If you are a Survivor fan, you already watched the tribal council when Jeff outed Zeke as a transgender man, arguing that Zeke’s secrecy made him untrustworthy. This tribal council represents a rare opportunity to glean a Mussar practice lesson from a complicated and painful human experience. I was stunned, not only because it was a cruel and dangerous thing to do, but because I am practicing the Mussar Soul Trait of Silence this week. Silence governs when we should speak and when we shouldn’t. Of course you don’t need Mussar to know that Jeff should have stayed Silent. But what Mussar can teach us is how to process the entire experience.
Mussar Practice Lesson 1: The Evil Inclination will lead you hurt others to save yourself
Remember that the Evil Inclination represents our survival instincts. Because Varner was facing elimination, he allowed his survival instincts to override his conscience. The EI operates in the subconscious, and provides a wealth of rationalizations to justify bad behavior.
Varner: “I feel horrible about it, I’m just trying everything I can”
Ozzie “Jeff, you should be ashamed of yourself for what you are willing to do for a million dollars.”
Probst: “You are saying there is no line. If I am desparate enough, I will do or say anything.”
Mussar Practice Lesson 2: The Evil inclination will lead you to rationalize your decisions
Varner:”I thought he was out and proud and loud about [being trans].” (5:30)
Others did not buy Varner’s argument
Sarah: If you thought that, why did you make a point of everyone had to know it.”
Probst: “You can’t have it both ways, to say he was deceptive, and then immediately say he was out and proud of it.”
Sarah: “That was a malicious attack”
Varner: “There was no malice in it. … I don’t treat people that way. … I don’t want you to paint me as something I’m not.”
Mussar Practice Lesson 3: We can have Compassion for someone who has messed up, even as we deliver consequences.
The cast member Tai, who is gay, was crying and upset when Varner outed Zeke. Yet he still showed compassion for Varner a few minutes later when he put his hand on Varner’s back as he wept. Tai at one point said, “I can understand he was desperate, and crossed a line that he didn’t realize he did.” This is the soul trait of compassion in action, feeling what another person feels, and seeing it from their point of view. And he presented compassion in balance, and did not let Varner off the hook.
Mussar Practice Lesson 4: Humility helps you through a crisis
Zeke showed amazing Humility, in that he seems to know who he is. While visibly upset, he didn’t go to pieces, apologize, or point fingers. And, he explained why he didn’t tell anyone. (8:08)
Transitioning is a long and difficult process. There are people who know. I stopped telling people, because it becomes who you are … and overwhelms everything else that they know about you…I didn’t want to be the trans survivor player, I wanted to be Zeke the survivor player. … So I think I’m ok.”
Jeff Probst also displayed amazing Humility balance, occupying his space by keeping control of a very emotional and raw conversation.
Learn more about Humility Here.
Mussar Practice Lesson 5: Good Can come out of bad situations.
The soul trait of Gratitude teaches that we should give thanks for the bad, because often there is a unique opportunity that comes out of awful things. Varner’s behavior was awful, yet something amazing happened.
Sarah Lacina explained her personal growth (11:15):
Sarah: “I’m thankful that I got to know Zeke for who Zeke is. I’m from the midwest. I come from a super conservative background. It’s not very diverse when it comes to gay and lesbian and transgender … I’m not exposed to it like most of these people are. 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… the metamorphosis that I’ve made as a person that I didn’t realize I made until this moment is invaluable. I’m sorry it came out that way, but I’m glad it did. I’m glad I got to know you as Zeke, and I’ll never look at you this way.”
And then Zeke was equally amazing. (12:00)
Zeke: “I’m certainly not someone who should be a role model for anyone else, but maybe there is someone who is a survivor fan and me being out on the show helps him or her or someone else. Maybe this will lead to a greater good.”
Probst: “Tonight was a complicated, but ultimately beautiful night, that will never be forgotten.”
Mussar Practice Lesson 6: We all have a choice
The reason why this was powerful, and ultimately positive experience was the choices that people made. Zeke’s tribe members chose to immediately speak out in his defense. They could have acted with revulsion at the news that Zeke was trans – I suspect that the North Carolina legislature would have voted him out on the spot, using the “deception” as a fig leaf to cover their prejudiced actions. Each and every one of us has a choice when faced with injustice. In fact, we face Choice Points all the time, where we have an opportunity to follow the influence of the Good Inclination or the Evil Inclination. In this Survivor episode, we saw one person make a very bad choice, and many more people make good choices.
Mussar practice requires knowledge of who you are. What Soul Traits hold you back? Take the Soul Trait Profile Quiz to find out. Click here to take the quiz.