Roughly 95 percent of my “Survivor” exit interviews are about unfulfilled castaway dreams and thwarted million dollar ambitions, but once upon a time in a land called Panama, Aras Baskauskas outpointed Danielle DiLorenzo and won the million dollar “Survivor” prize.
While returning players on “Survivor” are as common as in-episode cutaways to snakes, there’s still some novelty to return appearances by former winners. Sandra Diaz-Twine remains the only two-time winner, but for maybe five moments on “Survivor: Blood vs. Water,” Aras looked like he might have a chance to join her.
Reunited with his estranged brother Vytas after the Merge, Aras seemed to have all of the pieces in place to steer a dominant alliance through the remaindered of the season. Of course, the thing about looking in control on “Survivor” is that other people see you and think you look like you’re in control and try to take you out. Feeling excited and a bit cocky, Aras was immediately blindsided by a cabal including Tyson and Aras’ best bud Gervase. Soon after, he lost a Redemption Island Duel and became the first member of the season’s Jury, a far cry from finishing first overall.
In this week’s exit interview, Aras talks about what brought him back to “Survivor,” the current state of his relationship with Vytas, the downside of his friendship/alliance with Gervase and he plugs his current musical venture.
Click through for the full Q&A.
HitFix: I’ve talked to a lot of returning “Survivor” players about that “Survivor” compulsion or itch to come back and try again for the million. You’d won “Survivor,” though. Did you have an itch or that compulsion?
Aras Baskauskas: No, not to come back to win. I didn’t have the itch to prove I could play again. I think it was more the fact that I just had such a fun time playing the first time and I’m such a fan of the show. Who could turn down an offer to play again?
HitFix: So there was nothing you wanted to prove or improve? It just seemed like a fun idea?
Aras: Well, I wanted to improve the numbers in my bank account, I think. That would have been nice. Yeah. Look, “Survivor” is such a fun, unique, challenging experience that when provided the opportunity to do it again, I don’t think you can say no. Well, I guess you could say no, but having not done it for eight years, I felt like it would be fun to go back and test myself again.
HitFix: And was this a situation where you said to the producers, “I have this brother with whom I have this relationship” or did the producers come to you and say “Do you want to play ‘Survivor’ with Vytas?”
Aras: Because Vytas and I are from LA, we know a great deal from people in casting and the producers, so they already knew about Vytas, so they came to me and said, “If you want to play, bring your bro.”
HitFix: And was there a reservation about airing this relationship on national TV?
Aras: That reservation didn’t come until my interview where I broke down and cried and in that moment, I thought “Oh shoot, what did I just sign up for? This could be dredging up some ugly things in front of a national audience.”
HitFix: How close did you come did you come to backing out at that point?
Aras: I was in at that point. The game had started. The game had started, but I didn’t really consider how much of our dynamic was going to be front-and-center and certainly in this season it really was one of the more compelling stories.
HitFix: How impacted was the dynamic by the heightened stakes of “Survivor”?
Aras: Yeah, “Survivor” is an extreme situation. It’s a raw situation. You’re seeing people at their worst even when it’s not a family edition, so you’re getting this really intense experience coupled with some really deep wounds and that’s why you’re kinda getting a glimpse into what happened with Vytas and I. But at the end of the day, I’m really proud of the way Vytas and I ended up dealing with each other and growing and getting closer and our relationship is much stronger as a result.
HitFix: In the couple months since this experience ended, how would you say your relationship has changed?
Aras: I would say we are closer now than ever before. It’s something that Vytas and I have shared that nobody else knows about, or nobody else can speak on. We’re the only sibling pair that’s ever played “Survivor.” It’s a very unique experience. We got to spend some nice, quality time on Redemption Island together and it brought us closer. I don’t see how that experience could not bring you closer.
HitFix: There seemed to be two groups of loved one partnerships out there: There were the people who were willing to do whatever it took for their loved ones to win, the selfless people, and then there were the people who wanted to win themselves and figured that the relationships would be OK when they got home. How did you enter the game thinking about your relationship in those terms and how did the game evolve your thoughts in those terms?
Aras: I looked at the game and I assumed it would be a Final 3, because that’s what it has been for a long time. I looked at the game and I thought, “There’s room for Vytas and I out there both and what would be the best situation is if I could go up there with my brother, myself and my good friend Gervase.” So that was the way I approached it, like, “There’s room. There’s enough. In this game of lack, there happens to still be enough space.” So I never felt like I had to turn on Vytas. I think I underestimated the perception of Vytas and I as threats and I underestimated the impact of having people who I was in an alliance with lose their loved ones.
HitFix: Speaking a little bit about Gervase, was it a mistake to base an in-game alliance on an outside-the-game friendship?
Aras: I think that it certainly was a handicap, because come Merge time, there was no way I was gonna jump over to the other side and take Laura Morett, Ciera, Tina and Katie and Vytas and Aras over a Gervase relationship. Does that make sense? So it prevented me from considering that. Before the game started, if you’d asked me, “Hey, what do you do if you make it to the Merge in pairs?” the obvious answer is “You go with the other pairs,” so it was a handicap. That being said, I still believe that I could have gone to the end with Gervase and I did a very poor job of massaging that relationship. I think I just got too comfortable with Laura’s massages that I forgot that I needed to do that also. I joke. I joke. But you know what I mean. I probably should have been more of a babysitter with Gervase than I was.
HitFix: So is that a thing where you put the responsibility on you for not massaging that relationship and not credit to Gervase for going a different way? Who gets the credit or the blame?
