Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Keep on surviving: Colton Cumbie reflects on his time on Survivor


Sometimes his walks across campus are cut short by a fan wanting a picture with him or getting so excited, they appear to go into cardiac arrest. The concept of having fans is weird for him. In 2012 and 2013, Colton Cumbie was plastered across millions of television screens as the youngest contestant ever (at the time) on the reality television 
show “Survivor.”

“I’m used to being around my family and friends and being just Colton,” Cumbie said. “[Having fans] is crazy to me.”

Cumbie’s a survivor. He has to be. It’s his only choice. He should be married right now. His wedding to his partner and fellow “Survivor” contestant Caleb Bankston would have been in October 2014. It was going to be covered by People Magazine. Bankston and Cumbie met during Cumbie’s freshman year at the University. Cumbie came out as gay when he was 12.

“We met here,” Cumbie said. “He was a freshman, and I was a senior. We were like a Taylor Swift song. I was 18, and he was 22. We dated for four years; then we got engaged. We had just recently got engaged when we got on the show. We got on the show and pushed it back 
a year.”

The two were the first openly gay couple in the show’s history. Cumbie said they would receive letters and calls from young kids or older couples inspired by their 
relationship on television.

Bankston worked as a train conductor in Birmingham, and three months before their wedding, the train he was working on derailed. He was killed in the accident. Cumbie found himself in a spotlight he didn’t want, wanting to withdraw and grieve but receiving calls from news outlets.

He said he used to feel cynical about celebrities not wanting to be in the limelight because they put themselves in that position, but he feels more empathetic now. After Bankston passed, he felt a responsibility to their fans but also need to take some time to himself.

“They watched you and rooted for you, and they watched him and rooted for him,” he said. “You do feel some responsibility to them, but first and foremost, you have to take care of yourself and get to a place where you can speak.”

Cumbie said it was ironic to think there was a time he couldn’t last 39 days without seeing Bankston, and now he has to.

“Caleb was my everything,” he said. “We were the couple that my family would get so mad when we played dominoes because we cheated. We always played together.”

Cumbie, in real life, is at odds with the arrogant manipulative villain he was portrayed as on the show. He believes part of that is due to the show’s editing and the necessity to have a villain every season. 

Dianne Bragg, a journalism professor at the University, met Cumbie when he took her media law class last year.

“The real Colton tells you exactly what he thinks,” Bragg said. “He doesn’t hide his opinions at all. He’s generally delightful to talk with. Him and I disagree on certain topics, but I enjoy having those discussions with him. I would never consider him to be a villain.”

Cumbie agrees he has a distinctive personality people either love or hate.

“I think I’m definitely not the most politically correct person in the world, but I just have a warped sense of humor. I’m the first to make fun of myself, and I think that when I went out there, a lot of things were taken out of context,” Cumbie said. “I’m either one of those people that you love or you don’t. That part didn’t so much surprise me. I thought people were going to either love me or not, but I didn’t think they were going to not love me that intensely.”

Growing up in the small Southern town of Monroeville, Alabama, Cumbie wanted to be on “Survivor” ever since he was nine years old watching the season one finale with his grandmother. He told her he was going to be on the show one day. For his 12th birthday, his family held a weekend-long “Survivor” themed party where they camped out and voted people off.

“There was a joke that my parents paid people not to vote me out,” he said. “I like to think I won on my own accord.”

Cumbie doesn’t see his time on “Survivor” as life changing. He’s still the same person he’s always been. Rather, his time on television has put him in a position where he can change other people’s lives. Whether it be making a terminally ill child’s dream come true, inspiring other gay people to come forward or just going to class, Cumbie remains himself – love him or hate him.

“He’s got that star charisma quality, and I can see why he was chosen to be on that show,” Bragg said. “He’s very articulate, he has a good presence, and he’s good on camera. I think we’ll be seeing more of him in the future 
on television.”

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