WARNING: There are spoilers ahead for the current season of US survivor.
The Survivor contestant who was dramatically kicked off the show after the "worst act in 34 seasons" says he "deserves" the backlash he's copping.
Jeff Varner, 50, publicly outed 28-year-old Zeke Smith as transgender during Tribal Council, earning the wrath of his fellow contestants, host Jeff Probst and the viewers. As Varner left the show, he broke down in tears and confessed to his mistake.
"Nobody on this planet should do what I did tonight - ever," he said. "And I am so sorry to anybody I offended, especially Zeke, and his family and his friends. I can't talk. I'm sorry."
He tweeted a more thorough apology as the episode aired on TV, calling the incident "the worst decision" of his life.
"Yep, I did that," Varner said. "I recklessly revealed something I mistakenly believed everyone already knew. I was wrong and I make no excuses for it. I own responsibility in what is the worst decision of my life."
"Zeke has every right to react however he needs to react. I give him all the space in the world to do that. If he wants to shoot me, I'll hand him the gun. I deserve this," he added in an interview with Buzzfeed.
In a guest column published on The Hollywood Reporter, Smith told readers he's "not wild about" the world now knowing he's transgender, and recounted in vivid detail the events of the tribal council.
"I remember walking into Tribal Council that night. I remember the smell of the kerosene in our torches. I remember the smug smirk on his face and the gleam in his eye when he turned to me and snarled, 'Why haven't you told anyone that you're transgender?'" he wrote.
"The lights magnified in brightness. The cameras, though 30 feet away, suddenly felt inches from my face. All sound faded. Something primal deep inside me screamed: run. I lost control of my body, my legs bounced up and down uncontrollably, willing me to flee, but the rest of me sat dead as stone.
"To my left was The Abyss. I could've made a clean break for it, but I knew there was no running from what had happened. Cameras would follow me, if not that night, then eventually. Running was not an option. So I sat blank, almost in a trance, unaware of what happened around me, trying to form a plan."
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, host Jeff Probst said he knew he had to take decisive action when the events unfolded.
"In 34 seasons of Survivor, I have rarely, if ever, personally commented on what is said or done in the game. But this is a unique situation that falls outside the normal boundaries. I cannot imagine anyone thinking what was done to Zeke was okay on any level, under any circumstances, and certainly not simply because there was a million dollars on the line," he said.
"I think the response from the tribe, as it so often does, mirrors what the vast majority of society will feel. You just don't do that to someone."
HOW IT UNFOLDED
Through the first six episodes of this season, Varner and Smith had forged a close friendship. That all changed at the Tribal Council, with Varner feeling the heat as he knew he was likely to be voted out.
Attempting to get the target off his back, Varner encouraged his fellow contestants to cast a more critical eye on Smith. Turning to Smith, he posed a question: "Why haven't you told anyone you are transgender?"
Smith had kept his gender identity a secret, Varner told his fellow contestants, proving that he could not be trusted in the game.
"It reveals the ability to deceive," he told them.
As Smith sat stunned that his gender identity had just been outed in front of his castmates - not to mention a worldwide TV audience - it was immediately clear that Varner's move had backfired. The other contestants howled him down, several becoming extremely emotional as they grappled with what he'd just done.
Speaking to Probst, Varner seemed to grasp that he'd made a terrible mistake, and attempted to backtrack.
"I'm not saying, Jeff, that transgender people are deceptive," he said, to which Probst scoffed: "You're saying that by not revealing it, he's capable of deception. That's a giant leap of logic. Do you honestly not see that?"
After checking with the contestants to see that their feelings were unanimous, Probst said there was no need for a formal vote. It was clear who had to leave the island.
"We don't need to vote, just grab your torch," he told Varner.
After taking some time to compose himself, Smith spoke to his fellow contestants, explaining why he'd, until that point, kept his gender identity private.
"There are questions people ask. People want to know about your life and they want to know about this and that. It sort of overwhelms everything else that they know about you ... One of the reasons why I didn't want to lead with that is I didn't want to be, like, the trans Survivor player. I wanted to be Zeke the Survivor player."
"It's really not cool," he said of Varner outing him on television.
"But... I'm fine."
Horrified viewers took to social media, echoing the sentiments of those on the show.