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Interview: Caleb Bankston talks 'Survivor: Blood vs. Water'
Latest bootee discusses the Brad Culpepper blindside and more
As the "Survivor: Blood vs. Water" season started, most viewers eyed Caleb Bankston suspiciously and thought, "What kind of man could be engaged to Colton Cumbie?"
But rather than emulating his verbally glib, camera attentive significant other, Caleb proved to be an amiable background performer. Unlike Colton, Caleb never said anything controversial. Unlike Colton, Caleb never complained about the harsh conditions. In fact, how many Caleb talking head segments do you remember from his 30-ish days in the game?
And unlike Colton, Caleb made it past the Merge and even though he was eliminated from the game and became the third member of the Jury, Caleb's run on "Survivor" is almost certain to be remembered mostly for one positive moment of gameplay. It was Caleb who single-handedly brought down Brad Culpepper, the dominant figure in the game's first half, pulling the sort of anti-blindside rarely seen on "Survivor." Sensing Tribal Council unrest and fearing his head might be on the block, Caleb announced that he was flipping on his former alliance-mate and urged others to come along, getting the necessary votes to oust Brad after an initial tie.
It was a good moment.
Caleb had a different vantage point for the season's other big Tribal Council moment when, in his first night on the Jury, he got to witness only the second tie-breaking rock-drawing in "Survivor" history.
In this week's exit interview, Caleb talks about those exciting Tribals and also about the tile-stacking Duel that sent him home. He also discusses why he was never prepared to write Colton's name down in the game and how frequently "Survivor" Colton surfaces in Real-World Colton.
Click through for the full Q&A...
HitFix: Regarding your last Duel, how frustrated were you that there was such a brief time limit and what did you think about Tina basically quitting to beat you?
Caleb Bankston: It was a really good move on her part. If I'd have been in that position, I'd have probably done the same thing. There, in that moment, you don't think, "Oh, look behind you" and see how the other person's doing and see if you're pulling ahead of if you're in the lead. If I'd have done that, maybe I would have stopped and just kinda put my hand on the top of it to hold it and then let go at the last minute, but right there you're just thinking of doing it as fast as you case, getting to the top and then you don't have to worry about it. Watching it, I thought, "You idiot! You're never gonna get it that high again, so why are you even trying after it fell?" But in that moment, you just think, "Well, mine fell. Maybe her's will fall and all I'll need is to have one block ahead of head of hers and I'm golden," so that was kinda my thinking there. But yeah. At that moment, I was thinking about burgers and french fries.
HitFix: You came out to the final Duel giving that look to your former tribemates and then you had that whole conversation with Jeff and Tyson and Gervase about bitterness about them going back on their word. Is that the sort of thing that you feel when you're out there and that maybe feels different a few months later watching it on TV? Or do you still feel that bitterness?
Caleb: No, I wasn't bitter. I just wanted to kinda stick it to them just one last time before I left. I don't have any ill feelings towards anybody that I played with. Watching it, I find myself rooting for Ciera, because it's like she's decided she wants to play. Yeah, I mean, what I said, that's the way I felt, but there's no hard feelings. I don't feel any ill-will towards either one of them.
HitFix: Then in your first Tribal Council on the Jury, you got to watch only the second drawing of the rocks in "Survivor" history. What was it like watching that play out from your vantage point?
Caleb: It was crazy. Ciera, she kept kinda looking around and at the beginning, I thought, "No, there's no way that it'll go and it'll be Hayden or Katie getting voted out tonight" and then, as it went, I could kinda see her wheels start to turn and Hayden got pushed up against the wall and he came out swinging and he was throwing it out there. He's like, "You're No. 4. You're No. 4. You've gotta do something our you're it." Like, "You're No. 4. You're on the bottom." It took a few times, but he finally got the message across and you could kinda see her starting to kinda think about it and Tyson kept rubbing her back and saying, "No, don't worry about it. You're fine. You're fine." She kinda called them out on it and I think Gervase kinda shot himself in the foot whenever he was trying to talk. Gervase doesn't tend to think when he speaks, so it's just word vomit all over the place. Watching it play out, I'm sure my eyes were as big as half-dollars. I was just wide-eyed and nodding my head like, "Yes! Do this! You guys do this! This is your moment!" It was crazy watching it. I was really happy that that was my first experience as a Jury member.
