jason, and Corinne are on one side of a debate… I know which side I’d rather be on.

      1. When Em and I had a little chat about Corinne’s likes I believe I said “Corinne is a complete self involved piece of shit”

        1. My wife and I saw Caramoan before Gabon so we initially thought she was the fun kind of “bitch”. Boy were we wrong

          1. Her treatment of Sugar is some top level shit. There is no one close to her and Alicia Rosa for worst female contestant (on the island, I’m looking at you Anna Khait).

          2. I mean, Anna Khait made some Trump supporting tweets, does that make her worse than Helen Glover (who I still love and pretend isn’t awful in real life)?

          3. I forgot about the anti-vax shit. That’s straight up just poisonous.

            After Thailand Helen got her own radio show and basically became the Rush Limbaugh of Rhode Island.

          4. Fuck. I forgot for a second you’re British, so in case you need context:

            Rhode Island is a tiny state in the northeast. It’s deeply Democratic to the point where being a Rhode Island Democrat is meaningless as an indicator of ideology, if you want to succeed in RI politics you join the Democratic Party.

            Her radio show basically turned her into one of the biggest, if not the biggest, far right voices in Rhode Island politics.

          5. I think Corinne and Varner are good examples of the dark side of being “the fun kind of bitch”. When your default setting is cutting other people down, you can easily go too far. Especially when you’re about to lose.

          6. this is a great point. But I think Corinne starts as a personality from a much worse place than Varner. Varner has done something enormous wrong here but he know he did something wrong. Corinne seems like she has never been or done wrong in her opinion and doesn’t care if the line is crossed.

          7. Corinne fully admits that her “biggest bitch in the room” persona requires her to totally divorce herself from the idea that she’s talking about real people, which is why she doesn’t do the slambook (which I guiltily listen to) for returnee seasons: she can’t do it if she knows them as people.

            It’s a balance you struggle with if your brand of humor involves snark. I can’t imagine a situation where I meet Kristie from Australian Survivor or that, if I did, she would have any idea of the things I wrote about her, but man, that is a conversation I would not want to have.

            The difference is that some of us realize that, at the end of the day, snark is fun but some things are more important than snark. Zeke, himself, is actually a pretty good example of that kind of person, and Tyson, as he’s matured, has become another one. Corinne and Mario Lanza fall on the other side of the line, and situations like this one bring that into stark contrast.

      2. It’s telling that they all seem to be on the side of “this is CBS’s fault for not protecting Jeff from his own actions”.

        1. I think it was when she posted a link to her podcast, which (based on the title) was seemed angry at people for caring so much about Zeke and not Varner — and she was retweeting all the people responding how “brave” she was. I threw up a little in my mouth. And then hit “unfollow”

    1. I am just shocked that a dude who’s job is basically “state-sponsored terrorist” is a bad person.

      Also wanna reiterate my stated position on calling Kyle Kyle. If he doesn’t care whether people get to name themselves (see: the Alecia/Blondie stuff) he doesn’t get that right either.

  8. Jeff didn’t say being trans was deceptive. Jeff said it because he thought he was already out from his previous season and he wasn’t telling them because of strategy, not because he wasn’t out. Yes, it’s a bad thing to do, and no, Varner it’s not the victim here, but he made a mistake. It wasn’t a sentence to judge Zeke, it wasn’t a sentence to attack Zeke or trans people. And he realized quickly and felt ashamed. Now the guy is almost suicidal because of it and your speech is that we don’t have to forgive him? It’s not like he’s proud about it, he felt terrible about this whole situation, probably even worse than Zeke because he has the support of all the survivor and LGTB community (as he should, because remember that at the end of the day he’s the victim). I do support trans people, I do support Zeke, so what? Does that mean that I have to sink a suicidal person on the misery because of a mistake he made? Does it make you all feel better? Because that’s trying to defend the hate (and not hate, because I’m sure Varner does not hate trans people) with more hate.

    1. 1) how did Varner know? Zeke didn’t tell him.

      2) Varner either guessed or saw it on Reddit

      3) the defense that “people at home knew” is BS

      1. GC filmed before MvGX aired. The chances of Varner seeing it on Reddit are virtually zero.

      2. The question of how Varner knew is a good one, because I don’t think it’s come up much. I haven’t seen him make any credible claims about how he learned it, and I think they’d already shot (or were shooting) by the time Reddit posted the info.

        It’s obviously a secondary issue, but it’s possible someone outed Zeke to Varner- and it would have to be someone that knew Zeke was playing this season and know Zeke’s secret, which really limits the pool.

          1. I heard somewhere that they knew each other from Survivor Brooklyn. I don’t know why she would share that information.

        1. Zeke has minor scars from his top surgery. Varner probably recognized that. (I seem to recall hearing around the time of the Reddit outing that various Reddit and/or Survivor Sucks people had picked up on the trail based on that.)

          1. This is the explanation I have settled on as well. It both makes sense and fits the fact that I don’t want it to be anything else

          2. It seems like some people had discovered Zeke’s gender history when the MvGX preview was shown during the KR reunion. I think the detectives really started going to work when Zeke mentioned in his bio that he was a nationally ranked high school debater, but no one who did debate and was a Survivor fan recognized him or his name.

        2. The really really depressing explanation is that Varner probably does have trans friends and was more likely to pick up on subtle clues people less familiar with that community wouldn’t notice.

          1. ^^^This. I mentioned this last week, but I had no clue about the reddit shit or chest scars or whatever before wondering if Zeke is trans on his first season. I work with trans men, in San Francisco, at an agency that serves many LGBT clients. There were very big signals.

            Which, as you say, makes Varner’s blunder (not to mention the malicious way he said what he said) all the more depressing and jaw-dropping. One of the very first things I’ve learned from my trans colleagues and friends is that words like “deceptive” should never be used in connection with how a trans person engages with the world around them and the people in it. Literally because words like that are the rationalizations people have in their stupid little heads when they attack, assault, and murder trans individuals. And for so many other reasons.

            I’m not one of those people who thinks Varner was equating being trans with being deceptive. That’s not what I heard. But the fact of the matter is that he used the word “deceptive” when describing Zeke as “trans” and those two words don’t belong together because that’s what people will remember and react to. It’s about as sensitive as asking a black person if they have experienced a lot of crime or violence in their lives because the assumption is that because they are black, this surely must be a part of their experiences. I’ve been in many situations where that question is dropped so casually. People need to understand the power of certain words they use before they use them.

            All that said, I tend to agree with Other Scott’s perspective on this.

            Not sure why I’m saying all this now, 2 days after this post, but as usual I am less than quick on the draw when it comes to discussions.

    2. It was 100% an attack on Zeke and trans people, whether his intention was for it to be or not.
      Whether Zeke was out or not before has no bearing, he shouldn’t have outed him to one person or 6 people and it was not his job to assume anything about Zeke’s situation, especially without ever having discussed it with him.

    3. Varner said Zeke was being deceptive and then asked why Zeke hasn’t told the tribe that he is transgender. I don’t see how that isn’t an attack on the trans community with such an ugly stereotype. Whether that was his intention or not, that’s the message he said to the world. I sincerely wish that Varner can get through this, that the bullying would stop and he can grow from this mistake and have a healthy life. It’s possible to want that for someone without forgiving the horrific action he did.

    4. “Does that mean that I have to sink a suicidal person on the misery because of a mistake he made? Does it make you all feel better? Because that’s trying to defend the hate (and not hate, because I’m sure Varner does not hate trans people) with more hate.”

      Em said at least three times don’t harass or bully Varner. As have a number of regular commenters here, over and over again.

      ETA: I think there’s a useful discussion to have at a later date about the difference between forgiveness and empathy, but in any case this is not about Varner.

  9. Thank you so much for writing this Em. I’d missed a lot of the uglier material you cited (largely because I would rather stick my hand in a blender than read, say, Scott Pollard’s twitter feed even on a ‘normal’ week). But it’s important to talk about how ugly the reaction from large parts of the Survivor community- from Reddit upvoters to Gordon Holmes- has been.

    1. Thank you. I can’t take credit for finding all of it myself. Thank you for the kind words.

  10. Diane Ogden, the near invisible contestant who’s actions seemingly got her questionable tribe to turn against Clarence in one of the most weirdly shielded plotlines in Survivor history? I can’t say I’m surprised by her tweet.

    1. For the life of me I couldn’t remember that person. I’ve said it here before but fuck that scene. Clarence was treated so unfairly in Africa.

      1. Well, Probst likes to say Survivor is a social experiment and that it often mirrors society. And that scene certainly mirrored a depressingly common aspect of American society.

