Jeff Varner’s Employer Votes Itself Off United’s PR Crisis Island

So, buried under all the other drama of The Week That Was came this little PR nugget that largely passed under the

collective radar of many of us who don’t feel the need to wallow in the less admirable aspects of human nature: Jeff Varner, a contestant on CBS’ reality competition show “Survivor,” gets fired from his day job from a real estate firm because (according to Varner), he was told that he is “in the middle of a news story that we don’t want anything to do with.” Collateral damage from the United Airlines debacle? Or are companies finally realizing the actual business cost of publicly being a jerk?

First, a brief recap: Varner publicly outed fellow tribe member Zeke Smith as a transgender male in a desperate bid to avoid being voted off the island and out of the running for the million-dollar grand prize. For the nonfan, on “Survivor,” a group of strangers are isolated in various exotic locations under primitive conditions, and are put through privations and “challenges” designed to make them work as a team, while simultaneously conspiring with each other to get rid of fellow team members and be the last “Survivor.” Sounds a bit like a day at some offices I’ve worked for.

So, our villain Varner (don’t you just love the alliteration?), who happens to be publicly gay, turns on Smith, who wasn’t “out,” and accused him of being deceptive for not choosing to broadcast his transgender status. Really? In a reality game show built on the premise of scheming your way through the elimination of your fellow teammates? Shocked! We’re shocked, I tell you! And to make the episode even more dramatic, the two contestants involved had been friends during the season. The episode ended with Varner quickly realizing his strategic mistake as the other contestants turned on him for his actions and voted him off the show, not even going through the ceremonial vote process despite Varner’s justifications, backtracking, excuses, apologies, and other attempts to get off the hook – kind of like United’s CEO Oscar Munoz’s actions in the aftermath of the videotape of Chicago Aviation police dragging a bloodied passenger off a plane.

So, to the fallout: Varner’s employer, which had been delighted to have a semi-celebrity on its staff before the episode aired, couldn’t wait to be rid of him as soon as it ended. Varner was fairly new to the firm, having apparently just posted his first listing on his Twitter account on April 7th (which has been taken down). Now, you can’t find anything at all on to show that he ever worked there. Allen Tate apparently excised the wound before it could fester. A new strategy for other organizations in crises? Stay tuned for the next episode.


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