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Interview: Vytas Baskauskas talks 'Survivor: Blood vs. Water'
How satisfying was it for him to finish slightly ahead of brother Aras?
Could "Survivor" be heading for an "Aras vs. Vytas" season?
I have no inside information, but the dynamic between Aras, the easy-going former "Survivor" winner, and Vytas, his estranged ex-con, recovering addict brother, was one of the dramatic standouts in "Survivor: Blood vs. Water" and it almost seems like a no-brainer for the show to want one or both of the Baskauskas Brothers back in the future.
For years, Aras had family "Survivor" bragging rights, but he seemed to indicate that that was only payback for a childhood of bickering a bullying, setting up emotional wounds that were exposed in the oddest of moments, like a Sumo challenge at sea. But when the Merge arrived, the brothers were the tightest of alliances and seemed ready to run the game, except that everybody recognized how close they were and they were voted out consecutively. Aras lost the first post-Merge Redemption Island Duel and became the first member of this season's Jury and even though Vytas followed him to the Jury the following week, a new pecking order had been established.
In this week's "Survivor" exit interview -- pushed a few days due to Thanksgiving -- Vytas discusses beating Aras, his own post-Merge strategic errors, Laura's role in his Duel demise and his itch to play again.
HitFix: So, when it comes to family-based bragging rights, how important is it to you that you finished ahead of Aras?
Vytas Baskauskas: [He laughs.] It was completely important. Going into the game, I wanted to win. I think some people play "Survivor" just wanting to go far. I knew I had a chance to win and I wanted to make sure I got to the end, but above that, I just needed to beat Aras. I told myself, "Even if you don't win, Vy, you've just got to beat Aras." And it's funny because our alliances -- After the game, everybody talks, the casts chats with each other, "Oh, tell us this, tell us that" -- and the people that I had aligned with told Aras, "It's funny, Vytas only asked us to make sure no matter what happened, just vote out Aras before you" and Aras' alliance told me the same thing. Aras told them, "As long as anything happens, just make sure you vote Vytas out before me." Both of us knew going into it that it was bragging rights for the family and I won, so I'll have that forever, unless we play again.
HitFix: OK, that leads me to something I've been asking nearly everybody this season: At what point were you prepared to write down Aras' name? To vote against him?
Vytas: Maybe Final 5? I think it's a bad move to write down Aras' name and I'll tell you why and I'll tell you why it was a bad move, I think, for Ciera to write down her mom's name. It's not that Ciera's playing a bad game. I think Ciera's making bold moves and I'm proud of her for that, but to write down your most solid alliance's name is to tell everybody else that, "Hey, guess what? If you're in a solid alliance with me, I can still write down your name." So I could much more foresee a situation where the writing's on the wall, Aras is going out and I talk to people and I say, "Hey, I know Aras' going out. I'm on-board with it, but just so you know, I promised him I'm not gonna write his name down, so I'll write down a throwaway vote" or something like that.
HitFix: How special were those brief times in the game when it was just you and your brother, whether it was Redemption Island or Ponderosa?
Vytas: You know, the first moment that I got to play with Aras, I remember that we were at Redemption Island and Laura had just gotten back into the game and Jeff says "Drop your buffs and you're merged" and I was actually surprised at the emotion that came up for me. I just got really excited and I started tearing up and I got to give Aras this big hug and the Merge feast happened and we tried to spend too much time together that day, just because we didn't want to seem to close for everybody else, but when we got to go and have a strategy talk and ever though our strategy was wrong and even though we screwed it all up, it was just such a great moment to be on the beach on "Survivor" together at the Merge. It was really great. And then at Redemption Island, it was still amazing, but it was a little bit less exciting, just because we're both on Redemption Island and, to another extent, that's kinda how Ponderosa was. It was amazing to be there but then, at that point, we're completely out of the game. It really brought us closer together to get to spend so much time with each other and it's something we'll remember forever.
HitFix: You mentioned getting the strategy wrong post-Merge. When I talked to your brother, he took a lot of the responsibility for not massaging his alliance with Gervase sufficiently enough. Given that Gervase and Tyson were the swing votes against you and were closer to Aras, is there any responsibility you can take for the post-Merge voting?