  11. Great article! And thanks for writing it!

    I don’t have a ton to add, especially since I have not lived Zeke’s nor Em’s experiences – though I do throw all of my support behind them and the rest of the LGBTQ community and strive to offer my compassion always.

    But I did want to note that I always find it odd when people, after doing something wrong and harmful to another, stress the importance of forgiving themselves. Why does that matter? I mean, I support Varner working through his feelings in therapy and I don’t wish any permanent harm on his mental health because of this, but would it be so bad if he didn’t immediately let himself off the hook for his poor choices? Maybe he would be a little less likely to make excuses for himself if that were the case, and could focus on supporting the trans community instead of making this all about him.
    I mean, maybe it’s because (to be read in Sarah’s thick accent) ~I’m from the midwest~ and so my vocabulary hasn’t been supplied by the self-help movement, but I don’t spend any time worrying about forgiving myself when I’ve done something wrong. I am generally more focused on making sure I have sincerely apologized and made amends to the person I have wronged. Forgiveness is a privilege that you may not always get, and you most certainly can’t just claim it for yourself if the wronged person doesn’t offer it.

  12. This is the first time in awhile Survivor has gotten mainstream criticism. Y’all think production will learn anything from this? The cynical side of me thinks this changes nothing. What are the odds that shitbag Scott is cast in a new villains season? They brought back Colton (barf.) PS my gut says some people on production knew Varner was gonna pull this crap. #wildspeculation

      1. You may be new around here, but since you used a Parks and Rec gif, I am bound to appear and answer your request (srota). I am fairly sure that Probst wanted Zeke to come out at the MvGX reunion. Now, you’re wondering how I have evidence to even sorta support a wild theory. Well, it’s not the best evidence but think back to Zeke’s reunion appearance in general.
        During the reunion, Probst naturally goes to Zeke since he is a massive presence in MvGx. But, instead of asking about his strategy or what went wrong with Will, Probst asks Zeke about how Survivor has been a “transformative” experience for him. That question just doesn’t feel right in the fact that Zeke didn’t have a growth narrative at all besides realizing that he is the provider in the early days on Millenials. But, given the context that the Incident has already happened, I think this was Probst’s chance to beat the bad press that he knew was coming. But, Zeke didn’t bite.
        Also, this may explain why Zeke or Varner wasn’t used to hype up the season. After all, would you use either of them to hype up Game Changers?

        1. I also wonder if Zeke was initially chosen as a game changer because they assumed he would come out as trans and thus could be hyped as the first trans Survivor? Obviously I think that his game play and personality were more than enough to warrant his return, but this theory could also explain why he wasn’t really hyped much in the preseason?

          1. My big counterargument to that is that he wasn’t out at all on the island. In fact, the one chance that Production was hoping to get him talking about coming out was when his dad was his Loved One. The problem was that his dad mentioned issues in the past and Zeke being the strongest person he knows, but many could chalk that up to Zeke coming out as gay.

          2. I think Zeke was chosen as a game changer (over Jay, David, etc) because they wanted one man and one woman from the season. They asked Michaela after she was voted out and they asked Zeke after he was voted out and then those slots were filled. I also do think they are the best possible casting choices. Zeke is clearly a very gifted (and enjoyably chaotic) player, even if he played a bit too aggressively on his season.

          3. I prefer this explanation to the idea that CBS was trying to engage in tokenism, so I cheerfully withdraw my wild speculation 🙂

          4. I assumed that Zeke was chosen because David and Jay said no, but his THR article says he literally didn’t have time to change out of his island clothes before they asked him to play again, so I dunno.

          1. You may be new around here, but you picked up pretty quickly tha t@disqus_GpYJ355BVM:disqus is a genius. You’ll fit right in.

          2. When I was writing my comment, it honestly just clicked together. It also may be a reason why Zeke watched the finale with just Hannah…maybe he was trying to avoid the rest of the MvGX cast.

    1. “What are the odds that shitbag Scott is cast in a new villains season?”

      Honestly, I think close to zero, because I’m gonna bet that, if they ever do HvV2, one of the first names they throw up on the villains side is Zeke. And yes, Zeke would be a villain. He’s a hero in real life, but on the show he’s everything that made the Villains tribe great – a fun, snarky narrator who isn’t afraid to make cutthroat strategic moves. If they tried to cast him as a hero I think he’d be the first person to call that bullshit.

      And if they’re trying to get Zeke for Villains 2.0 (and they’re morons if they’re not trying to get Zeke for Villains 2.0), one of the first questions they ask is who he’s not comfortable being on a tribe with because they had shitty reactions to this situation. Scot Pollard is not a big enough name on Survivor that they make Zeke be on a tribe with him if he doesn’t want to.

  13. To the author:Not everyone is transphobic if they support Varner!! That word is too easily tossed … I’m a GAY Man so stop attaching that ridiculous cisgender label on me! Yeah so much privilege we the gay community have enjoyed! How do you know Jeff doesn’t regret …you know his heart? As for zeke…let see , talk show , public essay the full support of cbs..yeah that strikes me as the person who wants to be only ” the survivor ” player! Varner screwed up. What else do You feel we need to do to him? Make his friends stop talking him beat him up? Set him on fire! Everyone is so perfect are you…never saying or doing a single thing you regret …why don’t we just skip to the reunion. And hand zeke a million dollars for being trans! It’s clearly going to be the only way he village with pitchforks will be happy!!

          1. it’s OG season BBUK Nikki in her single finest moment. My friends and I dont even watch it and we all say “who IS she?!” in exactly her voice.

          2. Mate she’s got a big following because she’s been on BBUK like 3 times and is a minor tv celebrity. I don’t care when America discovered her.

    1. To You:

      1. I am gay and cisgender – I fail to see how the label, cisgender, becomes ridiculous because you are gay.

      2. If you are cisgender, you do enjoy privilege. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that. I did.

      3. I did not say that everyone is transphobic if they support Varner. I think you need to re-read my post.

      4. I’m basing my opinion about whether Varner regrets his actions or the reaction to his actions based on his interviews, exit press, and the premeditation of his action. It’s my opinion. You don’t know that he does. My reasoning is in my post.

      5. I was very clear several times that I do not believe he should be harassed or cyberbullied. I’m not sure how many times I can say that. Doesn’t mean I have to forgive him.

      6. I never said I was perfect – but I can tell you right now that I would never out someone.

      7. The fact that you interpreted what I wrote to mean that they should hand Zeke a million dollars for being trans says a lot about you.

      1. Well in response to that : how do you know zeke isn’t milking this with the talk show and essay in big publications? It’s my opinion and you don’t know that he isn’t ! As for the cisgender label. Yes it’s obnoxious! Latino and gay and the beating I took several times that’s tons of privelge! Thank you for showing me all I should be thankful for! You should re read your statements as well and see how how odious and judgemental you come off regarding any dissent to your opinion !

        1. 1. That was a pretty impressive strawman to find, given that Em said nothing of the sort
          2. Let’s take down the strawman anyway. Zeke did not want to be out. To accuse him of doing a media tour because he was outed is ludacris. Once it was clear he was being outed, Zeke steered the conversation to make it a learning and educational experience, rather than just hate, though clearly you didn’t pay attention to that part.
          3. Being gay does not mean you aren’t cisgender: cisgender – denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex. I am bi and cisgender, they aren’t mutually exclusive

        2. Why do you feel “cisgender” is an obnoxious label? Do you feel the same about “transgender”, “straight”, and “heterosexual”? I would also recommend re reading some of your comments, because you came in pretty hot.

        3. Alright so let’s talk then ’cause I think there’s a disconnect here.

          You don’t like Zeke. You think Zeke has an agenda. Those are your beliefs and I’m sure other people will argue with you over them, but for me they’re not really even the point.

          The point is that a transgendered person was outed on national television and that’s bad. Full stop. That’s it. That’s the point. An unfair stereotype of a community was exposed and exploited in a negative way. Even *if* Zeke is “milking” this and even *if* Varner feels genuine contrition, what happened was inappropriate and yes, the victim does deserve sympathy and no, the person who caused this to happen shouldn’t be able to just shake it off, even if he is genuinely remorseful. It happened. They are *both* of them stuck with what happened, and the reason I care less for Varner is because he did this to himself.

          Honestly, man, we’re already seeing it: Zeke’s identity was changed on him. He’s “the trans player” on news articles. When the reunion comes around Probst won’t ask him about his gameplay; he’ll ask him about this incident. You’re angry about Zeke doing interviews on this subject, but no one is going to talk to him about the game anymore because that was taken away from him. He is *this* story now, whether he likes it or not. Even if you think he benefits from it and even if you want to empathize with Jeff Varner, Zeke’s agency was violated, his story has been pigeonholed, and that sucks. I don’t care that he’s lol just some reality tv star – it’s fucking shitty to happen to anyone.

