'Survivor Edge of Extinction': Aubry Bracco Reveals Returning Player Secrets

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Robert Voets/CBS

Through three episodes of Survivor: Edge of Extinction, most attention has focused on the Manu tribe. Understandable! The blue-buffed Survivors have attended every Tribal Council to date, sending the first three players over to the titular Edge of Extinction: Reem Daly, Keith Sowell and Chris Underwood, in chronological order, not to mention in order of escalating shock value.

But what about the action over at the Kama camp, headed up by returning players Joe Anglim and Aubry Bracco? Look no further for the answers, thanks to Aubry herself, who joins The Hollywood Reporter this week to explain exactly what went down during the first nine days of the game.

A three-time veteran player and onetime runner-up, Aubry is the current proud owner of her very own hidden immunity idol, the first one she's discovered across more than 80 days of cumulative playtime. The discovery couldn't come at a better time, either, given the atmosphere in the air: the Edge of Extinction rookies are out for blood against the returnees, and according to Aubry, the dynamic wasn't exactly on the down low.

Read on for more from Aubry, including the details behind her immunity idol find, her person-by-person breakdown of the Kama tribe, why she was so fascinated with the Manu dynamics from a distance and more.

This past episode, you found your first immunity idol. Talk us through the journey of the discovery, both in the grand sense and the context of this season. This is your third time out to Survivor, and as we saw in the episode, this wasn't your first time searching extensively for an idol. What are your memories of your own previous idol hunts, how do you feel they contributed to your eventual idol find, and what went into finding this one at this particular moment?

Idols. Idols. Idols. I know America hasn't always seen it, but I've always been looking. That said, my idol hunts have been completely different from season to season. In Kaoh Rong, I poked around. Other people did as well, and it was fairly open. In Game Changers, I looked, particularly on New Nuku when I was with my original tribe plus JT. Come merge in Game Changers, it was difficult — I  couldn't leave camp without being scrutinized. By that point, in that particular dynamic, it was very much established that the men find the food and the women tended to camp. It wasn't easy to leave.

As for my idol hunt in the Edge of Extinction, I can say without a doubt, yes, my former seasons prepared me to find the idol. In each season I was in with Tai, I always asked him to describe how he found his idols in painstaking detail so it could potentially help me one day.

In the first few days of [Edge of Extinction], a lot of people made comments inferring that they didn't really know if there were idols. Or, people would say they were looking here or there. But, by the way they were describing it, I knew they weren't looking hard enough. When I kept hearing about the failed attempts, I decided to get more in the weeds — literally.

On the day I found the idol, Ron was looking, too. I think we were both close to finding it before Ron got worried about being away too long and went back to camp. I swear to you I heard Tai talking to me when I was in the grass and by palm trees telling me to keep looking. I wanted to find the idol more than anything, and I kept thinking, "What would Tai do right now?"When I found the idol, it was literally like three seasons of Survivor, every high and every low, culminated in that moment. I've always been open about the effect Survivor has had on my life, and for someone who usually has a lot to say, I was grateful, proud and speechless.

What were your initial days like on Kama beach? Did you pick up on the vibe from the new players against yourself and Joe right away, or did you feel you were making progress with some of your fellow castaways?

That tribe was profoundly uncomfortable for me in a number of ways. In short, there were a whole lot of contradictory things going on and no way to definitively prove that anything I was feeling was concrete, without going to Tribal.

I knew I was at the bottom of the tribe. I knew that if we lost, [the target would have been] Aurora or me. Joe was likely fine because the players knew they hit the Joey Amazing jackpot when it came to challenges.

At the same time I knew I was on the bottom at that moment, people were kumbaya. When we were all sitting around the campfire, the conversations I had with the new players were very similar to the ones they were having with each other. I even got deep with some people, like Eric. I spoke with him about faith and spirituality — that's something I had never spoken to anyone on Survivor about in any season prior.

Although I was making personal progress with people, and I felt like the crazy experience we were going through together (including wild rain) were big equalizers, I could still sense the energy toward me and Joe was one of: "they are not one of us." Since people were pleasant, I felt like it was important for me to make connections on that tribe. I got the impression that if we swapped with the obvious train wreck that was Manu, the Kama would want to hold onto someone they could trust, like me, over some of the other huge and unknown/unpredictable personalities on the other side.

