Was Colton quitting Survivor a selfless act of brilliant strategy?

Colton Cumbie quit Survivor Blood vs. Water, but not because he was a big baby who can’t handle the game. Instead, it was a selfless act of brilliant strategy to save his remarkably amazing partner, Caleb Bankston?

According to Colton’s conversation with Gordon Holmes today, that’s exactly what happened.

First, Colton argues that what matters this season are “bank accounts” because with “all the married couples, the couples that have been together a long time, the money is going to the same place. We only need one person at the end. … And, the longer you’re a pair in the game, you become a target. So I think for Caleb being single at this point is going to benefit him.”

While conspiring to split the prize is an explicit violation of the Survivor rules (page 9, #19), Colton does raise a good point: essentially the coupled players have two chances at the million.

With that in mind, here’s what Colton said in the interview was his reason for quitting:

“When they separated us, I was like, ‘I don’t want to be here anymore.’ That was the starting point for me. I thought, I’ll tough it out, I’ll get to a swap or something. But then I kept thinking, when are they going to swap us? What ended up being the ultimate reason is I was trying to salvage Caleb’s game. That’s why I kept saying, ‘I don’t know, I don’t know.’ That’s why Jeff was irate with me. I wouldn’t answer his questions because I couldn’t tell him what I was thinking. What I was really thinking was; I know I’m going to get voted out. I know I’m going to walk into the arena, and have you met my fiancé? He’s like the ultimate hero. … He’s going to come down, he’s going to take my place. There won’t be any discussion. He’ll convince me to go to his tribe. And these challenges are not his forte. He’s not going to win these duels. And then he’d have sacrificed his game for me. I didn’t want that. Caleb came to play for Caleb, not for me. I honestly think me leaving is going to be a kickstart for him. He realizes he doesn’t have to worry about me anymore.”

This may seem like revisionist history, and asked about people who will accuse him of just making up a story after the fact, Colton says, “Honestly, I really don’t care. I’m really happy in my life. People say ‘quitters never win,’ but have you met my fiancé? Clearly I’ve won.” (Speaking of Caleb: In a deleted scene, he says Colton’s exit is “a really big weight lifted off my shoulders.”)

While it’s easy to dismiss this as bullshit, the footage actually backs it up: When he was crying to Caleb (oh, Caleb), Colton said, “You can win this game. I can’t win.” It’s also backed up by Colton’s day-after interview, in which he called quitting “a risky move.”

Of course, Colton could have just waited for his tribe to vote him out, instead of calling attention to both of them by being such a big baby–unless they planned to keep him around because he’s so unlikable he’d never win, but I don’t think they were going to do that. Ultimately, it seems like this rationale gave Colton a logical reason to justify exiting the game, which he clearly wanted to do because he realized it was out of his control.

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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.