I have been very hard on Colby Donaldson throughout Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains. It wasn't until I talked with him today that I understood why he seemed so sad this season, and failed in all of the challenges.
There's a saying that you can't go home again. Like a lot of viewers, I was in awe of Colby's dominance in The Australian Outback. He was in a class by himself in the challenges.Ten years later I really wanted to see him dominate again, to prove that Survivors of old could still school the Russells and Coaches of today.
I was shocked when Colby showed up in no condition to beat Chet Welch from Micronesia. He's in his 30s but he acted like he was in his 60s.
I couldn't ask for a more touching explanation than Colby gave me. I love Survivor, but I can easily understand why, compared to The Australian Outback, the Survivor of today could seem like the true "Superman in a fat suit," the disappointing imitation. Colby didn't just let the game down. The game let Colby down.
How do you feel about the season now that you've watched it?
I don't have a lot of feelings. I honestly don't.
You didn't seem happy out there. Would that be accurate?
I think it was pretty obvious I wasn't having a very good time. You know? It just wasn't a great experience. There were a lot of contributing factors. It just wasn't a good season. It was a frustrating season.
At what point did you stop having fun?
Unfortunately, I never started. The way the season started, with Stephenie being one of the first ones voted off our beach and Tom going after that, just didn't make any sense. To me, it wasn't a good strategic move for our team to get rid of them. Obviously they were part of my alliance, so I was in trouble from that point forward. The fun kind of left with those two.
Why do you think they decided to get rid of Tom and Stephenie?
This is a discussion I had with Probst after the game. The biggest way the game has changed since I played it is that there's no longer merit given to contributing around camp, providing fish for the tribe, contributing in the challenges or getting along with everybody. None of that matters.
What really, truly matters now, and trumps all, is having a strong, dominant alliance within your tribe and the game itself. I wasn't on that. I was part of the short straw alliance. The reason Stephenie and Tom was targeted didn't make any strategic sense, except that we weren't part of the big group, the alliance, the numbers. They ultimately didn't want to have to compete against Tom and Stephenie when it came down to an individual game. To me that's just not smart play, and it showed. The Heroes got whipped.
Survival instinct doesn't kick in? People still have to eat and stay warm.
No. No. That didn't play a factor this season. I can tell you for a fact. We weren't catching a lot of fish anyway, because we couldn't go in the ocean to fish. So that wasn't a factor.
Somebody mentioned that on the Reunion Show. Why couldn't you guys go in the water?
The ocean was just horrible. Thank goodness it looks so good on TV, because really it was a complete coral reef where we were, and the water was so turbulent we weren't allowed in the water beyond 20-30 feet off the beach. That's where the fish were and the fishing would have been, and the swimming, and anything like that. You've got to notice too that with six weeks of challenges there wasn't a single swimming challenge. Not one. That's the reason. The water is so bad.
So it was for your own safety.
It was our safety. We were instructed before the game began that we weren't allowed on the reef, and anytime we were that we had to have our shoes on. The reef extended all the way up to our beach. Regardless of where the tide was it was only two to three feet deep all the way out to the edge of the reef, 100-someodd yards out there. There the floor dropped off and that's where the water became so turbulent, so that's where we weren't allowed. There was no place to swim. There was a small little pool - maybe up to our chest - that we could go in to swim. Sometimes if it was high tide we could get in there to bathe and that was it.
Could you go on any adventures on land?
I tried to go around the point of our beach and do some exploring, and I was turned back by production. Around our camp there was a finite amount of space that was all roped off, and we can't go beyond those lines. So it just takes all the adventure away for me.
How big was the area inside the ropes? About a mile?
No, no. It's about 500 yards deep. Yeah, we could probably go about 500 yards into the jungle, off the coast. But the Samoan jungle is so thick it was difficult to do anything there anyway. It was about the same way - 500 yards down the beach on one side, as well. On the other side of our beach we could only go about 50 yards and then it was closed off after that.
I'm guessing at this point you're not going to play a fourth time?
No. I don't know that they'd ever have me back, based on my performance. But it's time to move on, for me.
I expected the show was going to make a big deal out of your history with Jerri, but they never mentioned it. What was the dynamic like between you two?
That's what's unfortunate. Jerri was the only redeeming part of the game for me. We became friends. I really bonded with Jerri considering that we used to go at it and oppose each other. Jerri and I would just peel off during the day, and there was a small fresh water stream. We would go fishing and we were the only ones having any success bringing in fish. And they didn't show any of that. Not a single second.
But no alliance?
We got along great. The problem was that Jerri didn't want to go to the finals with me. She told me that. She was very honest. We were getting along but she said, "Colby, I can't beat you, standing next to you in the finals, so it's not smart for me to align with you in any way." I didn't stand a chance with her.
Do you agree with her perception that if you had made it to the end, the Heroes would have voted for you no matter what?
I don't know. I guess we'll never know. I think I had a pretty good chance, though, yeah. I think it would have worked out well. That's part of the frustration: Knowing that for me [success] came down to my ability to perform in challenges, especially that one Parvati won. That's what's disappointing. I really, really wish I had been able to pull that one challenge out and extend my game a little bit.
You're really not old. Why do you believe you struggled in the challenges?
I don't know. It's very perplexing. Very frustrating, as you can imagine. I couldn't put my finger on it. I couldn't find my rhythm and it just didn't feel comfortable. I was just not performing well and I'm not going to make excuses. It didn't happen.
Do you have athletic hobbies outside the game?
Yeah. That's one reason I love Southern California. I'm always outside. When I got the call [to appear on Heroes vs. Villains] about eight weeks out I started training for it. I was in, probably, the best shape of my life. Again, that just adds to the frustration and the perplexing fact that I didn't do well. It sucks.
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-Interview by Henry Jenkins