'Survivor' host Jeff Probst responds to transgender outing backlash

Katie Couric
Global Anchor

By Alexandra Zaslow

On Wednesday night’s episode of “Survivor,” the world watched as one contestant outed another as transgender.

During an emotional tribal council with the group, Jeff Varner turned to fellow contestant Zeke Smith and asked, “Why haven’t you told anyone here that you’re transgender?”

“Survivor” host Jeff Probst spoke exclusively with Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric about his reaction.

“Everybody there had to replay in their head what they had just heard. I was the same way; I think Zeke was the same way,” Probst said. “It was a moment of ‘this just happened… I did hear what I think I just heard.’”

Probst sees firsthand how much these contestants rely on each other while living together in the jungle.

“To have that kind of breach, to have that betrayal, which was so beyond anything that happens on ‘Survivor,’ I think shocked everybody, and that moment of realization then unloaded on Jeff Varner,” Probst said. “That is not appropriate. It’s not OK ever for any reason, especially because we’re playing a game for a million dollars.”

Probst has known Varner for 17 years and never would’ve predicted he would say anything like what he said.

“His reaction is the only one you can take and that he’s owning it,” Probst said. “There’s absolutely no way to excuse it or justify it, and now he’s trying to make this a moment to do his part to say this is what happens when you make a careless remark that you don’t think much about, the kind of damage it can do.”

In a statement to Yahoo News, CBS said, “After the tribal council scene in last night’s SURVIVOR was filmed, we consulted with Zeke Smith and with GLAAD in advance of the broadcast, including the issue of how Zeke would tell his story after the episode aired. This is his second consecutive season on SURVIVOR. From his first season through the current edition, we have always been guided by the principle that this is his story to tell, and it remains so.

“We support how Jeff Probst and the producers handled a very sensitive situation and marvel at the grace Zeke exhibited under extraordinary circumstances. We also have respect for how Jeff Varner has expressed remorse for his mistake, both in the episode and in his subsequent dialogue with the media. In the end, we believe this episode, accompanied by Zeke’s own remarkable writing and speaking on the subject, has provided an unexpected but important dialogue about acceptance and treating transgender people with respect.”

“I’ve never been more proud to be a part of ‘Survivor’ than I am at this moment,” Probst said. “I’ve never been more proud to be led by someone like Zeke.”

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