The shaming of Colton Cumbie, quitter and terrible Survivor player

Everything from DVR guides to CBS’ own promos gave away that Colton Cumbie would quit Survivor Blood vs. Water during last night’s episode, so I was hoping for some surprise, like Jeff Probst requiring Colton to throw his buff and himself in the fire on the way out, or a hoard of tarsiers bounding out of the woods and chewing on Colton.

That didn’t happen. Instead, Jeff Probst himself chewed Colton apart, triggering Colton’s meltdown. He even called Colton out for quitting Survivor One World: “The first time you feigned an appendicitis. Turns out you didn’t have it. You want to own that one now?” (We knew that Colton didn’t have appendicitis but instead had some kind of infection, but Probst’s suggestion is more damning, that Colton basically faked his illness.)

Let’s back up for a second. Redemption Island started with Tyson not switching places with Rachel (again, spoiled by CBS), and calling out Brad for his bad game play. Brad’s defense prompted Marissa to yell at him Brad for voting out strong people, and Brad’s condescension (“babe”) led Marissa to yell, “Fuck you, Brad Culpepper!”

That’s when Colton started to cry, and by cry, I mean, pinching his face and wiping away tears not visible to the cameras. It was a weird transition, like there was a jump forward in time or something else we missed. “I don’t want to be here any more,” Colton said. “I can’t do this.” Clearly: those tears weren’t coming out no matter how hard he squished his face.

“When my back is against the wall in this game, I turn into the person I was in One World, and I don’t want to be that person. I’m tired of being hated by everybody,” Colton said.

Tyson and Tina shut that nonsense down: “You turned into that person before your back was against the wall,” Tyson said. Tina added, “Colton’s having a hard time because we’re not playing Colton’s game and now he knows he can’t win the game.”

But Probst wasn’t done yet with the public shaming of Colton Cumbie; since he exited last time on a gurney, Probst made sure that the villain got his public conviction. “I’m now convinced that Colton is the guy who never should have got up off the couch. We brought a quitter back and we got a quit again,” Probst said.

That’s when Colton shrieked and ran over to Caleb–who really handled that well and who I’m very, very impressed with, except for the fact that he’s in a relationship with Colton Cumbie.

Probst kept going, almost as if he’d been ready for this moment. “Colton, you came back for a second time because you said you wanted to show how much you’ve grown, but your behavior now shows you haven’t. And the irony is, the opportunity you seek is right in front of you. You can keep your buff; I won’t give you the honor of throwing that in the urn. We’ll keep that reserved for people who compete.”

Ouch.

Again, this was all very cathartic and long deserved, and almost worth bringing Colton back. (For the record, Colton says we will find out “what REALLY happened that Probst doesn’t want you to see.”) However, let us not forget that the really awful part of Colton’s behavior last time was his unadulterated bigotry and bullying, which wasn’t mentioned at all here. Colton was shamed for being a quitter and a big baby, which he is, and while the show included his bigotry last time, it didn’t mention it all this time, though I suspect that’s not a small part about why his tribe loathes him and won’t play his silly games.

Like Russell Hantz and others before him, Colton is convinced he knows how to play a game that he is actually quite clueless about. He whines about his tribe not being willing to play, not realizing that he’s playing every second. It’s a social game in which relationships matter. If Colton’s version of “playing the game” was applied to, say, bowling, he’d just be standing at the end of the lane giggling and throwing balls in every direction, never waiting for the pins to reset or for his turn–and thus never ever having any chance of winning.

Speaking of not knowing how to play the game, there’s FuckYouBradCulpepper, his new name thanks to Marissa’s Redemption Island call-out. In one of the most juvenile moves ever, FuckYouBradCulpepper suggested his tribe vote for John. Now, by itself, that’s probably not the brightest idea: He’s fracturing his own alliance, giving the other bros a reason to distrust him (unless they already distrust John, but we didn’t see evidence of that). He’s also going after one of the physically stronger players, and while I like that because it disrupts the predictable trajectory of early tribe votes, it is pretty irrational.

But FuckYouBradCulpepper’s biggest and most comical error was insisting the rest of the tribe vote out John so he could vote for one of the two women, insurance against John possibly rejoining the game–but insurance for FuckYouBradCulpepper, not anyone else. Just wow.

He’s playing the same amateur game that Colton was: too much, too soon, topped by irrational outbursts combined with an inflated sense of self. Brad thinks he’s in control but doesn’t realize how obvious that is, and it even resulted in his tribe talking about voting him out because he’s now such a visible threat. As Tyson told him at Redemption Island, “You can be big, but that’s the worst thing in this game.”

While I was crossing my fingers for FuckYouBradCulpepper to be blindsided, in the end, the tribe ended up voting for John, so he joins his wife at Redemption Island, which should make for an interesting dynamic.

The blood/water/whatever dynamic also really made for an interesting immunity challenge, where some cast members faced off against their loved ones, resulting in fun moments such as Laura crying before fighting her daughter, who was all “you’re not hurting me!” before Laura hurled her into the water.

But it was the Aras versus Vytas showdown that was the most incredible, starting with the emotional backstory (Aras talking about his bullying brother who used to punch him) and ending with more emotion (Aras upset because he loves his brother). In the middle was the actual confrontation, including an incredible “cheap shot,” as Vytas described his own move when he pretended to be winded or hurt and took advantage of Aras’ sportsmanlike kindness in that moment. Drama!

Although Colton and FuckYouBradCulpepper consumed most of this episode, I’m really growing to appreciate the complications in the game that result from the family dynamics, from the challenges to long-term strategy. That said, so far we basically have a tribe of returnees smearing a tribe of newbies, and that needs to change soon.

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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.