Interview: Colton Cumbie discusses quitting ‘Survivor: Blood vs. Water’

Colton Cumbie won few fans in his run on “Survivor: One World,” which included bold strokes of strategy, but many more accusations [founded] of racism and bullying. 
When Colton returned for this season’s “Survivor: Blood vs. Water,” he was joined by his fiance Caleb and he professed to have a desire to change the way people looked at him. For one night, it seemed to be working, as Colton told his fellow castaways about his struggles growing up gay in the South and appeared to be winning sympathy.
It lasted for one episode. By the second week of the season, Colton was attempting to plot and scheme on a tribe of returning contestants who had no desire to get into that part of the game any sooner than necessary. If Colton temporarily removed the target from his back on the first night, it returned very quickly.
On Wednesday’s episode, Colton lasted only five minutes. Before a Redemption Island Duel, he started crying and announced his decision to leave. “Survivor” host Jeff Probst then determined that Colton couldn’t depart without being called a quitter multiple times and being told that some people shouldn’t play “Survivor,” they should just watch on TV. It was an unsparing assault from Probst and response on my episode recap has been mixed between people thinking the host was needlessly combative and people who felt that it was no more than Colton deserved. 
In our second “Survivor” exit interview after an abrupt game exit — Probst accused Colton of also quitting in his earlier season when he left the game  for appendicitis that turned out merely to be an infection — Colton discusses why, in the long run, this season was still a small victory and tries framing his exit as an attempt to take pressure off of Caleb. He discusses his frustration with his tribe and talks about his “Survivor” future.
Check out the full Q&A and draw your own conclusions.
HitFix: If I’d told you before you went out for this season that you’d be talking to me under these circumstances, what would you have said?
Colton Cumbie: That you were crazy.
HitFix: So how are you feeling about what went down on Wednesday’s episode and watching it play out and whatnot?
Colton: You know, I made peace with my decision way before it aired. I have this whole philosophy. It’s like: Whose opinion do you think matters more to me? The man I’m gonna spend the rest of my life with? Or a bunch of people who I don’t even know? You know?
HitFix: Was that hard to come to peace with or easy?
Colton: Easy.
HitFix: Jeff Probst really unloaded on you at the Duel. Were you surprised by his reaction?
Colton: Honestly, yeah. I was surprised. I was shocked. I was insulted. I was confused. I’m still confused about why he seems to think I quit “Survivor: One World.” If his argument is, “OK, well you quit ‘Blood vs. Water’ because you weren’t getting your way,” well in “One World,” everything was going my way. I got everything I wanted every single time we went to Tribal Council. So to me, his argument is like a moot point.
HitFix: Of the things that he characterized you as being or doing, was there anything that you agreed with? Was there any truth you can see in anything he said?
Colton: Ummm… What do you mean? Like as far as like I should have stayed on the couch?
HitFix: He said many things. He said that. He called you a quitter several times, which I get that you disagree with…
Colton: Yeah. I totally disagree with that part. But as far as me staying on the couch? No. I’m not one of these people who can’t handle the elements out there. That wasn’t why I quit. It wasn’t raining. It wasn’t miserable in that aspect. Yeah, we’re hungry, but it’s Day 7. I was hungry in “One World.” That part doesn’t really bother me. That’s why I don’t know why he says I should have stayed on the couch if that’s what he thinks, like if he thinks I can’t handle the elements, then yeah, I disagree with that. My whole thing with why I left was because, honestly, I didn’t want Caleb to be put in the position to where he had to decide, “Do I sacrifice my game for Colton? Or do I do what’s best for me?” And I knew what his decision would ultimately be. I knew he was going to trade places with me and I didn’t want to have to deal with that. I didn’t want to have to try to convince him, “No. You’re not gonna take my place,” because I know how Caleb is and it’s not something that’s up for debate. He would expect me to let him ride in, save me, take my place, put me on Tadhana and then it’s like, “OK, what are we gonna do when…” Let’s say that Caleb’s able to scrape by and get second place at least in every single Duel up until the final one, until someone’s allowed to reenter the game. Well, I’ve watched enough “Survivor” to know that in “Redemption Island” and “South Pacific,” the challenge to get back into the game is usually an endurance competition and who do you think’s gonna have a better chance of hanging onto something for a long amount of time? Candice or Caleb?
HitFix: So are you pitching your decision to quit as a heroic decision to save Caleb?
Colton: I’m not even pitching it. That’s honestly what it was. I know some people will see that as a pitch and some people will see that as an angle, but my thing is: That’s what it was and I say that immediately in my exit interview. I’m sitting there at Redemption Island and I can’t say that. I can’t say, “I’m quitting this game so I can take the target off of Caleb,” because that kinda defeats the entire purpose if you announce that before everyone. But yeah, I do think that I was the big pink target with the blue sweater that was on Caleb’s back and I think that the people that are individuals in the game, they have a much better chance of doing well than people that are paired, because pairs get targeted in this game. That’s whether they meet on Day One, or whether they come in preexisting. Pairs are always dangerous and I think that people, especially with this group of people, with these returning players and two of them being winners, people realize that pairs are dangerous. I think that people that are individuals, especially someone with Caleb’s demeanor and Caleb’s personality, I think he’s built to play this game and I just thought I was hurting him more than helping him by staying.
HitFix: That sounds very calculated and calculating. Does that mean that the crying and the way you went out of the game was a performance? Or was that actual emotion you were feeling?
