30 from 30: #5 – Colby Donaldson Chooses Tina Wesson over Keith Famie

The Moment:

Colby Donaldson snatched defeat from the jaws of victory when he chose to go to the final two with strategic threat (and eventual winner) Tina Wesson rather than presumed goat Keith Famie.

We’re counting down the 30 Moments That Shaped Survivor, events that happened on the show that helped create and evolve the game and the series that we know and love. Go here to view the criteria we are using to determine what qualifies for the list. And since these posts are covering the first thirty seasons of Survivor, there will be spoilers for various Survivor seasons.

Colby Donaldson votes for Keith

Why it Matters:

Why Colby? Why did you choose the last possible moment to stop focusing on winning the game? For 41 (!) days, Colby was dominating challenges, controlling votes, getting along with people at camp, being handsome as fuck. Then, after revealing how well he got to know his fellow castaways by winning the Fallen Comrades challenge at the final three, he had the win within his grasp. All he needed to do was vote out his popular, respected, strategic partner Tina and breeze to a win against the universally disliked Keith. But suddenly, Colby had different motivations.

Colby did not “stick to the plan”.

We all have our own theories as to why Colby didn’t vote out Keith, some of which have come from him after the fact. Be it him not wanting to damage his brand by being “another Richard Hatch” or Colby not being strategic enough to overcome his sense of honor, it’s a decision that’s shaped the way we’ve thought about Colby ever since. He had victory within his grasp, and then let it slip away.

It’s interesting how the perception of the move and Colby has wildly changed over the years as Survivor has evolved. At the time, he was celebrated as a hero, proving that for some people, there are things that mean more than winning a million dollars.

Ten years later, the show would nominate it for “Dumbest Move in Survivor History”.

I've made a huge mistake
I’ve made a huge mistake

Obviously, his two subsequent appearances have done a lot to dull the shine on Colby, put I think modern sensibilities judging his decision have contributed the most. I get the sense that the modern perception of Colby is that he was merely a challenge beast, unconcerned with strategy, too nice to get the job done. Which simply isn’t true. During The Australian Outback, Colby was probably the closest thing they had to a game bot. He frequently divorced himself from emotion to vote out people he liked (Elisabeth, Rodger), blindside former alliance partners that were no longer useful (Mitchell, Jerri), and always, always focus on the next challenge.

Prior to the merge, he wasn’t willing to concede defeat had Ogakor lost the final immunity challenge (that never happened due to Michael Skupin’s medevac) and went into the merge down numbers. At the merge, he forcefully turned himself into the meat shield to deflect attention from Jerri and Keith (both of whom would have lost the shitty tiebreaker that eliminated Jeff Varner). Even turning on Jerri early was a strategic move, as she was a far more dangerous player than the inert Elisabeth and Rodger.

But all of that has been washed away in the 15 years since The Australian Outback, all because Colby decided to go up against someone who could beat him in the final two rather than someone who decidedly couldn’t. Well, that, and “Superman in a fat suit”.

If you look closely you can actually pinpoint the exact moment his heart breaks in two.
If you look closely you can actually pinpoint the exact moment his heart breaks in two.

The Impact:

Ultimately, why Colby voted out Keith instead of Tina is irrelevant for the purposes of this list. On a personal level, given the public sentiment around the previous season, I think you can even justify it. No, this list is concerned with how that decision shaped Survivor. And it did. Irrevocably. Unfortunately for Mark Burnett, Jeff Probst, and Rosie O’Donnell, Colby’s decision didn’t ensure Survivor finals would become iron-sharpens-iron, may-the-best-person-win affairs.

Life goal: to ever be as psyched about anything as Colby was to lose to Tina.
Life goal: to ever be as psyched about anything as Colby was to lose to Tina.

Instead, the enduring influence of Colby’s decision was for anyone with a passing familiarity with Survivor to never, EVER pull a Colby and take someone to the end that could beat you.

Pictured: someone without a passing familiarity with Survivor.
Pictured: someone without a passing familiarity with Survivor.

Colby’s well intentioned, loyal gesture unwittingly gave birth to the concept of dragging a goat to the finals. Two if you can manage it. 40 million people tuned in to see the handsome cowboy who had been dominating the most obvious parts of the game lose to a worthy competitor. Many of them thought “that sure was cool. But you know what’s REALLY cool? A million dollars”.

