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Interview with Vytas: 'Aras and I didn't have much room to make mistakes'

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Vytas Baskauskas will go down as one of the most memorable "loved ones" introduced to us during "Survivor: Blood vs. Water." He was immediately an intriguing figure: The older brother of previous Survivor winner, Aras, an ex-con and an ex-heroin addict. His rough past seemed to lead way into a charming, thoughtful and strategic-minded player who was intent on not only winning Survivor, but relishing in the fact that he was going to be able to compete against and with his younger brother. Today I was able to speak to Vytas about his time on Survivor (in case you missed the episode, here is the full recap).

The life-long competition between the Baskauskas brothers was a major theme through the first 11 episodes of this season. They squared off in challenges and gave cut-throat interviews to the camera, but when the buffs were dropped, the brothers shared a long, tear-filled hug when they were finally able to compete together as one. But it was this reunion that would mark their last days in the game.

Vytas began the game in a good spot on the loved ones tribe and we saw how cunning he could be when he introduced us to new strategic wrinkles we as viewers hadn't even considered. It was Vytas's idea, for example, to vote out Rachel, in hopes that her boyfriend, Tyson, would trade places with her in the game. We also saw that Vytas was willing to do what was necessary to advance in the game, as he was the one who changed his vote, sending Brad Culpepper out of the game.

After the tribe swap, Vytas was the only man on a tribe of women, but using subtle charm and playing to his strengths, he was able to keep himself in the game, somehow, someway. This led him to the merge where he finally teamed up with Aras.

But little did Vytas know, Aras's game wasn't as solid as he had thought. They were blindsided at the first post-merge vote and exited the game one after another. In a final competition against one another, Vytas was able to outlast Aras in a Redemption Island Duel. Once again, he would follow in his younger brother's footsteps though, losing the next Duel after Tina received some strong help from Laura Morett, who was apparently ceasing the opportunity to rid the game of Baskauskas's once and for all.

Here is my interview with Vytas, where we discuss his time in the game, his past addiction problems and even how things down the road may or may not present a challenge for him:

Tom Santilli, Survivor Examiner: Vytas! Let me just start by saying that I think you are one of the best and definitely most memorable of all of the new players this season. It's sad to see you go so soon.

Vytas Baskauskas: Thanks man, I appreciate it. I wish I could have gone further myself.

Tom Santilli: In your Ponderosa video (which can be seen at the upper left of this column), you seemed very bitter about how Laura handled that last Duel, helping Tina to win. You also were saying things like, Aras's game is what ultimately led to your downfall. Did these feelings last very long concerning Laura or your brother?

Vytas: It's just funny. I let go of the game stuff as soon as I got back to LA. A game is a game, kudos to the people that win it, and there can only be one winner. Good for them. But yeah, I was definitely bitter towards Laura when it happened. Coming into Ponderosa, which is basically you know, Loser's Lounge, I was definitely bitter and it took me a few days to let that go. In the end I just realized that Laura was just doing what she needed to get further and self-preservation is what Survivor is all about. Was it unfair? Sure. But it's a game about being unfair. As far as Aras's game goes, yeah, I can blame stuff on him. Aras made a huge error in trusting that Tyson was with us. But were there things I could have done? Sure. It was not his fault. I need to take responsibility for my own ousting. There are things that I could have done a lot different to stay in the game longer. So yeah, Aras made some decisions that were bad and so did I. Yeah I got hosed by Laura, but that's what Survivor is all about. But bygones are bygones and I let it all go.

Tom Santilli: Speaking to what you could have done differently, once you were post-merge with your brother, was your demise unavoidable at that point? If not, looking back, what moves could you have made to have saved yourself? You had made a comment at one point on the show that, "We'd have to both be stupid to not make it to the end."

Vytas: It was very avoidable. I think it would have been more difficult for Aras. What had happened is Tyson and Gervase had turned on Aras days and days before the merge actually came. So had for example, my all-girls tribe won even one Immunity challenge, Aras gets voted out at Tadhana before the merge even happens. There's also things we could have done at the merge together. I could have gone back to Hayden and Caleb. They trusted me a lot from the original Tadhana tribe. If I would have really gone back and tried hard to get them in to my good graces, maybe they would have tipped me off as to what was happening to Aras. We may have also been able to get the pairs together. That may have been more difficult because Laura and Ciera didn't trust Aras and I as far as they could throw us. That may have been the harder play, but maybe we could have appealed to their more strategic side and said let's take pairs to the end. There's a bunch of things we could have done, but we didn't do them. And I think bigger threats have a much shorter leash, whereas someone like Ciera who wasn't a big threat in the beginning, she had some room to make a few mistakes. Aras and I didn't have much room to make mistakes.

Tom Santilli: In Aras's interview, he mentioned that he and Gervase had an existing friendship before the show began. Did that fact cross your mind at all early on in the game when your tribe voted out Marissa? It seems like if she would have stayed and the four of you could have made the merge, you would have made a powerful foursome...did you see her as a possible fourth in that potential alliance?

