By Dalton Ross
February 11, 2019 at 11:15 AM EST
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Aubry Bracco doesn’t want to talk about her first-time playing Survivor. Says Aubry: “If people still want to talk about that season, what I tell them now is, ‘If you’ve ever seen The Revenant, at one point, Leonardo DiCaprio climbed into a dead horse, and I think that that season, to me, is as dead as the horse that Leonardo DiCaprio climbed into. If anybody’s still talking about it, I hope they’re staying warm in that horse.’”

But here’s the thing: While Aubry doesn’t want to talk about her first season (no doubt because of the way it ended, with her losing at the end to Michele Fitzgerald), that’s exactly the way she wants to play for her third go-round on Survivor: Edge of Extinction (premiering Feb. 20 on CBS). “I want to play the game I played in the season I will not talk about,” says Aubry. “I will just call it Leonardo DiCaprio. I want to own everything I do. I know what I’m capable of. I don’t need to look for external validation. I’ve found it in myself. I want to go for what I want, and I know I have the skills to do it.”

Coming into her third season after Kaoh Rong and Game Changers, Aubry is somewhat of an enigma among the returning players entering the game. By her own admission, she is scarred by her previous outings. But she also lasted 76 out of a possible 78 days playing two very different styles of play. Impressive. Most impressive.

With adaptability being the key to Survivor success, Aubry could have what it takes to finally seal the deal. But if things go wrong again — especially like at the outset of Game Changers when she was immediately on the minus side of the numbers — will she be able to avoid engaging in a negative “here we go again” mentality that could drag down even a player of her stature?

We sat down with Aubry in Fiji before the game began to find out why she’s back, how she’s changed as a person, her thoughts on working with Joey Amazing, and more.

Timothy Kuratek/CBS

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Okay, Aubry. Why are you coming back? Why are you doing this again for your third time?
AUBRY BRACCO: I think I’m a little nuts. That’s definitely part of it. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, but I love Survivor. I felt like Survivor: Game Changers was not the second chance that I wanted to have. I was very much blindfolded from the beginning. Sandra had a bounty on my head from day one, and I could never get on the right side of the numbers. It was just trying to sense what was happening, just beneath the surface, the whole game, for me, and I’m ready to play the Survivor game I want to play, a little wiser.

So how do you make sure what happened in Game Changers doesn’t happen here — that you don’t end up on the wrong side of the numbers right off the bat?
I’m assuming there are some people who are new here. I don’t know if that’s true. I don’t really know what’s going on, but I’m banking on the fact that there are going to be some new players. I think that when there are new people, you can kind of sense what’s going on in their heads a little bit more. With all returnees, it was very cagey in Game Changers off the bat, so I’m eager to get those people who are excited to be out here for the first time. Survivor — the rain, the bugs, the mean people — have a way of equalizing the playing field, so I’m hoping I can sense what’s up with them and they don’t think I’m too much of a threat.

So you think there is a mix of new players and returning players this season. If that is the case, you have played a season of all newbies before and you have played a season of all returnees before, so what does a potentially mixed season look like for you?
A mixed season means that I have to be using my wisdom in a way that attracts people to me, at the same time minimizing myself as a threat. How do I do that? In Kaoh Rong, I showed that I can be that stable option for people that are feeling a little bit nervous. I think that I have the wisdom to understand the tides in Survivor and where they shift. There are times when people are afraid. When people are afraid, I want to be their therapist. I want to comfort them. When people are desperate, ’cause people often feel desperate, I want to be their savior.

When people are feeling calm, like everything’s fine, that’s when I’m gonna stir it up. That’s what I did in Kaoh Rong. I waited for just the right moment to pounce on Scott and Jason, and take away Tai. I can use that wisdom, but the way I downplay my threat-level is by saying, “Hey, I’m always gonna be a threat. Don’t you want to go with the devil you know, that you’ve seen on TV, and all these devils you don’t?”

