It would be easy to call Colton Cumbie the most polarizing castaway of the “Survivor: One World” season, but that would imply that there are multiple poles of opinion.
“Survivor” fans love Villains, whether they’ve been miscategorized like Boston Rob was in the “Heroes vs. Villains” season, or even if their actions have seemingly been beyond the pale. Jonny Fairplay. Russell Hantz. Even “Thailand” winner and puppy shooter Brian Heidik probably has defenders.
At least for now, Colton has very few people in his corner. That’s what comes from calling an African-American contestant “ghetto,” from dubbing a little person a Munchkin and an Oompa Loompa and from tormenting an Asian player with eye-based slurs.
Colton was also the season’s dominant player, orchestrating a slew of bold moves to eliminate threats, including the unprecedented decision to lead his clan to Tribal Council despite winning Immunity just to evict a castaway he disliked.
In the end, Colton’s sway over his colleagues remained unabated and it was only a medical emergency that pulled him out of the game in a shocking twist this week. Even carted out on a stretcher, Colton got the last laugh, taking a coveted Immunity Idol with him.
In our exit conversation this week, I asked Colton to address as many of the unseemly aspects of his run as I could. To his credit, he never cut off a single line of questioning and it’ll be up to readers to decide how sincere he comes off.
We also discussed his hopes for winning a jury vote and his thoughts on playing “Survivor” again in the future.
HitFix: First off, how is your health now and what was the recovery process like?
Colton Cumbie: I am completely intact. I still have an appendix. After being taken out of the game, I was taken to a hospital where I was informed that I had a severe bacterial infection. It could have been food-borne. It could be water-borne. They really don’t know. I was treated with antibiotics and then when I got back to the States, I actually hadn’t fully recovered. I still had some remnants of it and so I had to do another round of antibiotics and then after that I was as good as new. I’m all well now.
HitFix: You’ve been able to watch the six episodes this season and you’ve seen the way you were portrayed on the show. Would you say that was a fair representation of your time and your actions out there?
Colton: Yeah. You know. I’m not gonna sit here and blame the edit or blame the producers or CBS or anybody like that. Obviously what you see is me. I did it. I think there were some things that were taken out of context, of course, but you can’t show everything that happened. They just kinda have to show you a certain amount. But yeah, obviously the things that I said, I said them. I’ll own that. I agree that some of my comments were very extreme and very ignorant, to be frank, so that’s kinda where I stand on it.
HitFix: Well watching the episodes, how frequently were you having those “Hmmm… Maybe I went a little too far…” moments?
Colton: I think when I called Bill “ghetto trash,” I didn’t really interpret it the way it was taken. That’s kinda when people people started calling me racist and I was really confused and I was like, “How am I racist?” When I made that comment — I’m not trying to justify, just clarify — I was directing it more towards his financial status, which is still ignorant, but it was never, ever a racial issue. It was never directed at him for being African-American or anything like that, so I was really confused. And then when I watched Episode 4 is when I really got uncomfortable and I was like, “Oh my gosh.” I was uncomfortable watching it. I was like… I never ever want people to think that I think it’s OK to treat people that way.
HitFix: So then I take it you have regrets about what you called Leif?
Colton: Yeah, well that’s another thing… That whole Leif thing, I do regret what I said, but there was an underlying sense of humor. It was supposed to be funny. A lot of people from my cast have actually said, “Had I said that, people would have laughed, but since it was Colton, people get all up in arms because of the other comments he made.” But yeah, obviously it’s one of those things where you just really have to know my sense of humor. I have a critical, satirical sense of humor and that’s how it was meant. It was meant to be funny. I make fun of myself. I call myself “a queen” and I can totally own that “I fluttered into the net” or “I run like a girl” or whatever. It was supposed to be funny. And apparently some people thought it wasn’t.
HitFix: And you presumably thought the same with Christina and the “Asian eyes”?
Colton: Yes. Yes. Completely. You’re in the moment. It’s just supposed to be a joke. It’s not supposed to be taken to the level it’s been taken to.
HitFix: I’ve had a couple people say in the exit interviews I’ve done and in comments on recaps variations on “Well, Russell was a villain in the game, but Colton seems to be a villain in real life.” How do you respond to that?
Colton: Yeah. Let me just start off my saying: I’m very grateful to the experience of being on “Survivor” for several reasons: One, it was a dream come true. Two, I feel like I really did get to kinda see myself through other peoples’ eyes. Watching me, I got to see how other people see me. Jeff had noted that I kinda have never known how people have seen me outside of my own little circle. And that’s true. I’ve lived 20 years, basically in a bubble. I’ve led a very sheltered, privileged life and I’m not as mature as some people who have played the game have been. Probably when I started in that game, I was a complete and utter spoiled brat and I probably was a villain in life. But looking back on it now, I want to be known as a villain on “Survivor.” I don’t want to be known as a villain in life, if that makes sense.
HitFix: Sure, but you went into the game planning to be villainous to some degree?