I've gotten a lot of feedback about [bringing up my past Survivor seasons with the new players], and I'd like to say to that that this group of players wanted to talk about my prior Survivor experiences. The words "returnee" and "newbie" were thrown around like tinsel at a Christmas party from day one. If I tried to shy away from my Survivor past and experience in the game, even though that was my preference, it would be like me trying to say "the sky is purple" to people who obviously know it's blue.

As for my "dialogues" with other players, while it may sound stilted or disingenuous to some, I can't tell you how many of my superfan tribe mates came up to me and said: "I see my game as similar to yours." Was my execution not the best? Sure, but I was doing anything I could to set some sort of groundwork in case we lost the next challenge or swapped with a group of people who weren't comfortable talking game with me.

What can you tell us about your interactions with the Kama newbies, and how you viewed their games? Person by person, if possible.

Aurora was up-front. She wanted to play with me. She wanted to play with Joe. She did make that known, which I appreciated. She also alerted me when she thought I was too aggressive by talking game. She was logical. I was more emotional. Somehow, however, we were able to communicate. She reminded me a bit of Cydney [from Survivor: Kaoh Rong]. She was playing her way.

Eric was very cautious but deliberate in his interactions. I knew he didn't want to work with returnees on the up front, but I saw him as someone who would default to logic over emotion and could be reasoned with in the future. Eric seemed like he would want to play in calm instead of chaos come the deeper portion of the game. I also thought he was a threat in the game, which I was, so I was keeping my eye on him.

Gavin was the first new player to approach me. I appreciated that he made the effort to make me feel like I wasn't a wedding crasher to the new players on Kama beach even if that was the energy that was in the air. It was clear off the bat he was a superfan. He was a family man, and he had a steadiness to him. I got that he fancied himself like a Spencer Bledsoe type player.

I instantly had a connection with Ron. He's a special soul. That said, I got the impression he was incredibly sharp, and I wasn't sure I could trust him. He's a Scorpio. I'm a Scorpio. When we looked each other in the eyes it was intense to say the least as we both tried to figure out if the other one was telling the truth.

Victoria was a bit of a question mark. Personally, I had some similarities with her: family from NYC, Italian, we both have unique hobbies (she's got guinea pigs and some wild adventure stories).While I knew she wanted Joe out, I didn't quite know where she stood in regard to me. I thought I could work with her if she was separated from other players on the tribe.

Julie was a superfan with a capital "S," and she made that very known. She was also a bit anxious and getting her bearings. I related to that sensation of being a little fish-out-of-water at the beginning of the game. She got very upset at one point. We connected on that.

Julia had a very warm demeanor toward others and was starting to open up. She told me she related to me a lot in that we were both people who would play by connecting with people. When we spoke, however, I felt like she didn't want to give me the time of day when it came to the game. I struggled to feel like she even processed or cared about what I was saying. I found this relationship particularly difficult and almost disconcerting, because I felt like we could, in some universe, have a comfortable conversation.

While Kama is busy singing "kumbaya," Manu is ripping each other limb from limb. How do you think you would have fared in a chaotic environment like that, especially watching it back on television?

First, I was dying to meet Manu. I tend to be the contrarian to whatever environment I am in. In calm, I feel chaotic. In chaos, I am calm. Plus, look at my prior seasons! I'm more than used to having massive personalities around me. I tend to find stability in a crew of lunatics. I've always liked my selling point in Survivor to be me being the empathetic but emotionally sane alternative to a chaotic mess.

I wanted to swap with Manu so I could figure out who the hell I was going to work with in the game, and the options I had were on two ends of the spectrum. Dependent on configurations I could either:

1. Work with Kama members who might see I was a much better strategic partner because I would be more reliable and predictable than the unknown Manus. Plus, they'd already seen me play.

2. Join the lunacy on Manu, because (a) they were already playing as hard as I was coming into the game (at a Game Changers pace) and (b) I knew there was this undercurrent of anti-returnees on the Kama tribe that I suspected was a bit different on blue. I wanted to understand what Wentworth and David were experiencing. Plus, we'd already picked up on the fact that The Wardog, Lauren and Rick seemed cool rolling with the returnees.

We're up to the tribe swap now. As you dropped your buffs and before you got a hold of your new one, what were you hoping for? What's a best-case scenario for you in that moment?

Basically what you have going into the swap is a big nebulous cloud of #KamaStrong meeting a Manu Trainwreck. What I was hoping for was a mix of people I could build new connections with. (I thought finding the Manu cracks would be easy.) And, with the Kama broken up, I hoped I could strengthen and build on some of the one-on-one relationships I'd been working on Kama 1.0.

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