Baden Gilbert came into Australian Survivor as the self-confessed shy, nerdy Ph.D. student and his social awkwardness almost saw him on the wrong side of the torch snuffer at an early Tribal Council. But throughout the season, Baden grew in confidence, making strong social bonds, kicking arse in challenges, and working himself into a handy swing vote position. While he made it all the way to the end, unfortunately, his under-the-radar gameplay and lack of “big moves” resulted in zero votes at the Final Tribal Council.
Inside Survivor’s Austin Smith caught up with Baden to discuss his time on the island, his Final Tribal performance, his connection with Luke and much more.
1) Baden, thanks for chatting with us about your Survivor experience! You played a great game that got you all the way to the Final Two, but where did it go wrong? How confident did you feel heading into the Final Tribal Council, and was there any point where you felt like Pia was getting the upper hand?
It’s hard to pin down a single moment where it “went wrong.” I distinctly remember getting to Final 6 and realising that it would be an uphill battle to beat anyone else who was left, which was a sobering thought at the time! Plus, I feel like I got robbed of a fair bit of agency after being sent back to camp by Luke’s advantage at Final 5. I walked into Final Tribal Council feeling like most of the Contenders would be more inclined to vote for me than Pia, and that there were enough Champions who would respect voting for the best game that I could cobble together a majority, but I knew it would be tough.
Turns out it was a lot tougher than I thought! I feel like I gave a decent opening statement (even if it was a bit more rambling than was shown), but I could feel it slipping through my fingers in the Q&A section. I really felt like the jury were looking for big moves, and I didn’t have a resume that suited that.
2) It’s always unfortunate to see a solid game earn zero votes, but were you surprised by the unanimous result of the vote? Do you think you could have said anything differently to sway votes your way?
I would’ve loved to have picked up a few votes, even one! But, the jury voted for the person who had the best FTC instead of the person they were closer to, and I respect them for doing that—I would’ve done the same. I’ve obviously re-lived this night many times, and while there were a few things I definitely could’ve changed, they weren’t going to swing five votes.
3) Congratulations on winning out in the longest—and possibly most excruciating—Australian Survivor challenge to date! What did it feel like to finally clinch an Immunity victory? Throughout the game, how did you feel about your performance in challenges becoming such a recurring theme—to the point of gaining the Challenge Beast moniker from JLP?
I’m proud that all three of us broke the existing record that Kristie & Lee set in 2016. I think that milestone was the only thing keeping Harry (and by extension Pia) going towards the end! It was definitely surreal, particularly with my family watching and because I’d come so close on four occasions before then! I actually tried to play down the “Challenge Beast” moniker at the time—it’s not a good reputation to have going into merge! Having said that, I really struggled with the challenges at the start, and it was satisfying to eventually find my groove
4) But with great power, came great responsibility—why did you ultimately choose to take Pia to the Final 2 over Harry? In hindsight, how do you think you would have fared against him if you’d made the other choice?
I couldn’t see a path to victory over the Cockroach, Dirty Harry. He was a big player, which is exactly what I felt the jury wanted. It also fit into my narrative of taking control at the pointy end of the game (which I probably should’ve owned more at FTC…). Plus, taking Pia reignited the Champion v Contender dynamic, making several votes on the jury much more attainable for me.
5) The Final Five vote was one for the history books, but unfortunately, you missed out on all of it! As you headed back to camp on your own, what were you hoping to see happen at the vote and was that any different to what you expected to see when everyone came back to camp?
That was a weird night! I actually thought I was in the swing position at one point that afternoon and would’ve sided with Luke & Pia to vote out Abbey instead of siding with Abbey & Harry to vote out Pia. However, Luke then told me he was voting Pia, and it seemed like she was done for. My ideal target would’ve been Harry that night, but I felt like there was an idol in play and thought that he was the most likely to have it and had to play it by Final 5. So, I was actually going to try and convince Luke to go back to voting Abbey at Tribal before he intervened.
I still saw Pia as the best person left in the game for me to sit next to at the end, and so I was hoping that she’d come back, but I wasn’t expecting it. How crazy is Luke though?!?! After hearing about that Tribal second hand, I’m so glad it lived up to the hype.
6) The first vote against Simon was a huge power shift in the game—what can you tell us about the process of swaying Abbey to flip and what was your involvement in that move? Abbey later seemed to leapfrog Luke in your alliance into a Final Three deal with you and Harry, how did that come about?
