Colton Cumbie and Survivor’s most bigoted move ever

“You can’t just not like somebody because they’re not people that he’s used to or that he’s grown up with. He judged me because of my differences, and I accept him because of his.”

That’s an incredibly respectful, smart, thing to say about a racist, shallow, vile piece of shit like Colton Cumbie who’s just orchestrated your exit because he hates you for your work ethic, socio-economic status, and maybe even race. But that’s what Bill Posley said as he exited Survivor One World, voted out after the men made history by being the first tribe to give up their immunity.

If you’re the kind of person who literally slaps your forehead or bangs your head on something when someone on TV acts stupidly, you have a concussion right now and you should seek medical attention.

To begin, this stunning move had the potential to be an interesting move, even if it is stupid to risk elimination and purposefully weaken your tribe. It’s similar to the tribe throwing a challenge to getting rid of Russell Hantz last spring, just without the foresight they had. So while yes, it was shocking, and worthy of the face Probst made when we finally found out that the men voted unanimously to give up their tribal immunity, it was not inherently stupid. (How great and suspenseful was that editing, by the way?)

What was baffling and stupid was that the men’s tribe did this for no reason at all except to satiate Colton’s racist, classist hatred of a fellow tribe member. The only possible strategy is that it plays to Colton’s endgame of aligning with the women, and while his argument that going to the merge with a divided tribe did make sense, that’s being generous: this was personal.

Last week, Colton used coded, racist language to illustrate his blind hatred of Bill, calling the stand-up comedian from Venice, Calif., (Venice!) “ghetto trash.” But just when you think Colton is as awful as he could possibly be, he goes even further, explaining that he doesn’t hate Bill because he’s black, but because Bill is poor and works hard.

Jeff Probst asked Colton, “Why don’t you like Bill?” And Colton said, “He’s obnoxious, he’s loud. He’s a struggling stand-up comic. Like, get a real job.” (I think there’s some subtle but still racially coded language there with his criticism that Bill is “obnoxious” and “loud.”) You’ll recall that Colton previously bragged that he does no work, but now he reveals he has a problem with someone doing a job that person loves. It is utterly unbelievable how much of a bigoted, self-righteous asshole Colton is.

Earlier, Colton repeatedly identified Leif in ways that defined Leif solely by his height (“He’s turning into an annoying little Oompa-Loompa”; “That little Munchkin is about to get knocked back to Oz”). While you could tell that Colton thought he was being charming and funny instead of a bigot, there was a lot of anger there. I’m sure growing up gay in the deep south wasn’t easy, and I have no real interest in psychoanalyzing Colton, but it seems to me that making fun of people’s external, unchangeable characteristics, whether they be height or race or sexual orientation, is something that someone who may have been similarly targeted would not do. Or maybe that’s exactly why he does it, because the only way his brain can process it is to throw it back at other people.

What’s really clear is that Colton has the maturity of an unfertilized egg. What’s not clear is why the men on his tribe are following him around blindly. That reminds me about Colton’s lame and tasteless joke: “I’m running this entire show; if you can’t see that, you are Helen Keller.”

I’m glad the issue of race came up at Tribal, even though it made crusty-ass Tarzan’s head explode (“quit talking about god damn races!” “We have a black president”). It says something about this episode and Colton’s awfulness that Tarzan’s comments prompt little more than an eye roll, although there’s a lot there. When an old white guy declares we’re in a racism-free era because a black man was elected president, that’s ignorance and wishful thinking at best.

When they started to discuss race, Colton insisted, “I don’t have a problem with Bill because of his race.” Then he went on to insist, “I do have African-American people in my life.” And jaws everywhere unhinged when he said that specifically, those plural people consist of “my housekeeper. She’s like a member of our family.” He giggled, because he’s smart enough to know that’s ridiculous on every conceivable level.

Seriously: His housekeeper? If you saw that scene on a scripted drama you’d turn it off for being so badly written. But guess what? There are people like this in the world.We can be grateful that Survivor exposes them. I’d say this indicated that Colton, views black people as inferior and only worthy of doing work for them, but he likely views all people as inferior and only worthy of doing work for him. He just targets and focuses on external characteristics because that’s easier than dealing with complexity.

Bill, while being far more generous than he had to be (“I love the kid to death”), said that “differences in our upbringings” accounted for Colton’s issues with him. Undoubtedly. But I liked Bill’s earlier description, which he delivered to Colton’s face after Colton–in the most unbelievably babyish way possible–refused to have a conversation. Bill called Colton a “stuck-up brat,” and Colton told him, “I’m going to vote your ass out.”

And that’s actually what happened. Although giving up tribal immunity was framed as a way to get rid of Leif for telling Bill about Colton’s plan–And please! Why was Leif so contrite and apologetic? Will someone please tell Colton to fuck off and kick his ass out of the shelter?–secretly Colton planned to use it to get rid of his tribe’s only black person.

Why the men are letting that piece of shit run the tribe is beyond me. Maybe he’s delightfully charming when he sits around doing nothing except ordering people around and refusing to have conversations. I have no doubt that he’s smart and maybe more strategic than they are, but at some point they need to dig their testicles out of the cavity they crawled up into and use them to send Colton away.

Before all this went down, the episode had the makings of a pretty great but standard episode: Women’s tribe wins a fantastic reward challenge but loses a pretty strong immunity challenge, and then contemplates sending Alicia home, but Christina goes instead, et cetera. Instead, things that neither we nor the producers could have predicted happened, and this is why Survivor remains awesome after 24 seasons and 12 years.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.