Vytas: I did. They didn't really show it, but I was the one person on Tadhana beach questioning the decision of Marissa. Aras and I really tried not to "pre-game." Sometimes when returning players come back they start to try to form alliances before the show even starts. I just knew that Aras had a friendship with Gervase. I didn't know how extensive that friendship was. I just assumed that they would probably want to work with each other. So Aras told me, with that in place, you need to keep Marissa safe. As soon as we got back from that first challenge and people started throwing Marissa's name out there, I was very, very leery. When so many people are going in that direction it's just hard to turn that train around.

Tom Santilli: When Aras won Survivor the first time, judging by what we know of you and Aras now, I'm guessing that his win brought forth a response of, "well of course!" Aras is always a winner, Aras gets all the accolades, that sort of thing. Now that you've played Survivor too, do you have any new-found respect or admiration for what Aras was able to accomplish back then? It was a much more simpler game back then too.

Vytas: I really admired Aras's feat. I was very impressed with Aras that first time he played. But you're right, the game was much simpler then. I think with the complexities in the game now, it always took a little bit of luck. But now luck becomes even more of an aspect to how you play. And you just have to be that much more calculating, that much more shrewd, to win the game these days. It's a tough, tough game. It's tough to even come in as an alpha male, nevertheless, to come in as a pair of alpha males. But yeah, Aras did amazing in Season 12. I'm very proud of Aras for winning that. Who knows if I'll ever get a chance to match that again. I would love to play one more time, but you never know.

Tom Santilli: This is sort of a personal, non-Survivor question, but there was a lot made on the show about your past struggles with addiction. What was the turning point in your life that set you on a clean road to recovery?

Vytas: That's a great question. As a teenager I just started getting high. I would use different drugs and I've tried everything. When I found heroin, that was just the one drug that took me for a loop. For years it took me. And I was 19, I'd been strung out for a few years and I got arrested. I went to jail for a year. It was that experience of a year in LA County Jail that, in a sense, scared me straight. When I got out of jail, it wasn't that I didn't want to get high anymore, it was that I really did not want to go back to jail. I was fortunate enough to find people that helped me get through my recovery and I used that initial period of fear as a stepping stone. At this point, I don't even really feel like...the lifestyle I led before feels completely different than the lifestyle I lead now. It's almost like it's two different people. So even though it sucks to get arrested and it sucks to be in jail, it really did save my life.

Tom Santilli: As a follow-up to that too, you hear a lot of times about how former reality TV stars have a hard time dealing with their lives after their 15 minutes of fame are over. Recently as you may know, former Survivor: China winner Todd Herzog was on Dr. Phil revealing his horrible struggles with alcoholism post-Survivor.

Vytas: Yeah, poor Todd.

Tom Santilli: Do you think that you have a unique challenge in overcoming the post-show depression and aftermath of Survivor once you are out of the spotlight, because of your past problems?

Vytas: I really didn't do this for the spotlight. There are probably many players, maybe not coming into it looking for the spotlight, but have sort of embraced that and have tried to make a career out if it. I have a career. I love being a yoga teacher, I love being a math professor, these are both things I really look forward to going back to once I am back in my anonymity. I do think that the challenge of being almost a Survivor spokesperson for addiction is interesting because, you know, I do want to present my story to inspire people and to show people what can be overcome. 14 years ago when I was getting clean, there was no way I would have been cast on Survivor nor would I have been ready to play this game, which is so demanding and so rigorous. At the same time I don't want to be off-putting. I feel almost like there is a lot of pressure on me to carry the flag of recovery. I'm imperfect. I can't be this one spokesperson for addiction. I hope people just understand that I'm just trying my best, every day is a challenge for me and I work with the tools that I have and I try to live a happy life.

Tom Santilli: Just one last question for you. The CBS promo for next week's episode gave a few things away, like we will be seeing another "pull a rock" tie-breaker, which hasn't happened since Survivor: Marquesas (Season 4). Earlier this season, you ended up voting out Brad Culpepper to avoid having to pull a rock. Now I know you can't give anything away, but generally speaking: When it comes to pulling rocks, is it better to be the guy who switches his vote or is it better to stick to your guns and willingly enter into the rock draw?

Vytas: I think that it really depends on if you have other options. With Brad, I felt like I had other options. Even though Brad was my best possible option to stick with, I thought even with him gone that I could regroup and figure out another way to go to the end. I think if you have no other options, if you are on the bottom and there are no other ways to get to the top, then the rock draw is your only chance. The rock draw is a last resort, but when the game gets towards the end, sometimes that's all you have. I think that it becomes more and more of a reality the deeper into the season that we get.

For even more, be sure to watch Vytas's arrival at Ponderosa in the video to the upper left of this column. Also be sure to subscribe to this column (above by my name) to receive email alerts of new postings and you'll want to follow me on Twitter too, @tomsantilli, and at tomsantilli.com as well!

Also, make sure you check out one of my favorite Survivor sites, Survivor Fever.

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