HitFix: What would you have done in that same circumstance? Would you have wanted to go as far as the drawing of the rocks?
Caleb: Yeah. Going back to the Brad Culpepper vote-out and that Tribal Council, I was going to rocks. If one of them didn't budge, we were drawing rocks and I was fine with that. If I drew the wrong one, I drew the wrong one, but it was worth a shot. But yeah, I would have gone all the way. Once I get my mind set on something, that's usually the way I go. Yeah, I would have gone to rocks. It was funny, because Gervase was rooting them on to draw rocks. "Yeah, go to rocks! Yeah, go to rocks!" And I was thinking, "Well yeah, you've got the necklace on. You're not gonna have to worry about it." The odds were in their favor, because they only had a 33 percent chance of drawing it. The other side, they had the bigger odds. They're not really good, but at least they're something. In "Survivor," you don't need much odds to get by.
HitFix: But what do you think of going to a luck-of-the-draw result on "Survivor," rather than strategy or outplaying or outlasting or whatever?
Caleb: It was a bold move, but it obviously wasn't a smart move, because it didn't work out. That's kinda the thing. Whenever I talked about making a move or whenever I thought about a move, I was like, "OK. How could this go wrong?" And in that moment, I don't think she was think, "OK. There's a 2-in-3 shot that one of us is going home over Tyson." So I don't really think it was thought through completely before she just realized. Maybe she was thinking, "I need to make a move," because Hayden was talking about, "The Jury's right there, they've gotta see something in order to give you the money at the end" and I think that she was kinda blinded by wanting to make a move of her own and it just wasn't the smartest way to go in that circumstance.
HitFix: You mentioned your own terrific Tribal Council moment. Talk me through your thought process in the Culpepper blindside. When did you decide you were gonna do it and when did you decide HOW you were gonna do it?
Caleb: From the challenge where we lost, all the guys always went to the well and we decided who we were gonna vote out and then that was it. Well, that didn't happen that day. So I knew. I was like, "OK. Brad's not with us, so something's up." Brad never exchanged one word with me that afternoon, so I didn't feel 100 percent, but I knew he was kinda throwing my name out there and Hayden and Vytas had said, "We're not gonna do it. We're not gonna vote you out. You're safe. Don't worry about it." So that kinda put my mind at ease. But the fact that Brad never came to me and tried to say anything to me, whether it be "We're voting Ciera" or "I screwed up. I was throwing your name out, but I was just having a lapse in judgment and I'm sorry" or whatever, it would have happened differently.
But yeah, walking up to Tribal Council, it started to sprinkle a little bit and usually my mood, if I feel something's off, the weather changes. It's weird and it sounds crazy, but it's true. I thought, "Something's up. Something's different. I need to figure this out." So I was thinking about it and Jeff, he kinda tends to ask the right questions and so Tribal Council went on and so Tribal Council went on and he asked questions, people were answering and the case came up of, "Well, tell me why Caleb shouldn't be the one sent home because he's the free agent and he could swing either way, why not go ahead and do that?" So that was kinda like a wakeup call. I was like, "You know? I'm not gonna ride in the backseat until somebody tells me it's my stop and he's your exit, go ahead and go on." Yeah, right then, I just thought, "OK. I've got three sitting here in front. There's three in the back. Hayden is kinda my right-hand man and I'm also pretty close with Vytas," so I thought, "You know? I'm just gonna do it. I'm gonna throw it out there. They can decide what they want to do." It came down to a tie the first time and then Vytas, his thoughts were, "I'm not drawing rocks. I was safe. I'm not getting a 25 percent chance I'm going home." So I figured I had enough influence that I could pull it off."
HitFix: When I talked to him, Colton maintained that his decision to quit was a move to help you. At the time, though, what did it feel like?
