Jeff Varner says he sincerely regrets outing Zeke Smith as a transgender man on Survivor.
Varner, 50, tweeted an apology to Smith, 29, following news that Varner had outed Smith as transgender before Smith had the opportunity to reveal the news himself, if he had chosen to do so.
“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,” Varner began.
He continued: “I recklessly revealed something I mistakenly believed everyone already knew. I was wrong and make no excuses for it. I own responsibility in what is the worst decision of my life.”
“Let me be clear, outing someone is assault,” he added. “It robs a strong, courageous person of their power and protection and opens them up to discrimination and danger. It can leave scars that haunt for a lifetime. I am profoundly sorry. Zeke is a wonderful man and I will forever be amazed and inspired by his forgiveness and compassion. I thank God for that and the gift of being an example as to why you should never do what I did.”
Smith tells PEOPLE he did not want to be the “first transgender Survivor contestant,” in the current issue of the magazine.
“I’m not ashamed of being trans, but I didn’t want that to be my story,” he says. “I just wanted to go out on an adventure and play a great game. I just wanted to be known for my game.”
The Brooklyn-based asset manager debuted on season 33 of the CBS show last fall and returned for the all-star season 34 in March.
Smith said he was “shell-shocked” when his competitor Varner outed him in an attempt to paint him as “deceitful” in the episode airing Wednesday night.
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“I think he hoped others would believe that trans people are dangerous and fraudulent. That reasoning is infinitely worse than him outing me because it’s the same one used to discriminate against, attack and murder trans people,” Smith says. “What’s great is that nobody bought it.”
Survivor airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.