Wednesday night’s premiere episode of “Survivor: Cambodia” came with an over-riding theme of getting that “second chance”: Another opportunity to learn from and possibly improve upon, the past. Survivor is a game of highs and lows though, and no one will experience those full heights and those deepest depths this season more than Vytas Baskauskas, who just a few months ago felt the exhilaration of being voted on to the show by legions of fans wanting to see him play again…and who today faces a round of press interviews after being the dreaded “first boot” of Season 31.
In case you missed it, here is the full Episode 1 Recap. And follow me on Twitter (@tomsantilli) for all of my Survivor coverage, including my exclusive exit interview each week.
I last talked with Vytas in December of 2013 after he was voted out of his “Blood vs. Water” season. We knew Vytas as a strong gamer, the older brother of former Survivor winner Aras, who came into that season having overcome serious struggles with drug addiction earlier in his life. That past was not referenced this time out, with the show instead framing Vytas as some creepy yoga instructor unable to form relationships with his new tribe of fellow returnees. Given one jam-packed 90-minute episode, we weren’t given many “Vytas” moments that his fans probably had hoped for when voting him back on the show.
But in a season of reinvention, perhaps Vytas’s downfall was that he didn’t seem to change his strategy at all, once again consciously wanting to align with the woman of his tribe. It didn’t seem to work, especially with Shirin and Kelley, and that made Vytas an early target. With no time to scramble after the Immunity Challenge, with the tribe heading straight to Tribal Council, Vytas never got the chance to straighten things out with some of the others, and it appears that Jeff Varner cast the fatal vote that sealed Vytas’s fate.
I had the chance to speak to Vytas for a second time today, about his entire second-chance experience, and if he truly would have rather not made it onto the season at all as opposed to being the first one voted out.
Tom Santilli, Survivor Examiner: Vytas! Good to talk to you. I mean, not good to talk to you so early, but good to talk to you again.
Vytas Baskauskas: What’s up man? Glad to talk to you, which it wasn’t this early in the season.
Tom Santilli: So one of my readers out there has posed the following theory: That you were not voted out of the game because of your game-play, but that you were in fact, voted out because of your choice in swimwear. Care to comment?
Vytas: Yeah. I do think that people were a little bit intimidated by the shorts that I had to put on, they were a little bit “package-y.” And I think that was probably intimidating to a lot of people.
Tom Santilli: Fair enough. So by the end of the episode last night, you said that you would have rather not been voted on the show than to get voted on and be the first person booted. Do you still feel that way?
Vytas: Yeah, I do still feel that way. It’s tough you know. We put a lot of things on hold to go out there, two months of my life. To get only three days in the game and then to have to wait for the game to be over, and all the pre-game stuff you have to go through, all the excitement. I think that I probably wouldn’t feel that way if we didn’t have to stay out there, but not only is it a huge disappointment, but then you get to be the first loser to go to the Loser’s Lounge and wait for everybody else. It’s tough man. I would have rather just watched it at home, hung out with my son, watch him take his first steps and had Father’s Day and all that.
Tom Santilli: Watching the Premiere Episode on TV last night, do you feel like you gained any insight as to why you were targeted first, as opposed to maybe what you thought the reasons were at the time?
Vytas: I still think I understand why I was targeted first. It really doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that I taught anybody yoga. Shirin was actually out there asking for yoga. Like hey, my back is hurting, I need help with my posture and Vytas, will you help me? And I was like sure, I can show you some stuff.
Tom Santilli: You mention Shirin…is she the person you blame most for targeting you?
Vytas: She was targeting me within 30 minutes of hitting the beach, she had that conversation with Jeff Varner and Spencer. She said we had to get Vytas out. And Varner told that to Terry, and Terry told that to me. So I knew within an hour at that beach that people were gunning for me. Most notably Shirin. And it’s tough to be the first boot. People don’t usually fight the first boot, they’re just happy that it isn’t them. And my whole thing was to just lay low. Lay low, don’t strategize too hard. I thought with this being Second Chance, that a lot of them would over-play early on. But I think I maybe didn’t play hard enough early on, and I should have defended myself a little bit better. I should have tried harder to get people behind the Abi vote. But I was waiting really to see if we won or lost the challenge, but what happened is that we weren’t given any time after the challenge to talk about anything. It just was an unfortunate string of events, I probably could have played my hand a little bit better. But if you look at who Shirin is and what she had to deal with…remember who she was on her season, she had a couple guys that were really mean to her. She had men in power positions that were really mean to her, and she was intimidated by that. I don’t know too much about her childhood and stuff, but I do know that she has issues with male authority figures. So I feel that she may have came to the beach and said who is the male authority figure with the most power, and I’m going to gun for him. She wanted to chop me down at the knees. And not only did she do that by rallying people around me, but she did it also by getting at me in the little side interviews, you know, making me out to be the smarmy yoga guy. Good on her though, that’s the game and she was successful. I wasn’t.
