CBS Stands By Decision To Air Transgender Outing On “Survivor”

Zeke Smith on “Survivor”

CBS is standing by its decision to broadcast the very personal revelation that occurred in this week’s Survivor “tribal council” when contestant Jeff Varner outed Zeke Smith as transgender.

Here’s the statement from CBS released to The Hollywood Reporter:

“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,” the network said in a statement. “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 [host] Jeff Probst and the producers handled a very sensitive situation and marvel at the grace Zeke exhibited under extraordinary circumstances. We have also 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 know there’s been discussion among LGBT activists about whether it was exploitive to include the “outing” in the Survivor episode.

My personal feeling is that, since this was done with Smith’s blessing, it’s a good thing.

Not only did the incident highlight how terrible outing transgender folks is, Smith handled the moment with so much dignity, that I think this was a positive for the trans community.

Plus, the reactions of outrage by his fellow contestants showed much broad support for the trans community.

If you haven’t read Zeke’s terrific personal essay about not only the experience of Survivor as a whole, but Varner’s outing of him, you really need to click here and read it.

Transgender Contestant Outed On “Survivor”

I’ve been watching the CBS reality competition Survivor since the very first season. One of the very few shows we’ve been loyal viewers of for years, hubby Michael and I will wait to watch episodes together if we happen to be apart on Survivor nights.

The social discourse is often fascinating to me. The degree that contestants will go, whether physical or social, to win a million dollars reveals much about who they are – good and bad.

But at last night’s tribal council, 3-time player Jeff Varner, who is gay himself, chose to out fellow competitor Zeke Smith as transgender. Truly the lowest move any competitor has made in the show’s 34 seasons.

While this reveals the worst in Varner, the reaction from Smith’s fellow competitors is deeply moving.

I should say up front that GLAAD’s Transgender Media Program worked with Zeke Smith and CBS for several months to ensure that when the episode aired Zeke would have the opportunity to speak for himself about his experience.

From the Daily Beast:

Zeke Smith didn’t want to be known as the “first transgender Survivor star.” Now, another contestant has taken that choice away. During Wednesday night’s episode of Survivor: Game Changer, which finds contestants from previous seasons returning to the “reality” competition show, Jeff Varner unexpectedly outed the 29-year-old Smith as a transgender man.

“Why haven’t you told anyone here you’re transgender?” Varner pointedly asked Zeke, in front of their team at the tribal council, where they were about to vote to eliminate one of their number from the show.

Varner was immediately condemned by the other members of the “tribe” who shouted things like, “That’s personal!” and, “You didn’t have to do that!” and, “Nobody has the right to out anybody.” Tai Trang, a 51-year-old gay gardener, was particularly outraged and leapt to Smith’s defense.

Watch the full tribal council below:

I’ll start with this: no one who “argues for the rights of transgender people every day,” as Varner argues in his defense, would ever utter the sentence, “Why haven’t you told anyone here you’re transgender?”

No one.

There’s something profoundly broken in Jeff Varner that, in his desperation to win $1 million, he could out someone as transgender. His tactic here was to connect being transgender with “deception.” Think on that for a minute.

“There is deception here. Deceptions on levels, Jeff, that these guys don’t even understand. Why haven’t you told anyone that you’re transgender?” said Varner.

His disconnect becomes even more apparent when, in realizing that his strategy backfired, he immediately looks for absolution. “I don’t want the perception to be that I’m this evil hateful person,” he said.

I won’t pile on Varner – he can sort this out for himself – but I will say I hope he can heal this thing inside him that is so damaged.

One of the most moving moments – and one which explains why it was important that CBS share this – is when contestant Sarah Lacina finally spoke:

“I’m just thankful that I got to know Zeke for who Zeke is. I’ve been with him for the last 18 days, and he’s like super-kickass. And you know I’m from the Midwest, I come from a very conservative background, and so it’s not very diverse when it comes to a lot of gay and lesbian and transgender and things like that. So I’m not exposed to it as much as most of these people are, and the fact that I can love this guy so much, and it doesn’t change anything for me makes me realize that I’ve grown, huge, as a person.”

“I’m sorry that it came out that way. But I’m glad that it did. And like I’m so glad that I got to know you for Zeke and not, you know, what you were afraid of us knowing you as. And I’ll never look at you that way.”

Smith’s reaction was strikingly human. And his ability, in the moment, to bring the conversation around to the idea of “metamorphosis” was profound.

Smith  has had months since the event to gather his thoughts, and he’s done so to exceptional degree in a personal essay shared by The Hollywood Reporter.

I encourage you all to read the entire piece as it not only provides a window into Survivor as a game, but Smith’s journey as a transgender man.

Here’s just an excerpt:

[But] in calling me deceptive, Varner invoked one of the most odious stereotypes of transgender people, a stereotype that is often used as an excuse for violence and even murder. In proclaiming “Zeke is not the guy you think he is” and that “there is deception on levels y’all don’t understand,” Varner is saying that I’m not really a man and that simply living as my authentic self is a nefarious trick. In reality, by being Zeke the dude, I am being my most honest self — as is every other transgender person going about their daily lives.

