Baden Gilbert certainly underwent quite the transformation will competing on Australian Survivor. The 23-year-old PhD student was targeted from day one for his perceived social and physical weaknesses, and was close to being one of the first people voted out. But, as time went on he managed to successfully integrate himself into several alliances and to play an under the radar game. After winning the last immunity challenge, he opted to take Pia Miranda with him to the final two. Unfortunately, his subtle strategy was not recognised by the jury, and he lost the title of sole Survivor in a 9-0 vote. Below, he chats his feelings on the vote and the perceptions of him in the game.
POPSUGAR Australia: Hey Baden! You were someone who was targeted early on for being considered a weak player, yet you made it to final two AND won the final immunity challenge. How does that feel?
Baden: It's an amazing feeling! You're right, early on I was in trouble. I walked into my first tribal council thinking "wow I'm in a lot of trouble here," but as it turns out I wasn't, and I managed to stick around. It just shows how crazy this game this, that the two people who struggled early on and got votes managed to end up in the final two together.
PS: What made you decide on taking Pia to the final two with you?
Baden: I remember when we were at the final six, I looked at everyone in the game and decided my best shot was with Pia, so that's what I stuck to. Everyone had amazing games, I knew it was going to be an uphill battle against anyone who was left from the final six. But I figured that Pia was my best chance as she'd been blindsided, she'd lost her closest ally and had just been essentially saved by Luke. I wasn't in the headspace at that moment at the final three tribal to change my plans from that, my feet were killing me and I was exhausted so I just stuck to my guns.
PS: As you said, you had an uphill battle, but I still thought you spoke really well at tribal. . .
Baden: Oh thank you! I was worried about how that final tribal would look because I was rambling a bit! So I'm glad that it came across well. Looking back, I do think that I got all my key points across.
PS: How did you go about developing your pitch for the jury?
Baden: It's so tough to do, especially when those last few days in the game were such a blur. Obviously we had that challenge that went late into the night, and then we had the tribal, so by the time we got back to the beach we only had about two hours sleep before the sun rose. In the morning we had our final feast together, and the one thing I look back on and thing "well that was stupid" is that I ate way too much food. So during the whole final tribal my stomach was yelling at me while I was trying to focus on the jury and what Pia was saying. But just had to pitch my game.
In my mind you can't lie at the final tribal, because if you get found out then you'll look like an absolute goose. My pitch was centred on the game I played, that I made sure I took the target away from myself and that I always knew what was going on. I played the middle until the end, and the middle is such a tricky position to play in because either side can realise, "hang on, there's a guy in the middle that no one trusts, we can just get rid of him as an easy vote." So to have been able to keep both sides trusting me was really, really tricky. But again the final tribal was such a blur, and my memories of the last few days aren't as strong because there was such much going on.
PS: How do you feel about the perception that you were a goat? Were you surprised people had that opinion of you?
Baden: It's tough, but I could see where they were coming from. The end game was full of such strong characters, so I can see why they would say that when you compared me to everyone else. But the thing is that you don't feel like you're playing a goat game in the moment, and obviously the trick is to convince people they're a part of things when they're not so visible, so that's probably where I needed a bit more work. It's tricky because you want people to take you to the end, so if they say you're a goat it's like well sure, take me to the end and I'll flip it on you at the final tribal. But that's a high risk strategy, because if people don't recognise your moves then you can't get credit for them.
PS: It's interesting, because I'd say you played a pretty similar game to someone like Kristie Bennett, and she won her season. So I think it does largely depend on who you sit next to…
Baden: Yeah, and I think maybe I should have watched Kristie's final tribal before leaving for this season, if only I'd known! [Laughs] She nailed her speech back then, and I could have gotten tips from her!
PS: Did you anticipate not receiving any votes? I have to say I thought maybe Daisy or John might have voted for you…
Baden: Yeah, the 9-0 is tough, I won't say it's not, I was hoping I'd have a few votes on hand. But again I can see where they were coming from, I knew I was in trouble at the very end of that tribal when I found myself nodding along to what Pia was saying! I did want it to be close, and I felt by taking Pia that I would have reignited that champion and contender divide. I hoped by doing that I'd be able to swing a few votes my way, rather than if I'd pitted myself against Harry. Against dirty Harry, the cockroach, what could I have said? He had such an amazing pre-merge, and post-merge we essentially did all the same things together. We talked a lot and while it was definitely a two-way conversation, I look back and do think that he was probably leading those conversations. That was something he knew, and that was something I literally could not beat.
PS: So you don't think the outcome would have been different if you'd taken Harry instead of Pia?
Baden: It was such a tough choice, but I couldn't see a path to a victory with Harry, while I could with Pia. Whether that was the right read of the situation or what actually would have happened, I'll never know!
PS: You definitely seemed to undergo the biggest personal transformation in the game. Can you talk us through how the experience of playing has affected you as a person?
Baden: Like I've said so many times, I came into this experience super duper risk averse and cautious. I realise now that there's no reason to hold back. . . within reason of course! Just go for it, just say what you think and roll with it I guess! It's such a weird thing for me to say because I've always been someone who's very calculated and pre-planned, so to be more spontaneous in life is something I've really come to appreciate.
PS: Would you go back and change anything about your game if you could?
Baden: Apart from the silly mistake of eating too much at the final feast? There's always a couple of things like, "oh that was a bit too much there," or, "I didn't need to say that there," but overall I played the game that I wanted to play. It's not the most bombastic game, it's not the most dynamic game, but it's the game I felt the most comfortable with and that's important. If you play as someone you're not then it just falls apart quickly. It's the game that played to my strengths, and when I looked back at previous winners, they fit that mould. . . so I felt that I could play that archetype up.
PS: Which move in the game are you most proud of?
Baden: There's obviously so many conversations and plays that I never got the chance to properly own one entire move. I didn't really realise this at the time, but I had a pretty big part in sending Andy home. From the moment he voted Daisy at the Hannah tribal, I was like "right, he's got to go next, 100 per cent." I had to work to convince people that Andy had cast that vote for Daisy, and then I knew I needed something extra to make him look like a bit of a goose. At the challenge he decided to throw, I was like, I'll tell him we're throwing it, but no! It's something I didn't really realise until I watched it back, so I probably should have said [at the final tribal], "look, I made him look like a fool in front of everyone and no one wanted to work with him anymore." When we got to merge he was the obvious target and everyone went along with it. I guess in retrospect that was probably one of the times where I stood up and actually dictated where I wanted the vote to go. Andy's vote ended up being unanimous, and I think I played a part in that.
PS: What would your advice for future contestants be?
Baden: In terms of applying, if you have a story, own it, and articulate why you stand out from the crowd. In terms of actually playing, I think my advice is to realise you're always playing. Every single conversation across 50 days is loaded and has a double-meaning,