From then on, the only reasons why players don’t follow the “take a goat to the finals” strategy have been:

  1. They are so far ahead that it can’t possibly matter and might draw more ire than it’s worth (see: Kim, JT).
  2. There are no goats that are part of their alliance (see: Yul, Amanda).
  3. They have a poor understanding of what a goat is in terms of jury votes (see: Russell, Russell again).
  4. They ARE the goat, and thus can only pick who they want to lose to (see: Kim Johnson, Sugar, Jaclyn).
  5. They are Woo Hwang.
This never gets old

Otherwise, you ride that goat or goats to the end and win. If you have a mutual partnership with someone your equal or better (like Colby and Tina), there’s generally an unspoken acknowledgement that the deal ends at the last tribal council prior to the jury (like Malcolm and Denise). But whatever you do, you do NOT pull a Colby Donaldson. It’s not like they’re giving out Schick Quattro commercials to Survivors anymore.

The fact that this is the best I could do to come up with for a photo or video of Colby’s ad does not say good things about us as a fan community. Be better internet.

What Else Made the List?

You can view all our 30 from 30 content by clicking here.

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Co-host of the Purple Rock Survivor Podcast and the Canadian of the group, Andy has been watching Survivor continuously since the very beginning and likes to treat that as some kind of virtue to lord over others.

Favourite seasons: Heroes vs Villains, Cook Islands, Palau, The Amazon, Cagayan
Favourite players: Boston Rob, Kim Spradlin, Tony Vlachos, Cirie Fields, Yul Kwon, Rob Cesternino
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  • Adam B.

    The “mutual partnership” dynamic also applies to Tom and Ian in Palau. Neither of them wanted to face the other in Final Tribal; hence, the buoys.

    Colby absolutely belongs on the list. It sparked the whole Goat discussion, led other survivors to be bolder in doing it (I guess Heidik’s the first), and in turn led to 3-way finals being the new normal to combat it.

    • andythesaint

      Yep. Tom and Ian are another great example. We also assumed while watching it that Rob and Grant had a similar dynamic in Redemption Island, although we may have been wrong about that given how Grant has behaved since.

      Heidik was probably the most significant early cultivator of goats, but didn’t Tom, Lex, and Ethan keep Kim around for the same reason? I’d have to check to see if any of them were planning on going to the end with someone other than her (and I’m not going to) until she made it a moot point.

      • sharculese

        I think it’s possible she was being dragged to the end as a goat, but I think it’s at least equally possible they planned to clip her after then finished pruning Samburu and only didn’t because T-Bird managed to stoke Lex’s paranoia on the way out the door.

        And even if they talked about it I wouldn’t be shocked if the show kept that on the cutting room floor (because why tip your hand to future players that it’s possible to make FTC a foregone conclusion) and would have kept doing so had Heidik not forced their hand.

        • andythesaint

          That’s a good point about the show wanted to avoid making FTC a foregone conclusion, which would ultimate lead to changing it to a final three (which, sadly, did not really accomplish what they were going for). It’s a problem for Survivor that the thing they build their whole season toward and a two-hour finale is usually a complete anti-climax. It’s a problem they can’t really do anything about (although they keep trying – good for them).

          Which is why it’s good that they’ve moved to having the final immunity challenge be incredibly elaborate. The winner of that challenge is more often the climax of the episode (and season), so I’m glad that they make it pretty epic (as opposed to the Fallen Comrades thing here, or the “stand around forever” battle of wills in the past).

          • Adam B.

            Suspense and uncertainty can be overrated values. Sometimes there’s joy in seeing the expected happen and a deserving winner complete the game.

            Also, I miss Fallen Comrades.

          • andythesaint

            I also miss Fallen Comrades. It just doesn’t need to be the final challenge.

            You’re preaching to the choir about wanting to see the best win, but generally, for most of the audience, storytelling works best of it climaxes at the end. Particularly since FTC tends to take up 20 minutes.

          • Adam B.

            I do not, however, miss the “anoint yourself in paints and stuff” ceremony which used to precede the final immunity challenge. The one before Borneo’s finale was particularly icky.