Let’s take the flip-side of that. If you’re playing against a bunch of new players, what are the disadvantages of being a returning player, if that’s the case?
These players might see me as, “Oh, hey, this is someone who knows the ropes. Why is she here? Why is she coming in on our season? This is ours. This isn’t fair.” I mean, if you watched Big Brother 19, Paul came waltzing in, and there were some people not so happy he was there. He did make it work. I can see people having ownership of, “This is my time. This is my limelight. Why are you here?” because, if there’s anything I know about Survivor players, it’s that they’re always vying for attention, even when their seasons are over. I always try to let people have the spotlight, and I think I am able to exist while also letting these people have the spotlight.

I wrote an EW article about the percentage chances of getting to the end in mixed seasons featuring new and returning players, and in Survivor, if you’re a new player in a mixed season, you have an 8.6% chance of making it to the final three.
Really?

And if you’re a returning player in a mixed season, you have a 28.2% chance of making it to the final three.
That’s the thing. Some people would say, “Oh, that’s comforting.” I told myself I was gonna come in confident, but I think this level of slight anxiety is a good thing. I love your numbers, Dalton. Have fun with your numbers, but I still feel nervous. You don’t know what’s going out there. You don’t know who you’re with. I do not want to fall in that 100-minus-28-point-whatever-percent. I want to take it day by day, like I do every time, because the beginning of the game is always my least favorite part of it.

Why?
I find that, in a big group of people, it’s a little bit nerve-wracking to kind of suss out what’s going to happen at the beginning. You need to have that break, that first Tribal Council, and then you’re fine. When it’s an individual game, I love that, ’cause that’s all the one-on-one, intricate stuff. At first, it is a jolt into your new reality, and I find that a little bit uncomfortable, so I’m going to go with the discomfort, right now, and then kill it at the merge.

You traveled with Joe Anglim out here so you know he’s playing. What do you make of him?
I feel really comfortable with Joe in that I know that his girlfriend is Sierra Dawn Thomas, who is someone who, in Game Changers, we would always talk about how we had wanted to work together. We would sleep next to each other every night. I felt very comfortable with her, but it just never happened. I feel like Joe knows what I’m about, enough, and I know what he’s about, enough, that we potentially could work together.

All right, let’s be real. Did you guys talk about that? I mean, everyone knows that returning players talk before they come out. Did you guys discuss?
We did not.

Not at all?
Nope.

How have you changed as a person since you last played, because that’s the one thing that we don’t talk a lot about when someone comes back to play? We talk about how you might change as a player, but as a person, you change, and that can impact your game or how you’re perceived by other people, or how you perceive other people.
Well, first of all, coming into Game Changers, I was 10 days off of my first season, which, to me, it no longer exists. If people still want to talk about that season, what I tell them now is, “If you’ve ever seen The Revenant, at one point, Leonardo DiCaprio climbed into a dead horse, and I think that that season, to me, is as dead as the horse that Leonardo DiCaprio climbed into. If anybody’s still talking about it, I hope they’re staying warm in that horse.”

But I don’t have the monkey on my back of my first season coming into my second season, and I’ve also gone through a lot of life changes after Game Changers. I took time off from work. I moved from corporate America to a very scrappy entrepreneurial job. I now work for Cousins Maine Lobster, which got its start on Shark Tank. These guys have taught me that, if things don’t feel great and you don’t know how to solve a problem, there’s never failure. Go to the ping-pong table, play a few rounds, and find a way around the problem.

I can talk bro now, is what I like to say. I work with a bunch of guys who are these scrappy entrepreneurs on a food truck. I have broken up with someone I was with for about five years. That was a huge life change. That happened within the same two weeks I got this new job and moved to Los Angeles, so I am better at rolling with the punches now, and I keep thinking of myself, and how I want to play this season, as a hummingbird. I want to go pop around, buzz around, and not take anything too seriously.

Whenever you guys come out to play Survivor, they have you fill out a little bio, and in your newest CBS bio, you were asked why you think you’ll win. You said, “Because I should’ve won the first time. There, I said it.” Usually, people may think that, but they won’t say that. Why’d you decide to come right out and say that, Aubry?
I want to play the game I played in the season I will not talk about. I will just call it Leonardo DiCaprio. I want to own everything I do. I know what I’m capable of. I don’t need to look for external validation. I’ve found it in myself. I want to go for what I want, and I know I have the skills to do it.

For more Survivor scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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