Colton: No, it was emotional. It was definitely emotional, because I didn’t want to quit that way. I didn’t want my “Survivor” experience to go that way, but at that point, it’s like I said to Jeff, maybe it’s the best move for me. And for Jeff to say, “Well it’s a selfish move, you’re hurting your tribe”? Well, good. I hate this tribe. I want them to suffer. The person I want to win this game is sitting over there on the other tribe. Why would I want to help this tribe? That’s what I could never wrap my mind around and still can’t: It’s all this tribe pride and being happy that Galang won and all that kinda stuff and celebrating, I don’t get that. I don’t understand the excitement behind putting your loved one in jeopardy. That’s why I cried every single time we won.
HitFix: At the beginning you talked about how there was this perception of you and you wanted to be seen as a different person and all of that. At least for the first episode we saw, it looked as if there was an effort being put in. When did you realize that you were not going to be able to be that other person in this circumstance?
Colton: Well, I felt like I could be that other person. Or, honestly, I felt like I was, other than the incident with Kat in the boat, which I’ve addressed and she and I put that to rest as soon as it happened. It wasn’t a big deal. I explained to her, “You know, I just don’t like being yelled at.” She got that and it was over. Other than that, Aras accused me of being a bully. I don’t see how I bullied anyone this season. I didn’t have any control over anything. Going around spreading lies and trying to stir up trouble, that’s just playing the game. Where do you draw the line between Colton Who’s Playing The Game and Who Colton Is As A Person? I think that lines are blurred just because of how I was last time. I think a  lot of people have a lot of built-up animosity and venom from the last time that I was on the show and I think that kinda carried over so that anything I did… I think that people were just waiting for an excuse to kinda say, “Oh, well the Old Colton’s back” and obviously they got one when Jeff Probst announces, “The Old Colton’s back.” In my opinion, the Old Colton, in terms of how I played the game, might have returned, but I did not make personal attacks against anyone. I didn’t say anything rude about anyone. I didn’t attack anyone. Did you see me do any of that?
HitFix: No and I was going to ask about that. Has there at least been a difference in how people are responding to you, in that at least they’re not accusing you of being racist, at least this is something different. Does this feel *better*?
Colton: Definitely. I can handle this. I can handle being labeled a quitter. I couldn’t care less about that. Whatever. I love Purple Kelly. I’m in good company. I can’t stand the stigma of, you know, “Colton’s a horrible person. Colton’s a racist. Colton’s a bigot.” All that kind of stuff. I’m none of those things. That’s what I really wanted to show was that I have grown. I have learned that you don’t treat people that way. That’s never OK. That’s why I didn’t treat anyone that way. Honestly? When I said to Caleb, “I feel like I’m about to take a turn,” because I knew that I wasn’t getting my way and I knew that I was about to get angry and I knew that I was about to try to take that tribe by force and that’s when I was like, “You know what? This isn’t gonna be beneficial for anyone, I might as well just bite the bullet, go out and let Caleb try to win this game.” Here’s the thing: It’s like Tina said. I am always seven steps ahead of everyone. Or I want to be. So I had no time to talk strategy with anyone, because they didn’t want to. So I had nothing else to do but try to talk strategy with myself, so I pretty much thought, “How can I win this game without actually winning this game” and I was like, “My best shot is sitting over there on that other side in a plaid shirt.”
HitFix: But don’t you think you could have proven the “Colton is a changed person” argument better by staying in the game for 30 days and not saying anything offensive, rather than staying in the game for seven days and just leaving before you had the chance to say anything problematic?
Colton: No, I can see that. And I agree with that. It really just boils down to: I’m happy and I’m content and I know who I am and the people that know me in life know who I am. People who say things about me on the Internet, they don’t know me. They don’t know me as a person. They’ve never hung out with me. I’ve spent time with people who have said that they didn’t like me and after spending time with me, I’m not like I am on television, you know? I don’t understand how that’s so shocking.
HitFix: Sure, but I remember when we had our exit conversation after “One World” and you said this *exact* same thing. So, in your mind, was this season a failed attempt to change the perception people have of you?
Colton: [Long pause.] Ummm… I don’t know. I don’t know if I would say it was failed because, like you said earlier, people aren’t saying that I was a horrible person. They’re not saying that I was a racist this time. So I think that’s definitely an improvement.
HitFix: Whew. That seems like a small victory, but it does feel like a victory?
Colton: It does feel like a victory. Definitely.
HitFix: I’ll grant you that this was not the most strategically aggressive group of returning players. There’s no question about that. What would have been the perfect situation? The perfect group of players for you to be with out there?
Colton: Oh my God! Seriously, all I’ve ever freaking wanted is a beauty queen! I don’t understand how it’s missed me every single season. I get put on “One World” with these, like, emasculating women who literally want to castrate the entire island. And then I get put on this season with Kat. And I’m like, “I’m sorry. Was Chelsea Meissner not available? Was she busy? Or Ashley Underwood? Or Angie Layton? Somebody!” I just really want some hot girls. And that’s the other thing. All the girls that I would have been friends with were on the other tribe. I was on Tribe AARP.
HitFix: And do you know yet if you’re going to be at the reunion show? And, frankly do you want to be at the reunion show?
Colton: [Checks with the show’s publicist.] Yeah! I’m gonna be there.
HitFix: Do you want to be? Do you want to have to deal with these questions again? And more?
Colton: You know, honestly, I don’t care. I’m to a point where I’m kinda just numb to it. It is what is and in December it’s all over. Merry Christmas.
HitFix: And then, at that point, are you done with “Survivor”? 
Colton: Forever. I may not even watch the show anymore.