          • Purplerockmatt

            i think the increased importance the show places on storytelling makes the final less surprising, because the show has to lay increased groundwork to justify its winner. They started realizing this was a problem after Jenna, but really committed to justifying its winner with Natalie. Anyway I think its basically, before Jenna, Survivor was a game show, between Jenna and Natalie its an even mix of both, but after Natalie, it is firmly a tv show with dramatic arcs and increasingly obvious winner edits. Not saying any method is better or worse, but i do think this change in how they edit the show and why exists

  • Other Scott

    So do you think if Colby beats Tina we get more of people killing the goats and taking someone on their level to the final 2? That would make things more exciting in the Final Tribal and final reading of votes anyways.

    Also, that Woo gif is amazing. Things like that, him saying “Woo” occasionally like he’s a pokemon, and his “do we fight for it?” confessional is why I’m all good with him being in Season 31. Also, what is Tony doing in the gif? Staring down Cliff?

    • purplerockpodcast

      Tony was frequently amazing at tribal councils. See the far left of this gif: http://imgur.com/gallery/X8z0HIQ

      • andythesaint

        Tony was such a ball of raw nerves and energy. He is the greatest.

      • Barbara Anderson

        Good grief, Kass, way to be obvious in that vote-out. Spencer knew immediately and Tasha, after a few seconds based on looking at you, that you were responsible.
        Faced on his facial reactions, Tony would be a great jury member.

    • andythesaint

      Yes, I think if Colby wins there are fewer goats in the future. There would still be some, since if you’re a Brian Heidik, you need a Clay to win. But there was a real desire for the end to be more sporting until Colby became a cautionary tale.

      • Adam B.

        Kelly losing, obviously, plays into the anti-Sporting dynamic. Her and Colby’s losses combined to create a paradigm where winning challenges basically didn’t matter to the final vote.

        • andythesaint

          After rewatching S1, I was glad that Kelly’s challenge dominance was of little consequence. Because most of those challenges were bullshit anyway. I’d need to rewatch more of Australia to see if they beefed them up for Colby or not (which I might do now that I’m past my three-out-of-five post crunch for this series).

          Mike and Tom, on the other hand, won some actually impressive challenges. But absolutely, the 1-2 punch of strategists beating challenge beasts pretty much killed that dynamic before it could ever live.

          • sharculese

            There’s some decent stuff, like ‘light the fire then run across the balance beam to fill it with water to burn through the rope,’ but there’s also stuff that is literally parlor games blown up to life size, like memory match and dots and boxes.

            I would say that Amazon is the first season where across the board challenges look like modern challenges.

          • Barbara Anderson

            I don’t think that they beefed up the challenges (except for maybe the second chances challenge that was comprised of quite a few challenges that Colby had won) for Colby. In fact, I expect that production had the not-blair witch challenge for Elisabeth or Rodger to win.

          • sharculese

            I didn’t read Andy’s ‘beefed up for Colby’ as saying that challenges were tilted towards things Colby could win so much as that the challenges Colby was winning were beefed up from what they had in Borneo, which is true.

            To elaborate on what I said above, I’d say challenge quality increases fairly linearly from Borneo through Marquesas, then Thailand takes a giant step back with all the non-telegenic puzzle challenges, then Amazon is where they really start to hit their stride, starting with that jail break challenge in the first episode.

          • andythesaint

            That is indeed what I meant.

          • Barbara Anderson

            My apologies for misunderstanding! I do agree that these challenges have been heightened for the best possible television. Sharculese, I remember hearing on another Survivor podcast a theory that the Thailand challenges were set up that way in order to prevent the Robb tribe from decimating the Brian tribe (I cannot remember tribe names from that season) due to the disparity in ages that was established in the schoolyard pick. Unfortunately, they may have swung a little bit too much in the other direction.

    • Barbara Anderson

      I may have watch that Woo gif a few too many times. The one thing that makes this gif imperfect is #blindside.

  • DrVanNostrand

    It’s funny that you listed JT as someone who didn’t have to take a goat to the end because I just rewatched Tocantins. It was painful to watch Stephen get torn apart by that jury. Though, following the comments about FTC blowouts in a previous post, Tocantins is a good example of a predictable FTC that still managed to be entertaining.

    • andythesaint

      I still don’t think Stephen was a goat. He just was so much less than JT. But, for instance, he probably could’ve beaten Erin and Taj. Goats can’t beat anybody.

      • DrVanNostrand

        I definitely didn’t mean to imply Stephen was a goat.

  • Zachary Chong

    Love the Woo/Lindsey faces… best meme from Cagayan. 🙂