Survivor Skin Of My Teeth 02
Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS

Before this season of Survivor: Blood vs. Water began, I tweeted out that my pre-game interview with Aras and Vytas Baskuaskas was the most impressive I had ever done. So in that sense, it is not surprising they both made it to the merge, which happens on tonight’s episode. But when you consider all they have been through to this point — Aras being targeted by former alliance partner Tyson; Vytas being the sole male on the Galang tribe — it was by no means a given they would make it this far. But they did. And now, in an exclusive, the brothers talk about their journey so far in the game and how they made it to this point. Plus, to spice things up, we have some exclusive photos of the first post-merge challenge for you — photos that appear to be strategically cropped so we do not see who made it back into the game from Redemption Island. (Click through all 4 pages to read the entire Q&A and see all the exclusive photos.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Vytas, your strategy at Galang seemed to be to let the weak links emerge and do themselves in. Was there ever a consideration towards targeting Tina and Katie as the tribe’s single “loved ones” pair?

VYTAS: No. Even though she was not a part of the guy alliance at the original Tadhana, I had made sure to form a good relationship with Katie. I knew that she was my link into the new Galang because her mom would support her. Once Tina embraced me as a confidant of her daughter, that’s when I was safe. It was the mother-daughter pair that kept me alive on Galang so it would’ve been foolish to target them, especially since I knew the merge was coming and Aras and I would need as many other pairs to align with as possible.

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

EW: Aras, when you saw the way the tribe switch worked and that Vytas was the only man on the new Galang, how did you feel about his chances of making it to the merge?

ARAS: I figured he’d be alright. I knew Tina was with me and Katie was obviously with Tina. So I knew Vytas had at least 50% of the voting block. I figured Monica would stay loyal as well, since we were aligned before the switch and she didn’t have a great relationship with Kat or Laura B.

EW: Vytas, put yourself in the position of one of the women for a minute: As another player, would you have let you get to the merge, knowing that there is an equally dangerous brother waiting to possibly partner up?

VYTAS: All else being equal, I wouldn’t have let me get to the merge if I was one of the girls. But there were pre-existing relationships before I arrived and within those, there were already fractures as far as trust was concerned. I was very deliberate in making sure I presented myself as a trusting alternative to someone who might already be in question and the women bought right into that. In their minds, they traded up from two girls that maybe weren’t so trustworthy to a pair of brothers that were.

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

EW: Aras, were you aware that Tyson was targeting you at the new Tadhana?

ARAS: I had no clue that Tyson was targeting me. He was playing a pretty diabolical game. He and I were very close and he was willing to give that up for a bunch of unknowns on the other side. My insurance policy was Gervase. Gervase and I have been good friends for many years and he was my ace in the hole. I would never let someone target Gerv, and he had promised me the same. I figured if Tyson was gunning for me, Gerv would let me know well before I was actually in danger.

EW: Did you have a counter-strategy in place to keep you in the game had Tadhana lost a challenge?

ARAS: When we hit the Tadhana beach, Caleb and Hayden both told us 3 Galang men that had they lost Ciera was next to go. The 5 guys agreed to stay together. Again, I didn’t know Tyson was targeting me, so the Ciera plan seemed like a very solid plan.

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

EW: Aras, you’ve made it all the way before: Which game is harder: pre-merge or post-merge?

ARAS: Pre-merge is rough because your body is adjusting to the deprivation and you’re still finding your place in the tribe. But the game doesn’t really start getting intense until post merge. That’s when things get fun as a contestant, and as a viewer.

EW: Vytas, as a newbie and as someone that has seen his brother be very successful at a variety of things — including winning this game — how much relief was there at this point that you at least made it to the merge?

VYTAS: I was not relieved that the merge had arrived, I was excited. I had been putting in a lot of hard work toward building trust and solid relationships out there and was ready to combine the fruits of my efforts with those of my brother. I came into the game wanting to stay until the end. The merge was only a midway marker on that journey. Everyone who plays is afraid they won’t make it far, but for me, I was much more focused not so much on how far I got, but on winning. Some people play for placement. I was there to claim the title…and of course, beat my brother along the way.