Colton: I knew I was gonna play like a villain, not never necessarily that I wanted to be known like a Russell Hantz-type deal or anything like that, but I wanted to play the villain, because I feel like you almost have to. Very seldom do heroes win this game. It’s a game about lying, cheating and backstabbing and you can’t really go out there and say, “Oh, I want to play with honor and integrity” and not expect to get at best fifth place. So I went in wanting to play or expecting to play villainous, but I didn’t expect the attacks on my personal life, I guess. People have messaged my mom and emailed my mom and told her, “You need need to kill yourself for raising a child like that” I just think… people really need to… It’s like, you want to come at me and say that I’ve said horrible things, but that’s where you want to go with it?
HitFix: What have reactions been like to you, directly?
Colton: Directly? I haven’t really had any of that. I mean, obviously the Internet… People take to the web whenever they want to go on the attack. No one has come up to me and said anything to my face. A lot of people who know me, they know that obviously, what you see is not really who I am. You really have to meet me. I’ve met people who have admittedly said, “We weren’t your biggest fans, but after meeting you, we see you’re totally different than you were on the show.” That’s the thing and that’s what I really can’t stress enough, not even just for me, but for anybody: Alicia, NaOnka, anybody who’s ever been on the show, that’s not who we are in everyday life. Someone doesn’t know how they would be until they’re put in that position and for a 20-year-old kid who’s about to be on television, obviously I wanted to make a big impact.
HitFix: Briefly talking about the game. You talk about how heroes seldom win the game, but honestly, playing the game you were playing, do you really think you could have made it to a Jury and actually had a Jury vote for you?
Colton: I do. Honestly. I don’t think that it’s delusional of me to think that, because as much as people at home hate me and want me to die, basically, the people in the game didn’t feel that way about me. They respected me as a player. They respected my game. I think that had I made it to the Final 3, I definitely could have made a case to the jury saying, “Look, you may not have agreed with some of the things that I said, but I got here and you’re all there because, basically, I put you there. I started out as the vulnerable and had the biggest target on my forehead and I clawed, scratched and fought my way to get here. I was the most underestimated player in this game and now I’m sitting in the Final 3.” And I think off the top of my head, I can think of at least five people on that Jury who would have voted for me.
HitFix: In the game, were you surprised by the ease with which you were able to get players to go along with you and the ease with which you were able to get players do do ridiculous things like going to Tribal Council after you’d won?
Colton: No. That’s the thing. Obviously once you’ve watched me on television, you know about me, per se, you’re aware of how I am, you have an awareness that “This may be how he is and he may be conning me,” but in life, I’m really good at getting people to do what I want. I said that several times. I’ve had teachers that if I didn’t want to do an assignment, I would call be them and be like, “I really don’t want to do this” and they’d be like, “If you don’t tell anybody, you don’t have to do it.” I’ve always been really good at getting away with stuff. I can be very charismatic.
HitFix: Given that, what do you have to say to people to convince them that you’re being sincere about the reflection that you’ve done since you’ve watching the show and that you’re not just conning us that you’ve seen the light or whatever?
Colton: Yeah, honestly there’s nothing I can really say to convince anyone of anything. You just have to meet me. Obviously, the only reason that I would quote-unquote “con” someone is if I wanted something, if I had a reason to, such as playing “Survivor,” but I’m not gonna do it just for the hell of doing it. I’m not just gonna blow smoke up someone just for the hell of it. If I say this, then obviously this is how I feel. I think if there’s one thing about me that we can definitely say, it’s that I do say how I feel.
HitFix: So do you have any sort of straight-up apology to Bill, to Christina, to Leif that you want to make? That’s different from regretting, I mean…
Colton: I definitely, I think they’re all great people. I think they’re even better people, because they put up with me. I have no ill-will towards any of them and I think they all know that. I think they all know where I stand as far as how I feel about each one of them. People have asked me, “Do you regret what you said?” and in a way I do. I never intentionally wanted to hurt people. It’s kinda one of those things where when you find out how it really did hurt people and they’re not really laughing, it’s a whole new ballgame. You really just have to change your perception of it. But in a way, I don’t regret it, because it did allow me to grow as a person, seeing myself behave that way.
HitFix: Are you assuming that there will be a chance for you to get back into a future “Survivor” season?
Colton: Well, you know what they say about assuming. Given the opportunity, I would definitely do it again. Obviously I don’t know what they have in the works, but if they were to call me and say, “Do you want to do it?” then obviously, in a heartbeat.
HitFix: And would you want to play differently if you had the chance to do it again?
Colton: Yeah, I would play differently, in that I wouldn’t make things so personal. I think I’ve learned enough and grown enough to know that I can be funny and it not hurt people’s feelings. I don’t have to just go on the attack the way I did. I actually made this point that I have a lot of built-up animosity towards people in general, just because I had a lot of people who make comments and say, “Oh, you’re never gonna be able to do this. You’re gonna fall flat on your face. You’re gonna be pathetic at the game.” I really wanted to go out and show them, basically, “Screw you. I’m gonna do it.” And I did it. At the end of the day, people can’t say they got me, because they didn’t. I went out, Idol in hand.
HitFix: Gotta ask about that. Did you even consider giving the Idol to Alicia?
Colton: Not Alicia. I wanted to give it to Jay, but that wasn’t an option.
Hitfix: Why to Jay?
Colton: Jay and I actually had a relationship from Day 1. We were super-close. I was closest to him out of everyone in the game. He was the one person out of everyone that I never ever, ever would have voted out.
HitFix: Is he the one you’re rooting for going forward?
Colton: He is.