          And while I know it’s going to come off as nasty – and I honestly don’t intend it that way – I’d say the fact that you seem more angry with Em for writing this article than with Varner for outing someone on national television is why folks around here are approaching you with some hesitance.

          (Also the exclamation points. Way too many exclamation points.)

          1. I don’t think it nasty at all! I’m glad you have an opinion in what I said..just don’t asume I’m angry , you don’t know me, and exclamation points? Ok , so what?
            My whole issue is people acting like Varner did this hideous thing while the rest of us have never…one day you might step in it and regret it and will want people to stick up for you…

    2. “As for zeke…let see , talk show , public essay the full support of cbs..yeah that strikes me as the person who wants to be only ” the survivor ” player!” If all you’re trying to do is support Varner, then why take this unnecessary dig at Zeke? Zeke said he didn’t want to be known for being trans when he was being outed. I would take him at his word for that. Whether he wants to or not, Zeke knows he is representing transgender people for a lot of uneducated people right now. He is putting on a good face and explaining his perspective after having been outed against his will. But sure, assume he is having the time of his life.

      1. What’s your point ? Am I not allowed an opinion unless it’s ” let’s kill Varner”? You’ve made your opinion known on an already discusssed item? Are you asking me to not say anything ? What bias? Because I don’t agree fully with you?

        1. Yes. Exactly because it is not “let’s kill Varner”. You got it. V. good reading comprehension.

        2. Sure, you’re allowed your own opinion, but it isn’t going to hold much weight if you can’t even grasp what this article is about or understand the flaws in your reasoning.

          Honestly if you can’t see how that linked comment depicts your bias then I think it’s safe to assume that you’re incredibly dim.

          1. Dim? Um ok…I didn’t like zeke as a player his first season…and because im emotionally not moved by this new story I’m prejudiced to what?? That he’s transgender? That’s absurd
            please tell me what and how I’m supposed to feel for Zeke to satisfy everyone’s outrage

          2. You could start with compassion for a human being that was put in a position that he didn’t want to be in. Then we could take baby steps from there. I’d be willing to have a rational discussion about it.

            I rarely agree to rational discussions, btw.

          3. I wish no Ill will for zeke…compassion can be shown to Varner too…NoT one us is perfect …we all screw up!
            ive never excused Varner for what he did. I neither here nor there on your rational discussion
            Speak your mind sir

        3. I thought Andy was good at beating up straw men, but the way you massacre them is truly impressive.

  14. And all you self righteous people on here giving zeke saint hood….you will donate your time and money to promote transgender rights and pro legislation yes? Because from the reading of all this it seems everyone has been so involved in this fight…and not just being outraged for the cause du jour!

      1. I don’t really know how Disqus works, but I am curious what happened here. Does flagging something as inappropriate send that to Disqus or to PRP? I checked the RHAP comments and saw a bunch of deleted comments and no trace of his profile, so I’m wondering if he just deleted all his comments on the incident or if Disqus removed his profile if he was flagged.

  15. Frankly, I’m concerned about what’s going to happen in this comment section as this makes its way around Survivor media, but nonetheless, this is a great and honest article @disqus_FeYRrg1QKY:disqus. Especially on highlighting that the ways in which we react to people doing hurtful things is not a “Forgiveness” and “Not Forgiveness” binary. There’s more nuance to how we consider things of this magnitude.

    I’ve already talked a bunch about what happened in this episode, but I guess I want to talk about something that just happened the other day. My uncle came to visit me the other day. He’s one of the only people in my extended family who watches Survivor, and he’s not the most progressive person. I guess I shouldn’t equivocate; he’s not progressive at all. I knew at some point I would have to talk to him about this, and I was not looking forward to it.

    We talked about why what Varner did was wrong and much more damaging than a “whoops, revealed a secret” moment, and for the most part, he seemed receptive to learning about the magnitude of what Varner did. But he said after, “I heard Varner got fired from his job. I mean, the guy’s apologized. What more do people want from him?”

    We should be clear. This is not about crucifying Varner. This reaction is about making sure that we’re not forgetting the damage that was done. If this gets boiled down to “Everyone stop being mean to Varner,” then there is absolutely no redemption of this moment. No education, no growth, nothing. If we aim for no more damage to come from this incident, then it is crucial that the original damage of the incident itself is not minimized or forgotten.

    If you read this and thought that Em was calling for people to be mean to Varner, then you missed the goddamn point. We should not be mean to Varner, but we sure as hell don’t have to be nice. We don’t have to wipe away what happened, and in fact, we cannot and must not. What Varner did was not spilled milk. It was an attack, regardless of intention, and it’s important that we underscore this so that future attacks, intentional or not, do not happen.

    1. So help me gd, if I ruin our comments section, I will NEVER forgive myself.

      Thank you for this – the last part can’t be said enough.

      1. I wasn’t even thinking outside the confines of this post.

        And thanks to you for writing this article.

      2. Trust me, it wouldn’t be you ruining the comments section. You’ve been great. The people throwing out wild accusations and inflammatory words are the ones causing the issues. There are too many voices here that engage in support and reasonable discussions, even if we don’t always agree. That will drown out the others and they will move on to the next thing.

      3. You could never ruin our comments section. We’d shut this whole place down and start up the Purpler Rock Podcast if we need to.

        Also… we got this.

    2. I think the reason so many people rush to Varner is because they identify w him and not Zeke. It’s subconscious-most folks are always secretly scared they will get into trouble for saying something inartful and unfairly get labeled a racist or transphobe etc. I think Varner’s situation is more relatable to the vast majority of Americans than Zeke’s. Zeke is the “other.” They aren’t bad folks, it’s just nature of implicit bias that needs to be called out. And we are making progress- I’m very proud of how the tribe dealt w it. Props to them! Can you imagine if this had happened even 2, 3 years ago?

      1. It’s funny, I just got out of a psych class where we discussed how babies at 5 months can indicate their biases against “the other.” You’re right that it’s a powerful subconscious process, but it’s especially strong when it manifests before the skill of walking.

        Also, I don’t want to imagine what would’ve occurred if this had happened in S30 or S32.

  16. I will have ditto the recommendation on Cameron Johnson’s article, because it is the only article that I am aware of that is written from the perspective of a trans Survivor fan. It is really fantastic.

  17. I appreciate your heart and passion on the matter. But you also seem to neglect the fact that this IS a reality tv show that was edited. There are so many scenes and pieces of information that is missing from how this whole thing played out.

    I by no means agree with what happened and have had a heavy heart for Zeke ever since finding out. I myself have been outed and I remember the feeling well. The fact it was by my own family is no better. BUT, if Zeke would be honest about the things he said at that Tribal and even the stuff he has told Jeff since being back, I think people would think differently in a lot of ways. Would they still be mad? Yes. But the fact so many are hating/bullying/sending death threats based off 20 minutes of a tv show when they don’t even know what is being covered up or what was truly said that night is baffling to me. It’s like writing a resource paper without sourcing anything.

    Again, appreciate your column and your opinion, but there is so much we clearly don’t know and I would love to see that uncovered and then revisit the topic.

    1. No one here has argued that Varner receiving harassment online is ok. But we have argued he is not the victim here. He is the perpetrator.
      It’s Survivor, people consistently lie about what they told people, who they are aligned with and what they have done in the game. But to link that to Zeke not telling people about his gender history is utterly atrocious. He can be deceptive in the game and that’s fine but Varner linked him not telling people about the fact he has transitioned to him being a deceptive person, that is hateful.

  18. The Comissioner fully supports this website. This “dishonest, blatantly anti-Christian, bigoted and skewed article on the Zeke Smith situation” has made EmAndScoutInBK a hero of mine. Time to go buy a board game on Amazon. Thanks Timmy B for reminding me on twitter that I can help keep this place alive. And thanks to the community for being who you are. This is gonna be the best #SummerOfTroyzan ever!

      1. Speaking of massive dongs, have we discussed how Scott Summers of the X-Men is a huge dick yet?

          1. Ha! I actually saw your tweet and knew you would bring it up, but I’m old! ’80s Cyclops was cool as shit!

          2. I liked him until he bagged on the X-Men after a depowered Storm bested him for leadership, and then all that stuff with him abandoning his child like he was Daniel Plainview in a movie I haven’t seen because it came out after 1997 but was called There Will Be Blood.

            Like, I hate to say it because it’s pretty cliche, but having read through the entire Claremont run and even into the Nicieza/Lobdell run, my favorite character has to be Wolverine. Not counting the Age of Apocalypse versions of the characters. Because then it’s like, pretty much everyone.