Vytas: Yeah, well, it was my responsibility to vet those relationships on my own. I just took it blindly. Aras said, "100 percent, Tyson and Gervase are with us" and I remember asking him a second time, "Are you sure?" and he said, "Yeah, 100 percent they're with us." And instead of me going and doing some due diligence, I just took it as fact. "Alright, they must be with us." And what I did, unfortunately, was because I thought we had the numbers with Tyson and Gervase, I didn't go and massage any of my other relationships. I had a really strong relationship with Hayden and with Caleb from the original Tadhana tribe and once the Merge came, it's not that I ignored them, but I could have finessed that relationship a little bit better. And we could have had a completely different strategic plan, which was our plan going into the game, which was "If we both make it to the Merge and there's pairs at the Merge, then we need to link up with all the pairs." And there was one pair that we completely ignored and that Tyson did a great job of getting in his back pocket, which was Ciera and Laura.
HitFix: As you think back, though, how plausible do those things that you just listed seem in your mind? What do you really think that you would have been able to do and what would have been a real struggle?
Vytas: The pairs thing seems so obvious, but I think it would have been actually more of a struggle just because we had no trust with them. Aras voted out Laura. I tried to vote out Ciera at the Brad Culpepper blindside. So both of those girls were very leery of us already. I think it would have been much more realistic for me to get Hayden and Caleb back on-board, really to go back to those guys and say, "You know, we had a Final 3 alliance in the beginning. I'm with Aras now. I'm with Tina and Katie now. But you need to know that my allegiance is with you and let's run this thing to the end." And I think that there's a possibility that that could have happened and then they maybe would have tipped me off to, like, "OK, but you need to know that Tyson's going after your brother," so maybe we could have flipped it on Tyson instead there, but I kinda gave Hayden and Caleb a half-assed welcome like, "Hey, good to be back. I'm with you, but I'm also with these people now, too, so let's all do it together!" I didn't convince them and that was my big mistake, because I had those guys on Tadhana. They trusted me. We were strong to the end.
HitFix: Aras also said that because of alliances, he was reasonably sure you'd be able to survive that female-heavy post-shuffle tribe. When you saw who you'd ended up with, how confident were you that the women would turn on each other and you'd be able to make it through that group?
Vytas: Well, there was only one woman that I brought with me from Tadhana and that was Katie. I made a lot of mistakes in my game, but that was one thing that I did well, was even though I was in the majority alliance in original Tadhana, I massaged the relationships with people in the minority, especially that of Katie. I told Katie, "Hey girl, I've got your back. Even though you're not part of the five guys, I'm gonna make sure you're not gonna get voted out. I'm gonna make sure to keep you safe." So when it came time to go over to Galang and Katie introduced me to her mom, Katie introduced to her mom as, "Here's Vytas, we're together since the beginning," as opposed to, "Here's Vytas. He was a jerk to me because he was in the majority." So all of a sudden, I was with not only with Katie, but immediately with Tina and I used that relationship to get further and so I think that was really the key to me going further and, also, Aras' relationship with Tina was good, too. So it was fortunate for me that I had massaged Katie a little bit and that Aras was with Tina and that there was a rift. I think that Kat had a lot of issues with trust after her and Colton's big fight in one of the first two episodes.
HitFix: When you look back on it, how much credit do you take for the elimination of Kat and Laura and how much do you think that was a fissure that would have happened with or without you?
Vytas: It's not like the girls came up to me at the first moment and said, "We need to get out Kat." I had to play my best. I really had to play my hardest and prove to these women that I was somebody to be trusted. I think as soon as I proved myself to be trustworthy, that's when they said, "OK, let's get out Kat and let's get out Laura B." But it definitely wasn't something that was just readily on the table. I'll take some of the credit. I think that Kat had made some mistakes early on, unfortunately, so once I did establish myself as trustworthy, then I think she was kinda the next one on the list to go.
HitFix: Going back to that final Redemption Island Duel, how surprised were you by Laura helping Tina? And were you surprised by how *much* she helped Tina?
