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Colby Donaldson says “reality was manipulated” on Survivor Heroes vs. Villains

Survivor Heroes vs. Villains cast member Colby Donaldson was maligned by viewers and even criticized by the show’s host for his role in Danielle and Amanda’s fight for the immunity idol clue. But Colby revealed to reality blurred that the event did not occur as it was shown, and worse, that the entire season included examples of manipulative editing that didn’t affect the outcome but did distort reality.

“The thing with Danielle and Amanda, I was sort of the victim. I was the one getting berated in the show recaps based on how I reacted and what I said and didn’t say in that scene. And what the viewers saw was not what happened, and that’s really all I can say about that,” Colby told me, after saying earlier, “I’m limited on what I can say about that now after that interview.” That’s yet another example of CBS reprehensibly limiting its reality stars’ comments.

“That interview” refers to Colby’s exit interview with Reality TV World, in which he revealed “Danielle had that [idol clue] in her possession. She had the clue. It was not on the floor. It was underneath her when Amanda reached underneath her to grab it. They edited it and showed a cut of Amanda’s hand going down on the floor to grab it — that was actually Danielle’s hand and it was not where the clue was to begin with. Anyway, it made it look like Amanda picked it up off the floor and it was free game because it was on the floor and I sided with Danielle. That’s not the truth. I told Amanda that I thought it was Danielle’s, but it was based on the fact that she had it in her possession.”

In his EW column about that episode, Probst condescendingly criticized Colby, and Colby told me, “I called Probst, [and] he pulled the actual footage and watched it and apologized. He saw it; the footage is there,” Colby said. “When Probst asked the editors and producers or whoever was in charge of that why they did it the way they did, the response was, well, we didn’t have the right coverage, we didn’t have the right shot to make it play out. Probst told me, ‘We’re at a point now where we have the resources to pick up a shot.’ And that’s not to say create anything, but if you don’t have a shot of someone’s hand reaching in and grabbing something, you go reshoot that moment if you have to, not with Amanda and Danielle, but you make it work. It’s water under the bridge; what can I say?”

Sidebar: A pick-up is when small part of a scene is filmed later to add to existing footage. For reality TV, that means either having cast members recreate a part of a scene, which some shows have done, or having doubles do it, which Colby is suggesting here. And since Survivor already uses doubles for most of its helicopter shots, that wouldn’t be a huge stretch.

Colby’s disappointment–and my own, because I hold the show to the very high standard it’s set for itself–didn’t end there. “I felt like the reality was manipulated by the edit, and I’ve never felt that way. I’ve played the game and I’ve never witnessed that,” he said, and then told me about another example of manipulation. “It wasn’t just that episode after the reward challenge. That was the one that made me look bad. But the truth is, the examples were throughout the show. There was a challenge Parvati won and it showed it coming down to the very end and it was Rupert and Parvati , and they were holding these poles up with their hands. And Rupert’s big claim to fame is how he was the one who went toe-to-toe with Parvati every time. Well, that’s not even how that challenge played out. And he wasn’t the last one with Parvati. It was Jerri, they edited Jerri out of that whole thing and made it look like it came down to Parvati and Rupert, and that’s just not the truth.”

Colby added, “I’ve just never seen Survivor do that. Maybe that’s a new thing; I don’t know. I’ve just never seen the reality manipulated and the viewer led to believe something took place that didn’t. Does it ultimately skew the outcome? No. It doesn’t affect who wins the game; it’s not as if they’re affecting the vote or anything like that. It’s just no accurate as to how the game played out.” (We have seen other examples of manipulative challenge editing, though previously it seems to have been about compressing a challenge for time.)

Colby was the last remaining Hero tribe member, though his performance was disappointing, to say the least. “I owe a lot to Survivor for what it’s given to me over the last decade, and if it weren’t for that show, I wouldn’t be out here, I wouldn’t be pursing this. It’s been a great memory,” he said. “I just didn’t enjoy Samoa. I agree with you: I went into it with high hopes and certainly prepared for it both physically and mentally, and I was ready. And I got over there and it didn’t take long to realize the game had changed a lot. After Stephanie and Tom were eliminated, which made no strategic sense to me, I was detached, and I think it was very obvious. I didn’t want to be there.”

Colby is hosting the History Channel’s first-ever competitive reality series, Top Shot, which debuts Sunday. (Look for my conversation with him about that show tomorrow.) But he says that his experience with the fake editing on Survivor Heroes vs. Villains is something he took into his new job. “That was something I was very cognizant of on Top Shot, which was making sure that we’re telling the story that really happened,” he said.

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.


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