          3. Read X-Men from Claremont until Morrison (where I gave up because his changes gave me enough reason to walk away from what had been a sinking ship). Then again for Whedon. Am currently reading the Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne issues to my son.

            Cyclops now. Cyclops forever.

          4. I recently read the whole run of Morrison’s New X-Men due to people raving about it and it solidified a feeling I’d long held: I simply don’t get Grant Morrison. Whedon’s run was very good, though. Also, despite being completely out of my depth for the bulk of it, Remender’s work on Uncanny X-Force was great.

          5. I can’t even criticize Morrison. I had been hanging on out of habit. When he made sweeping changes and a time jump, the habit was broken for me.

            I’ve also been reading Bendis’ recentish stuff and digging it.

            Look at us, turning the comments on this post into nerdy comic book stuff. V. brave.

          6. I imagine you’re like that hot dog vendor, except instead you follow this site around with Simpsons memes.

            “Lady, he’s putting my kid through college.”

          7. A highlight so far of the new MST3K season for me was when they referenced stupid sexy Flanders.

          8. Remember when Cyclops picked a fight with all the X-Men who were shaken by Proteus to snap them back into being themselves even though Wolverine could’ve killed him in that state and then even Wolverine had to give him grudging respect?

            That was awesome.

          9. As a laser engineer, I feel the need to correct the spelling. It is an acronym, turned into a word, and there is no z.

          10. I want to say they’re not magic, but no matter how long I work with lasers, I still run into shit that seems like magic. I literally just saw something today that was so far beyond my comprehension that it blew my mind. Applied Physics PhDs, after a decade of research, came up with something that was almost indistinguishable from magic.

          11. I’d have felt weird if you agreed with me here. So glad to know I’m on the right side on this one.

          12. I don’t read cape comics (read Ellis’s run on Stormwatch/The Authority but that’s it) but I’ve always thought about trying Morrison’s run on X-Men because The Invisibles is my favorite comic series ever. Would his series be different for you if you didn’t have preconceived notion about what X-Men ought to be (not try to say that in a condescending way, just didn’t know a different way to phrase it.)

          13. The years I was a true X-Men reader 1989-1994 were the best! Actually, the Dark Phoenix series, which they reissued, was my all-time favorite. I was so enamored of John Byrne and also She-Hulk that I went to a signing he did. That’s right, I’ve got an autographed She-Hulk! I said it.

            I am in awe of all of your ability to remember everything though. Probably the reading again thing helps, right?

          14. A mix of things. I remember a lot of stuff (it’s my deal). I am re-reading now. And I listen to an X-Men podcast.

            I also have some of the early Byrne She-Hulks. I think I might have a Byrne autographed X-Factor annual. Which in retrospect was an odd choice since he just did the cover and wrote it. But I was a kid and in a rush. She-Hulk or West Coast Avengers would’ve been better choices.

          15. It’s just super cool that on top of being the greatest group of people on the interwebs, you’re also somewhere I could tell that tidbit and find it matters at all!

            Was he cool to you when he signed? To be honest, he was a bit of an ass at the signing I went to. I was in my early 20s and probably expected too much though.

          16. I was in my teens, and no. He was not cool. He barely looked up from the convo he was having with the store owners.

            Turns out, as I’ve come to read later, John Byne is just an asshole.

          17. Then later when he is married to Jean, he had a psychic affair with Emma Frost because of … reasons (seriously, I don’t think they ever explained why they did that). And then Scott dumped Jean for Emma in real life, again for no reason.

            Oh, and he killed Professor X.

          18. That’s true! So he left his wife for his formerly dead girlfriend and then married her and then left her for Emma Frost. And let’s not forget, his son then gets infected with the techno-organic virus and has to be sent into the future, and comes back as Cable, not to mention he has an ALTERNATE child from a future universe in Rachel Summers, *and* another alternate child in Nate Grey. Man. Cyclops could have been his own Maury episode.

          19. I don’t know how you can recite stuff like that from memory at the same time you claim to not like Grant Morrison. Or is that all stuff Morrison did?

          20. It’s not that I necessarily dislike Grant Morrison, it’s more that most of the time with his stuff, I have no idea what the hell is going on.

          21. Having no idea what’s going on is half the fun of Grant Morrison. I’ve read Invisibles three times now and every time I end it thinking “that made slightly more sense than it did the last time.”

          22. Grant Morrison is always more concerned with being clever over being coherent. I tried multiple times to read his Batman run (I’m a D.C. Guy) and have always reached a point where I declare it stupid and convoluted (although the Clown at Midnight was brilliant). Don’t even get me started on Final Crisis.

          23. I read the one where Batman’s miniature demon personality emerged or something? And was like, “Hmm.”

          24. All of Cyclops’ terrible decisions (the psychic affair, the real affair, starting a physical relationship almost immediately after Jean’s death) seem to start after he was possessed by Apocalypse (there have been so many X-events, I can’t remember which one this was). It was soon after that when Jean noticed that he was acting different.

            I can understand if the writers wanted to tweak his character, but it felt like they decided to do anything and everything to make him as unlikable as possible.

          25. Depends on the day. The other one prefers Wolverine. But he’s also only 4 years old, so I understand him not appreciating the nuance of better X-Men.

    1. What was anti-Christian about it? I mean, it’s not the other things either, but I’m always amazed at how some Christians can pull excuses for a good martyrbation session right out of their asses.

      1. Ooh, I’ve got this one. Most likely: because (certain groups of) Christians are always supposed to forgive (instead of expecting anyone to do meaningful work to remedy something), advocating against insta-forgiveness is un-Christian, and this person got their negative prefixes confused.

        Less likely but not impossible: (garbage about trans people) and so Zeke had it coming, should be grateful, etc.

        1. He responded with to my sarcastic tweet saying the title was bigoted and anti-Christian but I really don’t see how.

          1. Okay the “don’t forgive” being not Christian I guess I can get. But not being Christian is not the same as anti, and I’m still not sure where the bigotry comes in.

          2. I’m mostly just proud that I inspired that description, tbh. Like, awwwww you shouldn’t have

        1. I was going to make a joke about being cooler than an accountant from Florida, but this is neither the time nor the place for that.

          1. As a recovering Floridan, I can tell you that being cooler than anything from Florida is a bar that a toddler can go over.

        2. Hey, if it weren’t for him, I would’ve never figured out why Troy is the way he is. Also, dong puns.

          1. Of course they are. But they were mean to me on twitter. Ron Swanson? Lumberjack Dexter? My poor cat is going blind!

            I love this website.

          2. That Ron Swanson comp was totally uncalled for. He has a mustache; you have a mustache and a beard.

  19. Thanks, Em. Varner did this. Intentionally, and with purpose. And he has to take accountability for that. He needs to stop playing the victim, stop feeling sorry for himself, and own what he did and live with the consequences. He’s in this position because of–and only because of–the choices he made.

    The Beatles–or more accurately, John Lennon–sang “There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be.” I feel that’s a true sentiment, and also that it cuts both ways: we are the sum of what we do in life. This event isn’t the sum total of who Varner is, but it is a part of who he now is. To ignore it happened, or minimize the devastating impact of it, is to reduce the consequences that he should have to live with, and *that* wouldn’t be fair to Jeff, because that’s the whole point of consequences in the first place.
    On the other side of that Beatles line, Zeke is who he is as a person because of his life and experiences, and thank god for that, because he’s rad. It’s like, Zeke wouldn’t be Zeke if Zeke weren’t already Zeke.
    I swear I’m not high right now.

  20. On the “We should all forgive Varner because Zeke did argument”, I can’t help but think of a documentary I watched many years ago called, “Forgiving Dr. Mengele”. A victim of Dr. Mengele’s during the Holocaust, many years later, chose to forgive him. It was extremely controversial. The victim essentially viewed forgiving him as an act of self-healing, helping her put her horrifying past behind her. She simply thought it was the best way to stop thinking about him any more. Jeff Varner is NOT Dr. Mengele. But when I read what Zeke writes about forgiving Varner from far away, it sounds more like that type of forgiveness.

    For my own part, forgiveness doesn’t even seem like something I can offer or withhold because I’m just a bystander. I think that the criticism of Varner is warranted and he clearly hasn’t completely accepted how ugly his words were. It may take some time for Varner get the perspective needed to accept that, or he may never do it at all. It just seems to me that giving him a big group hug, rather than continuing to hold his feet to the fire will make sure he never really learns anything from this. And I’d like to thank Em for this excellent article.

  21. Thank you for writing this piece Em. It was a lot of things I needed to hear. I’ll admit this whole situation has been “hard” for me because I REALLY liked Varner. Like, I was so ecstatic to see him this season and put him on my league teams. It was tempting for me, a cisgender straight woman, to want to feel sorry for/defend him.

