In 2012, Colton Cumbie was one of the biggest villains Survivor had ever seen. Often dismissive to his fellow tribe mates, he made bigoted and cruel remarks throughout the show before being medically evacuated with symptoms of appendicitis. (Or so we thought. Host Jeff Probst now claims that Cumbie was faking his illness and simply wanted to quit.)
Returning to play Survivor: Blood vs. Water, Cumbie made it to Day 7 before quitting the game, bursting into tears and saying, “I don’t want to be here.” A visibly angry Probst told Cumbie, 22, that he was being “selfish” before allowing him to leave Survivor forever.
Cumbie now talks to PEOPLE about his haters, his regrets, and his surprising new job.
Colton, why did you quit?
Growing up as a young gay person in the South, I need to have some control of my environment. I was never physically hurt growing up, but that was a real possibility, especially in a highly religious place. So one of my things is that I need to be in control, or else I feel vulnerable. I’m like a caged animal, and I react. I’m not like that in real life. But when I’m on Survivor, I don’t have control of what’s going on in the game. Producers have the control, and that’s very hard for someone like me.
But this was your second time playing. You knew all about the loss of control.
I did, but I really thought I was going to play with [my fiancé] Caleb. It never once crossed my mind that we would be on different tribes. He keeps me grounded and centered, and I thought that he would help take the edge off.
You wanted to redeem yourself, but it didn’t happen. What has the reaction been?
I have met some people who detested me. Like they want me to die. It’s ironic; people call me out for bullying, and they bully me in doing that. Or they want to call me a bigot, yet use slurs about sexuality. I get that there are people who legitimately don’t like me with good reason, but there are some people who have really shown their own bigotry as they talk about me.
On social media, there are people who have tried out for the show multiple times, and they are very mad at you for squandering your Survivor experience. In essence, you took the place of someone who really wanted to be there. What do you say to them?
If someone wins the lottery, it’s their prerogative what they do with the money – if they want to spend it all on hookers and blow, that’s their business. This was my opportunity. I’m sorry that they didn’t cast you on Survivor, but that’s not my fault. Maybe you should become more interesting.
You understand how that comes across, right?
I’m being funny. This is who I am and I’m not changing. You all b––––ed and said you wouldn’t watch the show if I was on it, and yet you watched, anyway. Leave me alone.
You just voluntarily went on a reality show. You can’t do that and then say, "Leave me alone." Surely you knew you were going to face some scrutiny.
I get that. But people do like me. When people meet me, they like me. You all don’t know me, because you have only seen the edited version about me. I hung out with [iconic villainess] Jerri Manthey, and she told me, “I wanted to hate you, but I can’t. You’re funny.”
So, clear this up. Were you really sick when you left the show the first time?
Yes, I was. I’ll show you my hospital records if you want to see them. Why would I have quit? I was running the show. I had an Immunity Idol. I would never have quit.
You mean, Jeff Probst was wrong?
I don’t know what Jeff’s deal is. He told me he had fought for me to be on the show, and now he’s saying he didn’t want me to be on the show. Jeff just says whatever Jeff wants to say. But I didn’t quit the show.
What are your regrets?
I regret how I treated people the first time I played the game. Some of that venom has been held over from One World. I don’t think I was that bad this season. I wasn’t mean and vindictive.
But you started to create chaos and tell a lot of lies.
But that was strategy. Where do you draw the line between being mean and having good gameplay? I wasn’t going to float around. I went into Survivor to be an aggressive, strategic player.
What went wrong?
I’m way too emotional to play that game. I have the strategic mind for it, but my emotions rule me. The lesson I learned is that I should have tried out for Big Brother. People could have seen several sides of me.
Um, but what about the live feeds?
Laughs. Holy crap. What would I have said on a live feed? That could’ve been bad.
What are you up to next?
I’m in school right now and really enjoying that. I’m studying Elementary Education and working in a kindergarten. I love all my kids. I’m also planning a wedding, and we’ll buy some land and build a house. Survivor is a chapter of my life that is closed, and I’m ready to move on.