Aras: I think you look at a decision that was made and you just have to assume on “Survivor” that people are going to do what they think is in their best interest. Now if you look at that decision, at the bigger implications, that move was best for one man and that move was best for Tyson. It wasn’t best for Gervase. Gervase voted out somebody who was with him, who he knew was with him, rather than keeping me around for a few more votes just to see things would play out so Gervase would have more outs. Gervase has essentially cornered himself into playing with Tyson now. He doesn’t have an out with me. So I don’t think that was Gervase’s best move. I think Tyson made a great play on Gervase and it wasn’t a singular key play. It was over the course of time, having lost his loved one and having Gervase lose his loved one, he just worked Gervase and he continued to convince Gervase that his best play was to stay with Tyson and, not only that, but his best play was to stay with Tyson *and* ditch Aras. He could have stayed with Tyson and had Aras as well, but he chose to ditch me and I don’t think that was in his best interest.
HitFix: When you were out there, had you realized that there was that Tyson-Gervase alliance and that it might be a probably?
Aras: Yeah. No no. I absolutely saw the alliance with Tyson and Gervase, but I just assumed… So Gervase and I, before the season starts, we’re friends and we call each other: “Yo, man. We’re gonna go out together.” “Awesome.” “Alright. I’ve got your back.” “Cool. I’ve got your back.” “Great.” And we say, “Well, we should act like we’re not friends out there.” “OK. I’ll do it.” And so I just assumed that we were solid as a rock the whole time and that was my mistake. I didn’t massage him enough. Look, is Gervase still in the game? Yes. So hat’s off to him right now. Know what I mean? The question is, can he get to the end and can he win? Those are the questions that he has to ask himself at this point with the route he’s going. I have no ill will towards Gervase. I just don’t think it was his best move.
HitFix: It seemed as if Tina was also involved in one of the pre-game alliances. What do you think those kinds of outsider friendships do to the overall strategy and gameplay of “Survivor” when you have all of these returning players coming back who have alliances before they even get out on the beach?
Aras: Tina and I weren’t in a pre-game alliance, but Tina and I did have a pre-game friendship that spans eight years. It just makes things a little more challenging, because how do you vote out a friend? You know? That’s not easy to do. It’s easy to vote out someone you don’t know and you meet during the game. But that being said, Tina and I weren’t in a pre-game alliance. The only pre-game alliance that I had was with Gervase. The producers tell you, “Look, pre-game alliances are trouble” and it got me into a lot of trouble.
HitFix: It also seemed like you were overlooking or underestimating Tyson either because of his injuries or for other reasons. What do you think was happening in your mind regarding Tyson?
Aras: So here’s what I’m looking at, OK? I’m seeing that Gervase and Tyson are very tight and I’m assuming that Gervase has my back. So if Tyson’s gonna go behind my back, I know that I have a safety belt in Gervase, which is a rock-solid safety belt. So again, it comes back to Gervase. So while it was Tyson who did the maneuvering, it was Gervase who I was relying on to protect me and obviously I made a very bad assumption and my whole game collapsed around that assumption.
HitFix: When you saw what the shuffled tribe looked like and you saw the position that Vytas found himself in, how totally did you assume he was going to be immediately out of the game? And how impressed were you that he even made it to the Merge?
Aras: I assumed that he would make it to the Merge no problems, just based on my alliance with Tina in the game and the fact that it was going to be Tina, Vytas and Katie. And I was in an alliance with Monica, too. Kat and Laura B were on the outs, so I just assumed that they would still be on the outs. I knew that Monica and Kat weren’t great and I knew that Laura B and Kat weren’t great and I knew that Tina didn’t like either one of them, so I assumed that Vytas was going to be fine. But Vytas impressed me this season a lot with his gameplay. He played very well.
HitFix: When you had to go head-to-head in those few challenges, were you surprised by how emotional things got?
Aras: Yeah, it was quite a cathartic experience. A lot came out that I hadn’t looked at for many, many years. It was certainly a surprise and very emotional.
HitFix: And what was it like watching those specific moments?
Aras: It was very emotional watching it. I cried again watching it when it happened on TV. There’s some deep, deep wounds with Vytas and I. Watching the eruption of emotion happen induces more emotion.
HitFix: The last time you played “Survivor,” as you mentioned, it was back in 2005. How naturally did it come for you to set back into this world and this game?
Aras: The first day, I felt completely overwhelmed. There was about a thousand alliances made on that first day. I’m not exaggerating. I’m probably underestimating the number. And our tribe was filled with knuckleheads and quite the cast of characters. Initially, I just thought, “Oh my God, I don’t feel comfortable here. What have I gotten myself into?” And then you just settle in. I think it took me about two days to really settle in and after that, it was kinda off to the races. I think I played a strong game early on, probably too strong in terms of my social prowess and my ability to make relationship. I was in an enviable/unenviable position that I had a lot of friendships with people outside of the game, so that made everybody an ally and that became very dangerous to Tyson.
HitFix: Returning to my opening question: You didn’t have anything unfulfilled after that first season, but now you’ve played “Survivor” and lost. Having gone out when you did and in the way you did, do you have an itch or a compulsion to come back to “Survivor” now?
Aras: Yeah, I’d love to come back and then not make the Merge, to complete the cycle. No, I’m kidding. I don’t have an itch. If they called me to come play again, I would consider it. I think it’s all timing. I play music. If you could give me a plug for my music, that’d be rad. That’s starting to take off. So it just depends on the timing of things.