    But at the end of the day, what he did was inexcusable. Horrific. I may not personally identify with the experiences Zeke went through, but it doesn’t take a saint to realize what he had to go through was someone no one should ever have to go through.

    This whole thing has made me a big fan of Zeke and I’ve found no problem showing support for him. With Varner though, I’ve decided the best course for me is to stay silent. He doesn’t deserve my hate (cyberbullying, etc) but he certainly doesn’t deserve my support either. What he gets is nothing.

    1. Hear hear!
      Or, maybe here here?
      Either way doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I guess “here here” makes more sense in a “I support you, here I am!” way. But then again, “hear hear” makes sense if you’re trying to tell others “pay attention!”
      So we’ll go with that one.

      1. The world is doomed.
        (Keeping Buffy references alive since 1997 aka the year I stopped watching movies)

    1. I am definitely with the world on this one because I heard via the internet that everyone at PRP is an evil, satan worshipping bigot. Sorry guys.

      1. Wait a second, I though we were all evil, bigot worshipping Satans?

        Oh my god, I’ve been wasting my life!

        1. I suppose the two torches in the logo probably represent the inferno of hell now that I think about it. And I used to take my kids here!!!!1!!

  22. Thanks for this. I think Zeke’s reminder that disclosing your gender history is totally different from disclosing your sexual orientation is SO important; I do wonder how much Varner was projecting his sense that HE had been deceptive when he was actively closeted. :-/

    You cannot live in North Carolina, pay any attention to the conversation, and not know that “deceptive trans” is malicious. You just can’t. It’s up there even above “the gays are recruiting our kids.” And if your hungry, tired self said something malicious and stupid, you’ve got nowhere to go but contrite and embarrassed. (Now that I’ve made an account and everything I guess I’m here for real? Hi, friends.)

    1. Really good point about Varner being from NC and the recent trans battles there. Makes his “aw shucks” type of apology ring even more hollow

      1. Yeah, it actually gives him the perfect set-up for a “once I got home and was reminded that my trans friends and neighbours are at risk every day of personal and political attacks, I realized that what I thought was gameplay was MONSTROUS and I’m going to commit my time/money/network to the struggle in xyz ways” apology campaign. But that’s sure not what he did.

    2. I find it best to plunge in head first, a la Ozzy, and not like the rest of the Survivors who have no clue how to dive.

      1. I have been READING the comments for as long as there have been comments, so it’s more like, idk, Erik suddenly trying to pull off an Ozzy manoeuvre.

  23. This was well done and much needed. Thank you Em. And thank you to PRP for being a safe space.

    I’ve typed my outing story in a comment about 5 times in the last week but have been reluctant to share, at least partially because it seems trivial against what Varner did to Zeke. Part of the reason (besides the fact I post at work) I use an alias here is that I am a bi man who is not fully out. I’m out in some communities I live in and not in others. I recently found out that some people in one of the communities I’m not out in knew. I found out because another person in that community who recently came out had heard I was bi. I didn’t ask him how he knew and I still don’t know for sure, though realistically there is only one person it can be. I confronted them and they denied it. I struggle to forgive that person, punctuated by the fact that I can’t say for certain it was them. It probably seemed like nothing to out me to a gay man but it spread. I don’t know how. It put me in the position of having to tell people I wasn’t ready to tell to avoid them finding out on the street. It was fucking horrible. It took away my autonomy. I felt like I was doing damage control, which isn’t what I should have been feeling at all. I’m still kind of working through it.
    I cried watching Zeke get outed because I had experienced it on a small scale and for sexuality. For him, it was happening on national television and for gender identity, which is unfortunately much less widely accepted in today’s world. As Em said, his autonomy on this is totally gone. A Google search will now show him as “Zeke the trans Survivor,” which is clearly not what he wanted. And what really, truly gets me is that Varner should have fucking known better. If he has ever been outed to one. single. person. he knows what it feels like and yet he went ahead and did this, premeditated, knowing the effect it would have on Zeke. I don’t have to forgive Varner, I don’t have to support Varner, I hope to not to really have to think about Varner all that much ever again. I can and will support Zeke and the trans community. I will focus on what Zeke wants and that is “Zeke the Survivor player”.
    The open hatred it part of the Survivor community have been disgusting. The hopefully merely misguided statements have been concerning. If one good thing can come of this, its a discussion regarding trans rights and issues that will educate those who clearly still don’t get it, such as that which this article provides.

    1. Upvote because I love you, not because it happened to you.

      Thank you for sharing this with us. I wish I could hug you, and I’m so sorry that you went through that.

      1. Thank you. I gotta tell you, you’ve been an inspiration to me this past week addressing all this, in this article and all the comments

        1. Thank you, so much. That means so [expletive deleted] much to me. Not to be too corny, but all that anyone can hope for from sharing their experience is that it will resonate with someone else. I’m all verklempt.

    2. That fucking sucks! What a horrible way to be denied your right to tell who you pleased when you pleased. My heart aches for you.

  24. Amazing article. I’m still having a really hard time processing all of this, and I recognize that I’m coming from a position of privilege, so the fact that you’re willing to share all of your thoughts is beautiful.

    Also, scrolling through this comment section, seeing some of the more unusual comments, I’m reminded yet again of how great the PRP community is. I don’t know how I wound up on a Survivor fan site that frequently dabbles in progressive politics, but I’m really glad this place exists.

    1. It’s weird, right? I was almost ashamed to be a Survivor enthusiast until I found this place.

  25. Disclaimer: I haven’t read all the comments. I have a feeling, knowing the community we’ve formed here, that a lot of my thoughts might have already been expressed. But here they are anyways….

    For me, I’m not upset that other people have chosen to forgive Varner. That’s their opinion to draw on a situation. But for a lot of people, particularly those in the LGBTQ community like Em, this is still a very intense and raw thing. Maybe 2-3 years from now, if Varner has truly shown himself to be sincerely sorry and has taken appropriate action to show that he is a changed man, Em might be able to forgive him too. But that’s not now, and that’s probably not anytime soon.

    But what Em so carefully laid out — is that there were a LOT of people who chose to focus nearly all of their energy and sympathy towards Varner. By focusing only on his pain, it further marginalizes Zeke’s pain. It’s almost the worst kind of bigotry because it isn’t about outwardly hating, but the more subtle and indirect bigotry of treating someone like they don’t matter.

    Do I think Varner deserves to have his life ruined? No. Do I think he deserves to be harassed on social media? Hell No. Do I think he deserves to lose his job? That’s debatable. Do I think he’s really sorry? I’m honestly not sure. But he did something that, if it had been someone not as emotionally strong as Zeke, someone without the proper support system, could have been catastrophic. Zeke handled it amazingly well, but we should never forget that this NEVER SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED, and that should ALWAYS be starting point of ANY conversation about this incident.

  26. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this. People who have been wronged are always urged to forgive long before they are ready, and that is especially true of the most marginalized and oppressed. When people with more power are forgiven too readily, it lets them off the hook and makes them feel better about the hurt they’ve caused, even when they haven’t necessarily grown or changed or redeemed themselves. I can feel compassion for Varner because we are all human beings and sometimes we make terrible choices, but he is not the victim here. And I’m not convinced he truly “gets it” yet.

  27. I appreciate that PRP allowed you to share this perspective.

    I disagree completely – I absolutely believe that compassion needs to be shown to people who make mistakes, especially when they recognise the mistake made, and doubly especially when those mistakes end up defining them. I don’t believe anyone should be defined by a mistake. I also don’t think that anger achieves anything (I see a lot of people… like the Scot Pollard’s in the world…. who use that anger to justify their views just as much as they’d use compassion, so I think you’re misguided that compassion gives people an opening for hate. I think hate gives people an opening for hate, and compassion gives people an opening to make themselves look like dicks). But I like that you are given the space to post this.

    Some people will say this will define Zeke. I hope it doesn’t define Zeke either. I know, it’s not a perfect world. Personally I think this incident will define both of them. I don’t believe it should define either.

    A lot of people say Varner handled this well. No, you’re right, he didn’t. A lot of people say Zeke handled it well… well, no, I don’t think he did either. And neither would I expect him to. I’m not sure why we are so hung up on how well people handle it. It’s completely understandable that Zeke would remain angry at Varner and it’s completely understandable that Varner would try to defend himself.

