Fans were stunned when contestant Zeke Smith was outed as transgender by Jeff Varner on last week’s episode of Survivor — and the shock waves from that emotional reveal continue to play out on Wednesday’s episode.
Picking up just after Varner was unceremoniously voted out of the game, Wednesday’s episode began with Smith and his tribemates back at camp.
“I come from a very conservative background. I don’t know any transgender people until now. And the fact that I’ve been with Zeke and gotten to know him as a person from day one, I love that guy. And it doesn’t change who he is to me. If anything, it makes us stronger, I feel. I woke up this morning, and Zeke is Zeke,” said Sarah Lacina, who, along with her fellow tribemates, came to Smith’s defense last week when Varner attempted to paint Smith as “deceptive” because he had remained quiet about his gender history.
“I didn’t want people to cry and yell,” Zeke told his tribemates. “I was very touched by how everyone responded.”
“Survivor, it makes you tough, it makes you resilient, and it makes you adaptable,” Smith, 29, said in a confessional. “I think I had all those qualities before, but they’ve certainly been strengthened and grown. And I think I was able to be a little more brave, and a little bolder, to help others, and also to get over my own fears and to get over my own issues and complexes and insecurities of being transgender.”
“It is heartening in this game … that people who are out to get you in some regard do come to your defense,” Smith continued. “But in the meantime, there’s still a task at hand. A task that I’m rather committed to. I’m here to win a million dollars. I’m here to play Survivor. So let’s just get back to it.”
Survivor airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS. To get Survivor contestant — and PEOPLE Now host — Andrea Boehlke’s take, tune in to her PEN Fan Forum: Survivor show immediately after the reality show airs.