It's taken Zeke Smith eight months to address his issues with fellow Survivor contestant Jeff Varner, who outed him as transgender on Wednesday's shocking episode of the show.
"It’s tough with Varner," Smith told PEOPLE. "I don’t think he hates trans people. I just think he has a lot of misconceptions about trans people. I think if he wants to be an ally to trans people, he has a long way to go."
During a tribal council on the show, Varner, 50, revealed 29-year-old Smith's secret, calling him "deceitful" in an attempt to boot him from the show. Instead, Varner was voted off.
"I think you see this tactic used a lot by politicians to pass these so-called bathroom bills and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he’s from North Carolina, where the most dangerous of these bathroom bills was passed," Smith continued.
"I think the hardest part is that if he was just some ignorant bigot, you could just write him off, but he’s not," Smith said, adding that Varner is gay. "He knows better. I think because he’s gay, people give his words a little more weight and I don’t know if he believes what he said — but he definitely hoped others would."
"Trans people are a highly vulnerable population. We make easy targets. We’re attacked a lot and I expected a lot more from Varner," Smith confessed, expressing his gratitude for his other more open-minded cast mates. "But I think it’s so great that you see his hateful tactics rebuffed with such amazing love and from such a diverse group that responds to him."
Smith admitted that he hasn't been able to forgive Varner for his actions just yet, despite his apology on the show, but he's working on it.
“In the moment, it felt like the right thing to do was accept his apology and say that we’d find a way to work it out, but I don’t really – I really struggle with forgiving him every day,” said Smith. “I’ve had to think a lot about what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is not forgetting what happened. It’s not excusing what happened. I don’t even think forgiveness means I have to be his friend — and I don’t think I ever will be his friend.”
“But I think forgiveness is about hope – hope that he understands why what he did was wrong, hope that he doesn’t ever do something like this again and hope that whatever compelled him to give into his worst instincts in a dark moment is resolved for him,” he continued. “I do wish him the best, I just think I wish him the best from afar.”
We pay for juicy info! Do you have a story for RadarOnline.com? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us at (866) ON-RADAR (667-2327) any time, day or night.