    1. I agree that Varner should be shown compassion. This may sound like a semantic difference, but that doesn’t mean that he deserves forgiveness. To me, compassion is more akin to respect than forgiveness. It is compassionate not to go out of our way to harass Varner on Twitter, which I think most of us here agree we should all do. Compassion does not require giving someone respect that they have not earned. What Varner did is unacceptable, and as long as he continues to paint himself as some sort of victim, I will not be forgiving him. (And given the fact that I am not transgender, even if Varner shows remorse, I can’t forgive him unless Zeke himself publicly forgives him.)

      1. I think the real semantic difference is between forgiveness and acceptance. Forgiveness does not mean you have to acknowledge or accept that the thing you are forgiving is ok.

    2. Thank you for your very respectful disagreement.

      I think what gives me pause about offering forgiveness (not compassion, but forgiveness) to Varner is that his public statements in interviews have been very eager to explain away his reasoning or evoke sympathy for Varner himself. That, to me, does not demonstrate true remorse (Perhaps it does for you; I realize people will perceive this differently).

      1. He was asked the question, often, ‘why did you say it’. I’m not sure how else you can answer that question without it feeling like a partial defence. I myself was interested to find out why Jeff said it, and I think there is a big gap between ‘why he did it’ and ‘why it’s ok to do it’ and I think Jeff has very consistently said it was wrong to do it, even while explaining why he did.

        But in the end, I just feel it’s not for me to judge whether Jeff is genuinely remorseful or not. People suck at understanding and correctly identifying other peoples motives, yet we are very happy to act based on our own perceptions. My perception is that he is remorseful. Some people feel what he did was malicious, others don’t. To me, the fact we can’t even agree on basic aspects of his emotional response is why it’s important not to use that as the guide to our response. I’d say that concepts such as ‘compassion’ and ‘forgiveness’ are in many ways an ethical response instead of an emotional one.

        This article, I felt, argued for non-forgiveness as an ethical approach, which is probably the bit I find difficult.

        1. FWIW, I also think that Jeff has a genuine feeling of remorse, but is still battling his natural tendency to put himself over. You can feel that tension in his answers of giving contrition while still trying to grab the spotlight and then trying not to grab the spotlight. It’s a really tough spot he’s put himself in.

          The thing I keep going back to is that it’s fine that this is hard for him. It should be. And I don’t understand the impulse of many to make it easier.

          Obviously, some of it is in reaction to some of the awful things he’s had to endure from awful people. It’s unfortunate that some people don’t know how to deal with anger and turn to threats. But just because that happens, that doesn’t mean other people then have to forfeit their own anger and personal reaction to what happened.

          1. I agree completely. People shouldn’t have to forfeit their own anger. That’s a really good way of putting it. But people (such as, say Peih-Gee), shouldn’t have to forfeit their feelings either.

            This is going to be terribly hard on Jeff no matter what. If he did actually commit suicide (something he’s talked about genuinely contemplating), might you then understand the impulse of others to make it easier? As someone who has suffered from really significant mental health issues, I’ve come to realise that much of our emotional baggage is self-inflicted. I guess I have trouble understanding the impulse of people to punish others for getting things wrong and believe it’s going to help in some way. I don’t see what it achieves (other than emotional catharsis, which is a fair end goal in itself).

          2. I feel no need to punish anyone. However, when Varner offers self-serving rationalizations to minimize what he did, I do feel the need to offer reasoned criticisms of those statements, and to reiterate the damage that was done.

          3. I do understand the impulse of his friends to support him. It’s a good impulse. I might not even fully agree with all of Em’s takes on their reactions (because if I did fully agree with her, then what would be the point of highlighting another perspective?) But support for Varner in the absence of support for Zeke is an oversight at best. And not what’s happening in each of these incidents.

            Also, thank you for your input and perspective.

          4. I think what is most important here is definitely to make sure that even in supporting Varner, one acknowledges the real harm to Zeke that he did. There’s a big difference between supporting him and being his apologist.

          5. Agreed completely. And I do think a LOT of people are being the latter (not all, but definitely some). Seriously, there were people the night it aired being all “he apologized! Can’t we drop this already!!”

          6. “Support for Varner in the absence of support for Zeke is an oversight”

            Just wanted to point out this quote. It really captures a lot of my issues with people’s responses to the incident. Thanks.

    3. I appreciate the respectful dissent, and I’m absolutely on board with compassion. However, I’m not sure how Zeke has handled this badly in any way. He was the target of a very malicious attack in front of millions of TV viewers, an attack that propagated one of the most vicious stereotypes about trans people. Still, he said he forgave Varner, but chose to do so from afar. I’m baffled as to how his reaction could be described as anything but extraordinarily gracious.

      1. Some people are baffled at how Jeff’s response isn’t considered being handled well as well 🙂 Personally, I believe both handled it as well as could be expected. I don’t expect perfection from anyone.

  28. Em, Thank you sincerely for putting forth your perspective and I appreciate PRP for giving you the outlet to voice it. I applaud the courage that this post clearly took you to write.

    I cannot say that I know if I would have that same fortitude. I am sure the site itself is taking some hits for this but I tip my hat to you all for being unwavering in your support for Em and your other commenters here who have revealed some truly amazing stories. Stories and perspectives that I know I cannot fully understand as a straight white male dad.

    I have many opinions that I can’t quite articulate fully on these issues but I think I have one that is worth while and one that I I’d like to speak to.

    I have felt for quite sometime now that the discrimination against the LBGTQ community in general and the fight against that will be one of the central causes my Millenial Generation especially will be judged by. It is crucial in my option for everyone to stand up in defiance, and I can’t say I have always done the best job of that. I can say I want to do a better job of doing so. In my opinion, One of the ways to do that is to reject devices that exist for the sole purpose of distracting us from the reality of the difficulty that the LBGTQ community faces on a daily bases.

    Putting the focus of the Varner-Zeke conversation on Varner’s pain instead of Zeke’s by those who would seek to marginalize the impact of the event and outing someone in general (let alone outing someone on national tv) is one of those types of distractions that I think the article does a very good job of rejecting.

    I do think the line between compassion and forgiveness is a tricky one and I think what this article reminded me of is that premature forgiveness/acceptance can be very damaging. It can paper over the pain.

    In closing I will say, There are many problems in this world to hold our attention and conversations like this need to be had to keep this issue in our consciousness. So thank you again and stay vigilant.

    1. It is interesting that you mention distraction. Have you ever heard Toni Morrison’s definition of the purpose of racism? I heard it first about 6 months ago and it is one of the most startling and cogent things I’ve ever heard (and completely on point here too).

      “The function, the very serious function of racism, is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language, so you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly, so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Someone says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”

      1. I had not read this before but I do think it does speak closely to what point I was trying to make and what I thought Em’s article brought to light for me.

        If I think I’m interpreting Toni Morrisons words right, I could summarize it like this that acts of rascism and discrimination keep us from working toward making true change. Did you read that the same way?

        1. I think Morrison’s point is that the discourse on race as currently constructed puts the burden on people of color to prove their worth, forcing them to spend time doing that rather than doings things of worth.

          1. I like this interpretation better. I think it’s most definitely poignant in this situation. Thanks for sharing.

          2. I think that is the primary point, but I think the idea that in the doing of this we are prevented from making true change because of it is also present.

        2. Yes. and also it is because there is a constantly shifting metric or level or barrier that must be reached before those that are privileged recognize others as their equals. If you never are willing to recognize people as equal then you will never make true change

  29. Damn, I’m glad I don’t use social media, as I’ve been shielded from all that awful garbage. People are the worst.

  30. I don’t typically post here being the antisocial person that I am. But I wanted to to take a minute and say that I completely support Em and everything that you said. And to thank the PRP staff for posting this even if it could possibly bring some unwanted people to the site.

    What Varner did was disgusting, it should have never of happened, and it is something he is going to have to live with for the rest of his life.

    *returns to the shadows*

      1. I like this community, and I hope to try to be more of a part of it next season.
        I was planning on being more social this season then I got spoiled and I don’t want to accidentally spoil someone else.

        1. That’s fair. If you wanna join in when we talk nonsense or historical Survivor you should though. Sucks you got spoiled dude.

  31. Great and beautiful post Em. Don’t let assholes on the internet get to you.

    I agree with most of the write-up, the only thing I could disagree with is completely ignoring the situation Varner is right now. I didn’t listen or read any of his exit press (and I don’t plan to), but if people want to show compassion towards him, just let them, the important thing is to concentrate our thoughts towards Zeke, not Varner. And (this isn’t directed to you BTW) we shouldn’t convince people to NOT FORGIVE Varner, and we shouldn’t convince people to FORGIVE Varner, simply cause if we forgive him or not isn’t what matters. Of course people will decide if they forgive him or not, cause there isn’t any neutral in this situation, but the only person he should be concerned if he forgive or not is Zeke and transgender people, cause that malicious attack was directed towards him and all of the them, and it’s their right to do it or not (we ourselves may still not forgive him even if they did- and neither we are obliged to- but it’s their feelings that are what we have to focus on).