Splitting the tribe in half for a night during the spa reward was the big game-changing moment. I knew Luke was keen to make a move, and the three of us had a chance to convince Abbey without any fear of interruption. Pia had actually told me before the John vote that her and Janine were thinking about voting out Abbey, and I definitely let her know that. However, I think Luke did the most work in convincing her by making up a Final 3 pact—insane!
The plan was always to go Janine at Final 7 (after laying low and voting Daisy out to make sure we had a majority), but Exile threw a spanner in the works, which meant Simon ended up going before her. We all knew Luke would be unbeatable at FTC (particularly for me!), especially as his Immunity streak built up, which meant he fell to the bottom of the AbBaHaLu alliance (it’s a terrible name, but we were starving and exhausted!).
7) Your strategy to intentionally play the middle was highlighted a few times throughout the show, but unfortunately, we didn’t get to see a lot of the intricacies that such a delicate game requires. What were some of the moments or votes where you felt like your strategy was most successful, and what were you doing in those instances to make it so?
Playing the middle wasn’t about single game-changing conversations for me—it was the hundreds of small conversations that were happening all the time. I really tried to make myself as friendly and approachable as possible and not make any enemies (until I voted them out). Luke was definitely my window into the Champions, like I was his window into the Contenders—looking back, I did give a little too much away on occasions though!
I knew Contenders would fall first coming into merge, and I also knew that the Champs would eventually fracture before all the Contenders were gone, so I played to be there when that happened. It helped that when I turned on a Contender, I wasn’t the only one to do so (look at how that worked out for Andy!), allowing me to stay strong with the Contenders while keeping the Champs on side. That almost fell apart at the John vote though! It required a bit of work to go from almost voting Abbey out to working with her on a blindside.
8) Your connection with Luke appeared to be a key relationship for you throughout a huge portion of your game—what attracted you to working with him early on, and how closely were you working together on a strategic level, particularly during the early post-merge where the Champions vs Contenders dynamic was so stark?
It’s funny, from the moment swap happened I wanted Luke gone. I even said to the others “if we give him an inch, he’ll take a mile,” and he certainly did that! After the Sammy vote, I knew I needed information from the Champs, so I started to get to know Luke just for that reason. But as time went on, I got to know him a lot better and saw he was a valuable ally coming into merge. We watched each other’s backs from both sides of the Champion v Contender divide, and it worked out well for both of us! We had one-on-one chats about most (if not all) votes to make sure neither of us were getting caught out—we did keep some stuff from each other though!
9) At the swap, you made the call to side with Daisy & John to flip and work with David & Luke instead of sticking with the Contenders majority on the tribe. Why did you choose to vote against the old Contenders. Given the subsequent trajectory of the Contenders to fall into the minority over and over again, do you still feel like it was the right choice to make at that time?
This was only my second Tribal, and at the last one, I didn’t know I was the alternate vote and almost got sent home! Hence, when the opportunity came to know the whole plan, I jumped at it. However, I asked Daisy & John two questions: “Can we wait one more vote?” and “Does Andy know?” to which they replied “no” to both. They did say that it was my choice, but I also saw it as a chance to strengthen my social bonds with them—plus, we could just get rid of a Champ next vote, right? As long as they don’t make it to merge! It’s a choice that ended up working out for me though, as I survived the Contender destruction to dismantle the Champs and get to the end!
10) You often spoke about finding success in the social game despite being the introverted, nerdy guy, but how did you feel that growth come about on the Island? How has the Survivor experience affected you now that you’ve come back into the real world?
I remember telling my first lie in the game to Hannah back on the Contender beach about something Harry said. I went red in the face, I stammered—it wasn’t good. But, by the end I was lying to everyone without even thinking about it! It’s such a weird social paradigm, and I began to learn from watching the others around me; it’s all part of the game, and I actually started enjoying it! It’s not something I can get away with in real life though… I kept telling myself that there’s no point in holding back, so I tried to be as out-going as possible, and eventually settled into the rhythm of the game. When you’re out there, you don’t have a choice—you just have to go for it.
It’s hard to point directly to examples of how the game has changed me, but I definitely have a lot more confidence in myself now, and I try to not over-think the consequences of everything! Having said all of that, I’ve learned so much about myself and Survivor this year, including first-hand lessons from the best in the business, so if I ever was lucky enough to get another shot at this game, I would take some of those lessons on-board and change things up in a more aggressive manner—the friendly underdog shtick only works once!