Vytas: Yeah, I've watched the show every year and I've never seen something like that happen. Many times you see people leave their puzzle up and then other contestants cheat off of a completed puzzle and I immediately tried to do that. I tried to look over and said, "OK. What's her puzzle?" And you saw. She would spin it around and try not to let me see it. Meanwhile, she's whispering instructions to Tina, step-by-steps. I mean, I understand why she did it. It's a savvy move on her part, but it's just disappointing. What if the placement would have been different? What if I would have been in the middle instead of Tina? In that case, it couldn't have been done. So you take something that's like, "OK, well it's allowed, but it's just kinda the luck of the draw that they got put next to each other." And there is a lot of luck to the game of "Survivor." It's lucky in the tribe swap, just the way things unfold sometimes and I just didn't get lucky in that sense.
HitFix: Well had you gotten any sense on Redemption Island that they were in cahoots? Or that they saw you as the biggest threat out there?
Vytas: Absolutely not. Tina was with me, for sure, and I think at that point in the game, Tina and my friendship was much stronger than Tina and Laura's friendship. I don't think Laura had that many friendships at that point in that game, or I mean many alliances at that point in the game, so I know that Tina's alliance with me was stronger with that with Laura. And I can't blame Tina for accepting free help. You know, if somebody's gonna give you the answer, fine, I'll take it. I think I was even more surprised just because when Laura came to us at Redemption Island, one of the first things she said was, "Hey, you know, this is Redemption Island and there's no strategy here, may the best person win, only one of us can get back in the game." She really made it seem like, "Oh, we don't have to play that hard because it's Redemption and we're all just fighting for our own Redemption," so I was definitely stunned when the Duel went down the way it did. But no hard feelings and she's playing her game.
HitFix: So it sounds like you're reasonably confident that if Tina had finished first, she would not have helped Laura?
Vytas: No. Tina would absolutely not have helped Laura. I can 100 percent guarantee that. There was no cahoots going into the Duel like, "Let's help each other and get out Vytas." That was definitely not something that went down.
HitFix: You talked a bit about that big emotional moment reuniting with Aras at the Merge. Was there anything where you were surprised by how you reacted to either going against or working with your brother?
Vytas: I was just surprised at the raw emotion that comes up. You know how family is, man. Emotion around family is stuff that's been in our subconscious and mind for years and decades, so that first challenge where Aras and I went up against each other, Sumo at Sea, when I gave him that little cheap shot, I was shocked that I did that. I couldn't believe that I did that, but I was gunning for any other player. It was only because it was me and Aras and it wasn't just one battle with pillows, it was 31 years of battling each other and I was surprised that that came out of me. I was also surprised at some of my emotion when he and I came to the Merge and gave each other a big hug. They didn't show it, but I was sobbing when I got to hug my brother in that moment. When you're not eating that well and you're not really sleeping, the emotion is really raw and authentic and everything that happened out there, it was really cool to see how it all unfolded and I'm definitely closer with Aras as a result of it.
HitFix: Last question: Aras waited a full eight years to play again, but of course he won. Do you have an itch to get out there again already? Do you want to play a second time to as soon as possible?
Vytas: I do have an itch to get back there. I would love to get back out there, especially watching the season unfold and knowing that some of the mistakes I made could easily be remedied, a little bit of hindsight and I've definitely learned some lessons for sure. It's also gonna be more challenging. Going in there as a new player nobody knows about me. Nobody knows how I play the game, if I play the game, if I'm a pretty active player or a passive player, but at this point now, people have seen me on television. If I play again, there's no hiding. I can't put any face forward. I really have to put the face, "OK, this is me. You saw how I played beforehand." And that's the game that's gonna really introduced people to me. Whereas somebody like Aras was really fortunate when he came back, because the game that played in Panama was much more passive. He really comes off as like an easy-going, trusting yoga guy. Whereas, although I am an easy-going, trusting yoga guy, I come off as a player that's willing to play and do the things that need to get done. I think it'll be a little bit more difficult for me to play again, but I hope I get the chance, man. I really do.