    But, as I said, great post Em, and I wish all of the best in your life.

  32. So, here’s the thing:

    A few of these people are straight-up attacking Zeke, and that’s indefensible. But that’s not really what’s happening here, and I think you’re looking for something more malicious from a lot of people.

    What Jeff Varner did was malicious, it preyed on the most invidious myths underlying discrimination against transgender people, and it was wrong. And everyone knows it. But good people can make mistakes and do bad things. Most people aren’t forgiving Varner (because it’s not really their place to give it) nor are they defending what he did. What they are doing, instead, is showing compassion for someone who is their friend, who is suffering in a big way.

    The stories I have heard suggest that Varner basically was broken from the moment he left that tribal council, and he’s been depressed, suicidal, and been working to atone as much as he can since he came back from Fiji. He’s not looking for the forgiveness of the public nor is he defending what he did as right. The most he’s said is that he feels surprised by what Zeke has said about him, because he and Zeke have apparently spoken extensively since filming wrapped 10 months ago, and the things Zeke wrote about him don’t match those conversations. Other than that, he’s owned up to his mistakes.

    Forgiveness is between Zeke and Varner, and between the transgender community and Varner. I’m a cisgendered man who wasn’t hurt here, and forgiveness isn’t even something on my mind. But damned if I don’t have some sympathy for a guy who has been receiving death threats and lost his job over one bad moment. Or sympathy for a guy who made one huge mistake and it made him suicidal (because I have been there before). None of that means I don’t have sympathy for Zeke, either. But from everything I have seen, Zeke’s in a good place emotionally and mentally right now, and Jeff Varner is not.

    1. I hope Zeke is in a good place emotionally and mentally, and he’s certainly been very composed in discussing it (even ending his interview with that CBS show with a joke about how his fly was down). But there’s also a common impulse to not let an attacker/abuser know that he has gotten to you. I’m not saying that’s the case with Zeke, but it’s at least something to consider.

    2. I don’t think anybody here is advocating that Varner should be made to suffer. If he truly is sorry and struggling with this as much as some have suggested, it’s not coming through terribly well because of the defensive nature of his exit press. There is *nothing* to defend. Until he can apologize without qualifications… without any “but…” tacked on, it is easy to question the sincerity.

      But again, I think the point that keeps getting lost here, is that if people want to be “ok” with Varner and even support him and help him with what he’s going through — that’s fine. But by focusing on him, and IGNORING the person who was the true victim in this scenario, that’s a gut-punch for the entire LGBTQ community, and further marginalizing them. It sends the message that cisgender instigator is still infinitely more important than the transgender victim. And that should not be OK.

      1. And I’m not saying we should focus on Jeff or ignore the victim at all. Nor are most of these people. They are saying “hey, ease off of Jeff, he’s getting destroyed and in a bad place.” (Again, not defending Scot Pollard)

        1. *You* don’t appear to be ignoring the victim, but a lot of the people Em brought up in her post have. I think that’s what bothers her so much.

          1. Yes, some are actively bashing Zeke. But not all. Just because they don’t actively tweet out their support for Zeke or tweet it out in the same tweet, that doesn’t mean they are ignoring Zeke. This is what bothers me so much about the piece: it assumes something that’s not necessarily supported by the record. I can tell you, I am sure that Mario Lanza isn’t ignoring Zeke.

          2. That’s exactly what’s supported by the record because it’s what they are doing publicly – anything else would be inferred. What they are doing publicly matters because Varner harmed an entire community. They are choosing to publicly support one person and not the other. That’s the point of that part of my piece. You don’t have to agree with me that it matters. But I’ve explained why I believe it does in my post.

          3. Is there evidence of him supporting Zeke publicly? Admittedly, I don’t follow him, but the only things I’ve seen from him in the past week have centered around supporting Varner in his difficult times.

          4. Mario Lanza’s eagerness to make jokes at Ghandia’s expense in the Thailand chapter of Historians is what made me quit that podcast, so he’s not someone I exactly count on to have a non-shitty reaction.

    3. I appreciate your respectful disagreement. I do have a couple points in response.

      I want to clarify what you meant about looking for something more malicious from a lot of people. If you meant that I WANT them to be more malicious, that is absolutely untrue, and I 100% reject that interpretation of what I have written, especially given that I’ve said repeatedly not to cyberbully Varner or harass him. However, I don’t think that’s what you meant – I think you meant that I’m seeing more malice than there is. But that’s the thing – intent isn’t impact. I don’t think people said to themselves, I’m going to try to actively hurt Zeke or the LGBTQ community, so I’ll send out this message – but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have the impact. Except for the actions of Scot Pollard, for example – that was intentional, disgusting, and there is absolutely no justification for it.

      I think Violina addressed a lot of what I would say, but my criticism was toward people who were only supporting Varner (or making problematic statements). You might not be ignoring the victim, but they were. And as for Varner, I think I made my points as to my feelings about his sincerity in my post, but as you yourself stated, what Zeke has said about his feelings are different than what Varner has said, and I’m inclined to trust Zeke. But again, I do not wish Varner any harm in any way.

  33. This is a great. Thanks for writing, Em + thanks for hosting, PRP. And thanks for sharing that last article: really appreciated reading Cameron’s perspective.

    I haven’t engaged with any other Survivor media this week, apart from reading Varner’s Parade article which made me mad and going to RHAP, seeing that the featured comment was about not allowing hate speech and thinking, probably don’t want to read some of these comments. So I’m probably approaching this from a bit of a bubble but I’m really glad your perspective is out there.

    And I appreciate the nuance here + in the comments. Of course, Varner shouldn’t be cyberbullied and I’m glad that he has people to support him privately, including other Survivors he knows. But as many have said here, having compassion for somebody is really different to giving that person a platform or to defending an outing. I used to teach in a jail and it’s a pretty central tenet for me to support people no matter what they’ve done but that’s not the same as justifying an action or saying ‘well, they’re blaming themselves more than anybody else can.’ One thing that annoyed me about Varner’s response was the idea that he can use the platform he has to be an ally for trans people and share his journey. As Zeke said, he doesn’t need a cheerleader and especially not one who outed him.

    Anyway, I’m glad this conversation is continuing + thanks again for sharing.

    1. Said it in in the predictions thread, but if you didn’t listen to Dom and Colin’s podcast this week, you should, because they managed to get another trans man on to talk about the episode from his perspective and it’s very good.

      1. Thanks – I’ve never listened to them before, but this one sounds like it’s worth tuning into.

  34. Something I’ve been thinking about a lot as I’ve followed these discussions is that I get the sense that just about every LGBTQ person on this site (and probably beyond) has at least one story of being outed, and that’s really upsetting to me. The fact is that we are, sadly, still in a place nationwide or worldwide where coming out (or being outed) is potentially a risk to someone’s well being – whether we’re talking about acceptance, career security or actual physical safety. And to be honest, even if things were perfect and every LGBTQ identity were loved and embraced fully and there were absolutely no risk, people STILL have a right to keep personal information private.

    I’m straight/cis and so there is just nothing in my life that puts me at risk this same way, but I’m also a pretty private and shy person and so I can at least understand the basic desire to divulge only as much information as you are comfortable with, regardless of how you expect others to react. Sometimes even when you know people will react positively it’s still not something you’re ready for.

    Anyway, just some free flowing thoughts for first thing in the morning. Just know that if you have ever been outed or you are living with a fear of being outed, you have my compassion and love <3

  35. @disqus_FeYRrg1QKY:disqus Thank you for this. Thank you for your passion, and for your willingness to speak your mind. Over the past week i’ve heard so many people say something to the affect of “let’s just move on; let’s put it all behind us.” I think it is invaluable that this article, your words, PRP, and even the community have said No. We are not going to move on, we are going to make a full stop, and accept the full weight of what we’ve seen. Because an incident this terrible needs to be discussed and understood.

    I believe Andy said it in the podcast, that even if they were not the best qualified to talk about this incident, they still had to. That it was a responsibility. And I couldn’t agree more. Ignoring this kind of incident and the issues of LGBTQ individuals has historically been just as damaging, because it allows individuals to ignore injustices they don’t understand or aren’t affected by. I believe it is our responsibility, as a survivor community, and a community of individuals, to discuss and dissect this issue, to provide a space for opinions to be shared and explored, and to shine a greater light on LGBTQ and specifically transgender issues. Because greater knowledge of the issues is a first step toward solving them.

