Last week, before a cyclone and a family emergency got in the way, I was going to open my recap by crowning Zeke the new queen of Survivor for his ousting of Sandra. But given what happened tonight, and knowing what we know now, it seems a more than a little crass. Ladies and Gentlemen, the King of Survivor, Ezekiel Smith.
I’m not going to sit here and pour vitriol over Jeff Varner, not go in to why what he did was so wrong. I’m sure he’s been eaten away by guilt and regret ever since the event happened, and I have no desire to add more negativity to the situation. Instead I’m going to talk about every single other person in Tribal Council that night, and how proud I was of them.
When the theme of Millenials vs Gen X was announced, I started cringing straight away. I imagined seeing the Millenials – either my own generation or the one immediately above me, depending on what system you use – being portrayed as a bunch of vapid, technology-obsessed slackers. And although there were a few such people (*cough* Kappa Kappa Survivor *cough*), I was heartened to see how many hardworking, intelligent people were on the tribe. Tonight, I was even more proud when Millenial Tribe alum Zeke spoke calmly and graciously, showing forgiveness and comforting the very person who had done him such injury. I always liked Zeke, for his ability to connect with people in the game, and for his habit of wearing Hawaiian shirts and dinosaur boardies. After his behaviour tonight, I like him even more, for his graciousness, his spinning this horrible thing that happened to him into something positive, and his ability as a wordsmith – taking the challenge word ‘metamorphosis’, and applying it to his own personal journey, both as a Survivor player, and as a transgender individual.
I was also gladdened to see how Zeke’s tribemates, after their brief moment of shock, unanimously leapt to his defence. The Transgender community are a group who, it seems, are only recently becoming more visible, and they are a very vulnerable group; the target of politicians’ fear mongering to gain votes, and the victims of hate crimes including murder. Even one of their most iconic spokespeople, Jazz Jennings, has to use a pseudonym to protect herself and her family. And so how wonderful it was to see five people from all walks of life, who have spent the past seventeen days competing against each other, came together to defend another human being. Debbie, unexpectedly, was the voice of reason, being the first to speak up that Zeke’s gender history was a private matter, outside of the game. The notion that transgender people are deceptive, and that they have a duty to tell people about their gender history plagues the community. The fact that all five people, without hesitation, said that, no, Zeke was not duty bound to tell them, and that they weren’t owed an explanation was beautiful to see.
Finally, Jeff Probst handled the situation beautifully, seamlessly stepping down from his role of reality TV host, and becoming the mediator for a group of people after a very ugly confrontation. So many hosts would have manipulated the situation to create drama, pitting people against each other. But Probst had the decency and insight to realise that this moment was bigger than the game, as evidenced by his decision to dispense with the ritual of voting, and allow Varner to remove himself. I’m always impressed with how quick Jeff is to pick up on people’s body language, and ask intuitive questions, but this incident really highlighted just how good he is at reading people and reading a situation, and navigating it with sensitivity and class.
Like Zeke said, it was a shame that it had to come out this way, and I think given the choice, Zeke would have chosen to keep this aspect of his story private, I sincerely hope that Zeke being outed will demystify what it means to be transgender, and whether that can give comfort to someone struggling with their own gender identity, or people like Sarah, who don’t know much about this community in the first place, and in that this chapter in Survivor history will have a positive end.
P.S. If it weren’t for what happened at Tribal Council, this recap would totally have been about how awesome Hali was for working out that challenge, and how thrilled I am that things are looking up for Aubrey.