Caleb: At the time, with the twist of being able to switch with your loved one, I knew that, "Oh crap. If Colton gets voted out..." I knew that I was gonna switch with him. I was gonna meet him at the gate walking in and say, "Go take a seat." Jeff wasn't even gonna have to ask if I was gonna switch with him. It was gonna already be done. That was the way it was gonna be. I thought about it and I thought, "If Colton can just last, I won't have to do a Duel," because I'm not that strong at puzzles. I play Sudoku every now and then. I have a book of them that I do, but that's about it. I'm not good at thinking on the spot and being under that pressure with that kind of puzzle, so I knew if I went to Redemption Island, it wasn't gonna look good at that point. I wasn't comfortable. So him leaving, it did definitely help me realize that I might could actually go farther without him than with him.
HitFix: Knowing that your fiance was going to be a target for absolutely everybody, what was your strategy coming into the game in terms of, at any point, writing Colton's name down if he'd stayed in the game?
Caleb: I would have never wrote it down. If I had to force a tie and go to rocks, then I would have done it, but I was never going to write his name down. The only way I would have wrote his name down was to give him a million bucks.
HitFix: But why is that? You knew coming into the game that people were going to be gunning for Colton or that Colton would be gunning for himself to some degree. Why would you have never written his name down to help you if he was willing to quit to help you?
Caleb: I don't know. I love him and I'd be afraid that he might read into it a little too much, he wouldn't realize that it was just the writing on the wall and "You were going, so I might as well go with the majority." We saw with Ciera writing her mom's name down, it was an emotional thing and I did not want to do that to someone I've chosen to spend my life with. It's one thing to do it to family members because, you know, blood is thick, but I think water's thicker this way. I think that you made that choice, instead of you're just related to them and you don't get to choose who your mom is or who your daughter is. Seeing the reaction to that, I knew that I would never be able to do it. I just couldn't betray him that way.
HitFix: I know that "Survivor" Colton is probably only a very, very small percentage of Actual Colton, but what would you say that percentage is?
Caleb: It really depends. I want to say it's in the 1-to-5 percent range, just because if you back Colton into a corner, he's gonna do what he has to do to get out of it or to fend for himself if I'm not there to fend for him or to take care of him. You're out there, you're hungry, you're thirsty, you're not sleeping a lot... I mean, I was. I was fine, but Colton? That's just not his cup of tea, or cup of sweet tea. So him being out there grumpy and cranky, he's a big-time strategic player and it seems like nobody wanted to really play the game until they had to and he wanted to start early, so just having all those factors into it, that's gonna creep out, just because he doesn't know anywhere else to go. Yeah, that part of him never comes out. It's kinda a controlled environment. I'm kinda a go-with-the-flow guy. I'm not picky. I don't care what we do. We can go see whatever movie you wanna go to. We can go eat wherever you wanna go. It doesn't matter as long as I can spend some time with you. So he gets to control a lot of what we do and I just kinda let it go, because it's not important to me what we do, it's just the fact that we get to spend time together.
HitFix: But because of that, Colton's had trouble with "Survivor" so far. Do you think that in some ways, "Survivor" is actually a more natural game for you than it is for him?
Caleb: The "Survivor" that is going out there and roughing it, not getting a lot to eat, not having any comfort, that is. I love that kind of an atmosphere. One of my favorite shows is "Revolution," where the power goes out. There's no power. None. I would love that kind of a setting where you had to fend for yourself and see who could survive and who couldn't. I just feel like I would thrive in that setting. But he's more of a social player. I call him my social butterfly, because he just kinda flounces around and talks to everybody at a party and I kinda find a corner and talk to somebody and that's it. He kinda brings me out of that shell. So the social game that "Survivor" has become, he thrives at. It's just the elements that get to him.
HitFix: And just as a last question: Having experienced this yourself, do you see why Colton wanted to put himself through it twice? And are you already itching to do it again if you could?
Caleb: You know, Night 1 at Ponderosa, I was like, "OK! Let's go again! Let's do this again! That was fun!" And yeah, I would love to do it again. I would love to do it with Colton again and actually get to play with Colton instead of being separated and playing against each other. I think it would be a completely different game, because Night 1 when we were together, we were perfect. "Unstoppable" was kinda kinda a thought. It felt like that. To be able to play with him like I thought we would be able to, that would be something that I would love to do. But yeah, I would love to do it again. I had fun.