I don’t believe Varner hates trans people, just as I don’t believe conservative politicians who attack trans people actually care where we use the bathroom. For both, trans people make easy targets for those looking to invoke prejudice in order to win votes. Thankfully, my tribemates rebuffed his hateful tactics. After 18 days starving and competing with me, they knew exactly the man I am, and after that Tribal Council, we all knew exactly the man Varner is.

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

But, if we’re being perfectly honest with one another, I’ve struggled with that forgiveness in the months following. I can’t foresee us sipping martinis together in Fire Island. While I can reconcile the personal slight of him outing me, I continue to be troubled by his willingness to deploy such a dangerous stereotype on a global platform.

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

Varner wrote in a statement he posted on Twitter, “Yep. I did that. And I offer my deepest, most heart-felt apologies to Zeke Smith, his friends and life allies, his family and to all those who my mistake hurt and offended.”

Behind The Scenes At The SURVIVOR Finale Tonight

Michael backstage before the season finale of SURVIVOR

My handsome hubby, Michael, is volunteering behind the scenes today at the SURVIVOR finale.

He is helping the cast sign different pieces of memorabilia that will be up for auction after the show ends tonight, will all proceeds going to The Danny Strong Fund at Boston Children’s Hospital.

The Danny Strong Fund at Boston Children’s Hospital supports the nation’s top-ranked Heart Center and its mission to heal children’s hearts. Donations to the Danny Strong Fund advance world-class research that’s leading to better, more effective treatments for patients with cardiomyopathy and other congenital heart diseases.

On top of volunteer work we both care about, Michael and I are both major fans of SURVIVOR going all the way back to season one.

Michael’s been texting me pics with many of our favorite contestants this year. Way, way cool.

Make sure you tune in tonight on CBS for the finale. Starts at the beginning of primetime – 8pmET/7pm CT and 8pm on the west coast. I’ll definitely be watching!

Our favorite this season! Super-Survivor Joe!

Michael shows Joe what items to sign for the auction

Kelly Wigglesworth – the season one runner-up! She should have won!

Michael models this year’s immunity necklace

Fan favorite Spencer and Michael

Michael with another fan favorite – Keith!

Michael with Jeremy, who’s modeling BOTH of his immunity necklaces from this season

Rock Band Survivor To Kim Davis: We Wouldn’t Grant Her The Rights To Charmin, Let Alone Our Song

Remember that time the rock band Survivor gave permission to Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis to use as her “victory” music at the rally held for her yesterday?

Yeah, neither do Survivor band members Jim Peterik and Frankie Sullivan.

After the music was played to celebrate her release from jail for breaking the law, the internet was a bit agog at the song’s usage. Here’s just a sample:

But it was band members Peterik and Sullivan who really got incensed.

Peterik sent this statement to Billboard – “I was very surprised and dismayed at the misuse of the song I co-wrote with Frankie Sullivan for Rocky lll,” he said. “The song has motivated thousands through the years to reach beyond their limits. Its use for the release of Kim Davis does not support my views or my politics. I have contacted my publishers to make sure this usage is stopped immediately.”

And Sullivan took to his Facebook page with this: “NO! We did not grant Kim Davis any rights to use “My Tune -The Eye Of The Tiger.” I would not grant her the rights to use Charmin!”

By the way, since it’s release in 1982, “Eye Of The Tiger” has sold over 9.5 million physical and digital copies. The song topped the Billboard chart for six weeks, earned an Grammy Award, a People’s Choice Award and an Academy Award nomination.

New “Survivor” cast members – Josh and Reed

Meet Josh (the blond) & Reed (the brunette). This dating couple from NYC, who are both Broadway performers, will be competing on the new season of Survivor for the million dollar prize.

Reed and Josh both feel that because they are “fun” folks won’t be so quick to vote them off. Although, Reed doubts Josh’s ability to fool people saying he doesn’t have a good poker face.

The couple also mention that their shared faith – both are Christian – is a big part of their relationship.

Check out the duo below, and tune in for the Season Premiere of Survivor: San Juan del Sur – Blood vs. Water Wednesday, September 24th at 8/7c. Only CBS

SURVIVOR announces new season cast: “Brains vs Beauty vs Brawn”

CBS’ Survivor is back this February for its 28th season with 18 brand-new castaways divided into three tribes of “Brains vs. Beauty vs. Brawn.”

The CBS reality staple returns to the Cagayan province of the Philippines and is the first season without any returning players since 2012’s One World.

Thank god.

