HitFix Interview: Colby Donaldson talks ‘Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains’

05.18.10 9 years ago

It had a chance of becoming one of the great “Survivor” ironic twists: 

In the show’s second season, Colby Donaldson had one of the classic complete “Survivor” performances, combining psychical domination with universal likability and remaining so true to his word that he essentially handed the million dollars to Tina Wesson.
In “Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains,” on the other hand, Colby looked tired and apathetic. He made an early alliance with Tom Westman and Stephenie LaGrossa, but watched his friends get picked off one after another. Not only was he failing in challenges, but he was so weak that somehow one Hero after another was perceived as a greater threat and was voted off first. It looked like an embarrassing turn for the Hero, but if the name of the game in “Survivor” is, well, surviving, Colby implausibly kept his torch lit.
As a result, Colby entered Sunday’s (May 16) “Survivor” finale knowing that if he could somehow grab an Immunity or two, he’d be facing a jury made up largely of his former tribemates and, after losing his perfect season, he’d somehow be triumphant in this most imperfect season.
It didn’t happen.
Colby lost a tight Immunity challenge and was voted out, becoming the season-to-last member of the season’s jury. As he told viewers after his snuffing, maybe a “Survivor” win just isn’t his destiny.
The day after the finale, HitFix caught up with Colby and learned how much of his weakness was strategy, why he came to respect Sandra and why he’s unlikely to come to respect Russell.
Click through for the full interview…
HitFix: What do you think Season Two Colby would say about the way you played this season?
Colby Donaldson: He’d say the same thing that I’ve said all along, which is that it was disappointing. It’s disappointing in the challenges. I sortta wrapped it into the strategy going along the way, but I’m certainly not going to sit here and say that I meant to lose all of those challenges. It became apparent to me that it wasn’t all-together a bad thing to not be a dominant threat, especially in a game full of Alphas where everyone is getting voted off because of that. So yeah. The game has changed and so have I.
HitFix: How would you describe the balance of strategy and just simply aging than helped you come to the realization you didn’t want to be the Alpha Male this time around?
CD: It hit me on Day One when Coach and I went at it and he ultimately ended up winning. I realized at that point that I wasn’t going to be the physically dominant threat that I had been in previous years. So it became like, “Alright. Well, this is humbling and this will certainly be a different approach, but maybe I can use it to my advantage.” There were challenges where I stepped down. There were challenges that I sandbagged on, because I knew I didn’t need ’em and it just wasn’t going to serve me. It takes a real ego-check to be able to do that, to step down from stuff, but there were also, that being said, there were certainly challenges were I just couldn’t put it together, where I just sucked. I just wasn’t any good. And that wasn’t any fun.
HitFix: The challenges you sandbagged, were they Reward challenges or Immunity as well?
CD: I don’t remember, but I think it was probably both. There were Immunity challenges where I knew I wasn’t the one being targeted. And I wasn’t being targeted because no one thought I cared. I really had convinced everyone of this sort of apathetic player who could just take it or leave it. It was part of my strategy and it worked. It did get me all the way to where I ultimately placed. The thing is, all the while, I’m doing interviews with the producers — of course none of that aired — but I’m doing interviews with them, telling them, “Look, this strategy will work for a while, but there will come a time where I have to deliver, where I have to perform in the challenges.” Ultimately, that was the one where Parvati beat me.
HitFix: So when you needed that fire, were you able to turn it back on?
CD: Obviously not enough, not in the final one. If there were one thing I could change, that would be it, to have had a better performance in that final challenge. Balancing those plates? Parvati’s just the Zone Master. She gets in a zone when she competes and she’s impressive to watch. She’s great.
HitFix: The first two times you played, Jeff Probst was always one of your biggest fans, but this season he made no secret of being disappointed in you. Did that hurt you at all?
CD: No, not Probst, or even the things that James or some of the other players had said. That didn’t bother me. It was the fact that there was some truth to it that bothered me. It was the fact that I *was* struggling and I wasn’t performing and I was underwhelming, all the way around. That’s just a humbling thing to experience and go through, especially given the fact that I had been a physical threaten in previous seasons.
HitFix: On Sunday’s reunion show last night, you mentioned that y’all were more quarantined, more restricted than you had been in past. Could you go into a little more detail than that?
CD: Yeah, sure. It probably something they don’t want us to talk about, but it is the truth. We have a very, very finite amount of space where we can roam and in Samoa, the jungle’s so dense that you can’t really explore much on land and, unfortunately for us, the waters were horrible. It was horrible! Between the reef and the undertow and the currents, we weren’t allowed in the water and we certainly weren’t allowed to go out beyond the reef, which was where all the fish were and where all of the swimming and fun would have been. You just couldn’t do it. That’s why in 39 days, with I don’t know how many challenges, there was not a single swimming challenge. And we’ve got Stephenie, who’s a collegiate swimmer, and I trained for months before we left in an Olympic pool becoming more proficient. So it was just frustrating. We were never in the water. We barely had a little pool where we could bathe, something that was maybe waist or chest deep. That was it as far as the ocean for us. So yeah, a guy like me, I love the adventure of this game. So when things at camp get disgusting and you want some time away from that, you go exploring and we didn’t have that luxury on this season.