Tom Santilli: Let’s go all the way back to the Live Reunion Show in May and the fan vote. How confident were you that you were going to be on the show? What was that whole whirlwind experience like?
Vytas: I was pretty confident I’d make it. Especially when it was revealed that Mike had won. I just was like cool, that’s one less person to have to compete against. I was super-confident and really felt like I’d get on, but it was exciting nonetheless. As confident as you are, you’re never 100% sure, so, it was such a fun experience.
Tom Santilli: You do have the advantage in that as a first boot, we at least have seen you play before, and we know more about you than was shown last night. We know you can be strategic and are likeable, you wouldn’t have been voted back on the show if you didn’t have a fan base. Was it doubly-disappointing then, that in your short amount of screen time this season, the show decided to portray you as this creepy yoga instructor instead of focusing on your more popular aspects?
Vytas: Yeah. But the thing about it is, if it’s on camera then I did it. I did teach her yoga. I did walk around and talk to people. It’s just unfortunate that they put it all together in a montage to make it look creepy. I was a cool yoga instructor until about 8:45 last night, and I went to a creepy yoga instructor in about 30 seconds. But I laughed it off. I mean I love Survivor, I know they’re going to portray me however they want to portray me and that it’s a TV show. I’m comfortable with who I am, and I hope other people get the chance to see that too. But yeah, of course it’s tough. I’m the first boot and I’m the creepy yoga dude. How bad can it get? (Laughs)
Tom Santilli: A lot of talk this season also had to do with the whole concept of the “pre-game alliance,” where many contestants had formed alliances with one another even prior to the final fan voting. Did you have any pre-game alliances, or were you aware of alliances going on around you?
Vytas: Yeah, I figured others had pre-game alliances, I wasn’t that sure though of what those alliances were. I spent time with Shane Powers before the game, and that was my strongest alliance. Had Brad Culpepper been voted on, I would have been in a strong alliance with him. Other than that, I didn’t really have anybody that strong. I had shared a text or two with Terry, and I actually – nobody really knows this – but me and Spenser were friends. He and I were kind of banking on the fact that nobody knew that. He had come out to LA and had spent a night at my house, we played chess, we went out for juice, I helped him with a project for school that he was writing, on alternative careers. So for me, I had put a lot of trust in that guy and that kind of duped me. Spencer was not on my side, although I think he wanted to be. He just saw it was a better path for him to go with everybody else. I think pre-game alliances was just a small part of how I was voted out, but I think pre-game judgments and pre-game conceptions of who people thought I was from my first season, was the biggest reason.
Tom Santilli: There was a real focus last night on the “speed of the game,” the clash of the “old school” and the “new school” of Survivor. You are technically a new school player, having only played a few seasons ago. Do you think this whole “school” thing is more of a mindset and did you anticipate going into the game that there would be divisions along these “school” lines?
Vytas: Yeah. I think a lot of us anticipated that divide. But you’re totally right, it’s completely a state of mind. New school players are ready to shift strategy at any moment, it’s all about get them before they get you. Which is the name of the game in general, but in a much more active way, like really shifting and constantly being strategic. Whereas the old school game is like hey, let’s get the numbers and stay with it. Let’s make sure everybody is on board and just keep checking in. So a guy like Jeff Varner, who I thought was going to be playing more of an old school game, ended up going for more of a new school game. And somebody like Woo, or myself, are new school players but we wanted to play more of an old school game. I want to play that way because it’s an easier game to play, it’s an easier game to win, but it’s clear that the new school players are the ones that were sent out here. We’ll have to see how the season unfolds. I do think there are a lot of new school ideas that are not good…like voting out a big strong physical threat, like me, early on, that is never a good idea. I think when you do that you are playing from a place of fear. And it’s not going to get you far in the game. I think my tribe is going to struggle, I mean I have no idea what happens after this point, but I predict some of these people are going to have a tough time getting far in this game, and that Ta Keo is going to struggle.
Tom Santilli: Storylines are constantly being built up around players every season, and a constant storyline with you is your competitive relationship with your brother Aras. How real is that competition, or is it just a storyline that has been amplified for TV?
Vytas: No, I think Aras and I compete a lot. I think now that we’re both dads, our competition is a little bit different, but we’re still really competitive. At this point it really doesn’t even compare: He won and I finished dead last. Had it been close, like had he won and I would have lost at Final Tribal, he would have definitely rubbed it in my face. But it has been very disappointing for me to not do well and there has been no rubbing anything in my face. He’s actually been very supportive and really loving, and really I couldn’t ask for a better brother.
Tom Santilli: Well sorry it ended this way for you. Good luck man!
Vytas: Thanks to my fans, sorry I didn’t do better for you!
Be sure to join me next Wednesday for another episode preview, full recap and instant analysis, and of course, the next exit interview next Thursday.
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