Via TV Guide, here’s the full list of contestants:

Brawn Tribe (Aparri)

Cliff Robinson
Age: 46
Hometown: Newark, N.J.
Occupation: Former NBA All-Star

Lindsey Ogle
Age: 29
Hometown: Kokomo, Ind.
Occupation: Hairstylist

Sarah Lacina
Age: 29
Hometown: Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Occupation: Police Officer

Tony Vlachos
Age: 39
Hometown: Jersey City, N.J.
Occupation: Police Officer

Trish Hegarty
Age: 48
Hometown: Needham, Mass.
Occupation: Pilates Instructor

Yung “Woo” Hwang
Age: 29
Hometown: Newport Beach, Calif.
Occupation: Martial Arts Instructor

Brains Tribe (Luzon)

David Samson
Age: 45
Hometown: Plantation, Fla.
Occupation: President, Miami Marlins

Garrett Adelstein
Age: 27
Hometown: Santa Monica, Calif.
Occupation: Pro Poker Player

J’Tia Taylor
Age: 31
Hometown: Chicago, Ill.
Occupation: Nuclear Engineer

Kassandra “Kass” McQuillen
Age: 41
Hometown: Tehachapi, Calif.
Occupation: Attorney

Latasha “Tasha” Fox
Age: 37
Hometown: St. Louis, Mo.
Occupation: Accountant

Spencer Bledsoe
Age: 21
Hometown: Chicago, Ill.
Occupation: Student

Beauty Tribe (Solana)

Alexis Maxwell
Age: 21
Hometown: Addison, Ill.
Occupation: Student

Brice Johnston
Age: 27
Hometown: Philadelphia, Penn.
Occupation: Social Worker

Jefra Bland
Age: 22
Hometown: Campbellsville, K.Y.
Occupation: Miss Kentucky Teen USA

Jeremiah Wood
Age: 34
Hometown: Dobson, N.C.
Occupation: Male Model

LJ McKanas
Age: 34
Hometown: Boston, Mass.
Occupation: Horse Trainer

Morgan McLeod
Age: 21
Hometown: San Jose, Calif.
Occupation: Ex-NFL Cheerleader

Survivor: Blood vs Water – Colton Cumbie the day after [SPOILER]

Caleb Bankston, who recently died in a train accident, comforts boyfriend Colton Cumbie during "Survivor: Blood vs Water"

On last night’s Survivor: Blood vs. Water, viewers were treated to a meltdown out of nowhere from gay Republican Colton Cumbie the likes of which have never before been seen on the show.

Welling up with tears, Colton begins blubbering that he didn’t want to be in the game anymore. During the exchange with host Jeff Probst, it was revealed that Colton feigned an appendicitis in his previous season.

The melt-down starts at the 2:00 mark.

In the second clip, Colton tries to rationalize what happened and then spins it into some “strategy” to help his hunky, cubby boyfriend Caleb Bankston.

Not buying that from a two-time quitter.  I’m a big fan of the show and I’m personally glad I don’t have to watch Colton on the show ever again.  When the going gets tough, Colton gets out.  No respect for that.

Birthday greeting from SURVIVOR’s Jeff Probst

I watched the season premiere of “Survivor: Blood vs Water” last night.  I never miss a season and it was an excellent premiere.  Great new twists and definitely having loved ones in the mix is going to make for new challenges in terms of scheming and alliances.

Watching reminded me I never shared a piece of my 50th birthday celebration that is tied to being a fan of “Survivor” since it began.  And it’s pretty fab.

Back in July, I celebrated my 50th birthday with a surprise bowling party and a small group of longtime friends. (p.s. PERFECT birthday party!)

My husband somehow arranged for this 50th birthday greeting from the fab Jeff Probst of the hit TV show “Survivor.”

And on top of it all, he’s ON LOCATION with “Survivor” when he taped the greeting.

This was just one of many amazing greetings Michael collected from people who participated in my first 50 years. It was a great birthday gift 🙂

Survivor: Ethan Zohn & Jenna Morasca announce break up

People Magazine is reporting Survivor winners Ethan Zohn and Jenna Morasca have decided to end their long-time relationship:

“It is with much consideration and a heavy heart that we are announcing that after 10 years of a loving relationship, the decision was made to move on without each other,” the couple said in an exclusive statement to PEOPLE Monday morning.

“We will carry with us the memories of a relationship grounded in love, laughter, support and friendship,” the statement continued. “We have experienced some of life’s greatest joys and toughest challenges together and our decision to be apart can never diminish that. We want to thank everyone for their support and we ask that our privacy be respected as we move forward.”

Morasca, 32, and Zohn, 38, have gone through an emotional journey over the years since meeting as winners of Survivor. She won Survivor: Amazon while he won Survivor: Africa. They also competed together on The Amazing Race, and starred on their own show, Everyday Health.

Most memorably, Zohn chronicled his very moving battle with Hodgkins lymphoma here on PEOPLE.com – from diagnosis to remission to its return in 2011. He underwent a stem-cell transplant in February 2012, and through it all, Morasca was by his side as both were outspoken supporters of cancer survival and detection. Zohn even ran the New York City marathon in 2011 in support of a cure.