HitFix: And once Tom and Stephenie were gone, was there anyone you could turn to who you actually related to on the same level?
CD: Nah. No. There just wasn’t anybody that I cared for. And JT. JT and I get along fine, but had proven on Day Two when he double-crossed us that he wasn’t going to be trustworthy. So even though we’re friends, I wasn’t playing the game with him. Rupert was the same way. Rupert tried to vote me off early in the game. So yeah, I was flying solo from that point forward.
HitFix: Were there principles and an approach to the game that bonded you with Tom and Stephenie? 
CD: Not just the way the game should be played, but just the people they are. Tom and I would be best friends and bond regardless of the environment where and when we met. He’s just a good dude, just a good guy. As is Stephenie. So it was just fun to finally get to meet them. I’d admired the way they played in their seasons and was just stoked to be on the same team with them. We just had a bad draw in terms of alliance. We were on the short end of the stick.
HitFix: Do you not have the… I don’t know… the artifice to play along with or pretend to try to make alliances with people you don’t relate to?
CD: Well, I can play and go along with them, but if you’re outside their alliance, you’re screwed. So at that point, when James and Amanda and JT and Rupert had formed their alliance, I wasn’t in it. So it didn’t matter. My social game is as good as anybody’s. There’s not anybody who doesn’t like me. Except maybe for Russell. But even then… That’s my strongest attribute, my social game. So it’s not about not getting along. I truly do get along with everyone. I just had no interest in any of them.
HitFix: This was your first jury experience right? 
CD: Correct.
HitFix: What was the experience like seeing the game from that point of view?
CD: It’s interesting, especially when I look back to losing by one vote to Tina in Australia and you’re wondering what the jury was talking about prior to that final Tribal Council, how that all played out. And the jury does talk. We all talk. We all pretty much know who everybody’s going to vote for by the time we get there. And I don’t know that that’s right. I don’t know that that should be the case. I certainly didn’t feel like that in Australia. I felt like the jury had the ability to really sway each other and convince each other of certain things. People think you can play this game for 39 days and not allow emotions to get involved and partially base some of your decisions on that, then you’re foolish. I keep it in perspective. It’s just a game. It doesn’t bother me. But it bothers a lot of people and a lot of people who get their feels hurt along the way have a  hard time forgiving and forgetting by the time you get to the jury vote.
HitFix: Talk me through your vote, your choice…
CD: Well, I voted for Sandra. I had a lot of respect for the way she made it to the end. And part of my respect for Sandra comes because of the strategy that I had to adopt. I don’t know that I would have appreciated Sandra’s strategy prior to playing the way I did, but going under the radar and realizing that it takes as much effort to pull that off as it does being the dominant force. That no longer wins, by the way. That’s another thing. I think Tom Westman was the last player to truly dominate his entirely season and pull off a victory. That just doesn’t happen anymore. You get voted out. So, to me, I just have a lot of respect for the way Sandra makes it to the end. And two-for-two! You’ve gotta have respect for that.
HitFix: Do you put any stock at all in Russell’s argument that the game is what’s wrong and not the way Russell was playing the game?
CD: [Laughter.] I don’t put any stock in anything that Russell says. That is the game. And Probst said it last night at the reunion. That is the design of our game that the jury votes for the winner, not America and not anyone else. And it’s simple, it’s Russell’s arrogance and his lack of humility that will prevent Russell from ever winning this game. Nobody discredits his crafty play and his ability to navigate his way through the game. He’s pretty good at that. But he’s just an idiot. The guy’s just a Bozo. It’s funny to me that he can’t wrap his head around that. And the girls, Jerri for one and I don’t know how many others, but Jerri went into that final Tribal Council going to vote for him and because of the way he responded to my question, with zero humility and 100 percent arrogance, she changed her vote right there. That’s just pretty silly right there. As an adult, if you can’t understand that, if you can’t wrap your head around that… At the end, all Russell says is “I play as hard as I can. That’s all I know how to do is play as hard as I can.” Well nobody’s saying you don’t and nobody’s taking that way from you, but admitting that you may have gotten lucky once or twice through the game, or admitting that somebody may have helped you at some point in the game, is not saying you didn’t play as hard as you can. That’s the thing. That’s where I guess he’s just unintelligent. I don’t know why he can’t wrap his head around that. 
HitFix: As my standard last question: You’ve done this now three times. Would you do it again?
CD: Oh no. Oh no. No. No. Time to move on.
Previous “Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains” Exit Interviews:

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