    So again, thank you, and thank you to PRP. I believe the site has been an amazing safe place for these discussions. When I first started posting a few months ago, I prepared myself for more of a typical internet experience. I have since been constantly surprised by the quality of this community, and am so excited to become a part of it.

    1. I was happy to hear John & Andy add that point — that yes, not all of us can speak to the LGBTQ experience directly, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have anything to add to the conversation. In fact, it is pivotal that allies speak up if anything is ever to get better.

      1. I agree. I also think it was very important for them specifically to address it. If John & Andy had decided they were not qualified, and decided not to address it, even if this is out of respect for the situation, it sets a precedent. It indirectly says that this incident won’t be discussed here, and it perpetuates a trend of marginalizing or ignoring LGBTQ, specifically transgender, issues. Instead, they tackled it head on, and then fostered further discussion in a safe place. They deserve a lot of credit for that.

        1. Exactly. I would never presume to give my opinion more weight than someone who has the direct experience, but it doesn’t mean my opinion doesn’t carry any validity.

  36. Em, this is a fantastic article and thank you so much for writing it. There’s thing I want to disagree with and it’s a small disagreement but I can’t in good conscience not say it:

    “This is probably the worst moment in Survivor history.”

    I can’t agree because Hatch and Sue happened and Ted and Ghandia happened. I’m not saying those things were worse. They were bad in different ways. Outing and sexual assault are both horrific violations of personal autonomy that can’t even be compared and I don’t want to begin comparing them. They are three completely terrible and unacceptable acts embedded in Survivor’s history and I don’t feel like it’s possible to rank them.

      1. Thanks. Sexual harassment was my focus in law school and I actually have a lot of thoughts percolating about the difference in the Survivor community’s reaction to this vs. those incidents that I think come down to more than it was ten years ago and times were different. I just haven’t posted them yet because this week needed to be a moment for the LGTBQ community and I didn’t want to step on that, but I’m probably gonna drop a massive post in the liveblog thread tonight.

        1. I’m…well…not looking FORWARD to it, but I’m really interested in reading your thoughts.

          1. It’s gonna be messy because we’re talking about something I’ve written long research* papers on that I need to condense into a few paragraphs but I’m gonna try to do it. I tried to do a short version just now and realized even my short version was getting long because there’s so much to encapsulate.

            *law school papers aren’t real research papers

          2. Can you just post it here tomorrow? The live blog pages get derailed enough as it is. Still eager to read.

          3. Yeah, the liveblog is what, over 1000 comments these days? I’ll still find it though, because I waste way too much time on that page.

    1. “They are three completely terrible and unacceptable acts embedded in Survivor’s history and I don’t feel like it’s possible to rank them.”

      This is exactly why I ended up not blogging this week. My normal move is listicles and I knew I ABSOLUTELY wasn’t about to do that for a multitude of reasons. I still had a lots of thoughts, but hadn’t been able to crack how to form them into a cogent argument. Luckily Em stepped up with her wonderful article.

  37. Getting a lot of new followers on Twitter from this site since this was posted.

    Something something single twig breaks something something bundle of twigs is strong.

    1. “Something something single twig breaks something something bundle of twigs is strong.”

      I go back and forth on whether this particular metaphor has been permanently ruined by its relationship to fascism, but at this point in history I am super iffy about using it.

      1. Fascism? Uh-oh.

        I’m sure I learned it from a Star Trek episode, but I can’t remember which one (or which series) it was.

        1. It’s been used in so many non-fascist contexts that its relationship has been diluted, which is why I said I’m iffy on it, but the fasces, an emblem of a bundle of sticks tied together, was the symbol of rule by group power in Republican Rome and where the Fascist Party got its name from.

  38. Adam has actually been the survivor most on point over the past week

    – He called out reddit for mostly focussing on Varner’s state after the incident
    – He called out other survivors on social media who posted crap about Zeke. Even called out PG for liking a pre-transition Zeke pic (referred above in the article)
    – Most importantly he has correctly said multiple times that Varner is not the one who needs support from online survivor fans and community. He needs to actually stay away from the internet for a while and get support from his friends and family. Focusing so much on Varner, absolutely turns him into the victim and sends the wrong message to the trans-community.

    1. *Pedantry alert*

      Well, second most on point after Zeke. Zeke has handled a terrible situation with ludicrous poise and great wisdom, and we shouldn’t lost sight of that in reconstructing the reactions to the reactions and the reactions to the reactions to the reactions.

      But yes, Adam has been a model for real, substantive allyship in the past week. Go Adam.

    2. Adam is so in live with the PRP hive mind we really need to get him to start commenting here.

      …unless one of us is Adam the rest of us don’t know it…

          1. I have no interest in basketball. My friends told me that I looked like Jeff Hornacek and I needed an account name for something (years ago) so I used Hornacek, and it stuck, Besides that he played for the Utah Jazz, and I think he’s a coach now, I know nothing about the man.

      1. Awww this reminds me of the old AVC days when we were convinced Cochran was one of the commenters.

    3. Adam has been wonderful about calling people out and addressing them directly. I really respect him for it.

  39. Calling out Mario Lanza is completely wrong. As a friend of his for bout 15 years, he always makes a point to not speak hate or attack anyone by focusing on the editing of the show and the characters and moments created by it–not the real people involved. In fact, his tweet was a brief statement about expressing empathy for a real person, and you called him out for what he DiDN’T say.

    Using the metric of what people don’t say as reason for calling them out is at best dangerous and at worst disingenuous. There is lots wrong with the world. It’s not humanely feasible to address it all. I understand the issues written about here are important to you, but that doesn’t make them necessarily important enough to attack people over.

    In conclusion, this article doesn’t address up cancer (breast or testicular), Autism, or Syrian refugees. 1/10.

  40. I missed this when it went up, but this is a really powerful and important post. No one should be prioritizing Varner’s feelings in the public discussion of this, especially when that discussion includes further attacks on Zeke that Varner’s actions exposed him to.

  41. “It’s hard when the people you know don’t measure up. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t hold them accountable.”

    This. It happens more often than we’d like in life, but we need to be able to deal with it productively.

  42. 2 days late (and a dollar shy) but I just want to say thank you Em for writing this. There is much that I don’t particularly agree with, but in the end that doesn’t matter to me because I admire the passion and heart and openness you’ve brought to this topic. And it led to a really interesting and often very supportive thread (minus the trolls) which I just finished reading and enjoyed because of all of the empathy displayed (minus the trolls).

    My own perspective on this is that Zeke was victimized by Varner in that moment, but he is not a victim. (Not saying that you consider him as a victim either.) I see him as a really strong guy who has come out of a terrible situation even stronger. Perhaps though I am glass half-full because I work with some amazing trans men whose trans identity would not even make the top 10 of a list that defines who they are; perhaps because one of my most cherished friends is a trans man. It’s easy for me to have a more positive outlook on this because I am provided examples of such strength on a daily basis, and I see that in Zeke. So it is hard for me to summon up feelings about this situation other than admiration for how everyone (minus Varner) handled it.

    The feelings I have about Varner are more vague because I don’t particularly want to think about him – mainly feelings of disappointment, pity, and disgust. As far as forgiveness goes, that doesn’t even come into it for me because who am I to forgive him. I’m not a part of what happened to Zeke. But when I learned of his suicidal thoughts and the pile-on of cyber-bullying, I understood the urge that his friends had to support him publicly. Of course I don’t agree with trying to rationalize away his actions (or what sounds like his continued attempt to paint himself as one of two victims in this situation, which is laughable) but I get why people support him openly. I hope that my friends would do that for me if I was to make such a horrific mistake in public. And I’m also disappointed to learn from this article that there has apparently not been an even larger outpouring of support for Zeke. Frankly I’m surprised at that, but hey, ‘Merica. I shouldn’t be so surprised.

    I also love that despite what Varner did to Zeke, his character on Survivor remains villainous rather than now being some kind of unicorn full of sparkling love, teaching us all about diversity. He just betrayed Andrea and Cirie! What a jerk! What a great villain.

    I have to say that the most disappointing thing to read in your great article was the fact that there were photos leaked of pre-transition Zeke, and then liked. It’s amazing how low some people will go. Yet another good reason for congratulating myself on not following celebrities and reality tv contestants.

    Anyway, thank you again for writing this.

  43. What a sanctimonious irritant you are ! Who are you to dictate to anyone what when and how they are to feel? If his friends survivors or not want to offer to support to Varner that’s their business! It seems like YOU by force want everyone to publicly throw zeke a parade… he’s a trans man like millions of others outed in a tv show not beaten up on the street …so back off ! Talking about privilege is always so easy…zekes is a white male…he has far more privilege than most of us in community will ever experience!

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