EXCLUSIVE: Aron Barbell on His Deal or No Deal Island Elimination and Who He Planned To Send Home if He Beat the Banker

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Only four players remain on Deal or No Deal Island. This show is a nail-biting blend of Survivor and the original Deal or No Deal game. A cast of 13 guests arrived on the Banker’s tropical island to compete in challenges that test both their physical and mental abilities. The final contestant will play against the Banker and hopefully take home the final case, which is valued at over $10 million.

Last time, fan favorite Aron Barbell faced the Banker for the second time. Unfortunately, this time, he made a bad deal and was eliminated.

Aron joined Reality Tea writer Kim Stempel to discuss his elimination, his alliance with Boston Rob [Mariano], and who he was going to send home if he won against the Banker.

Aron’s thoughts on meeting Boston Rob

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Kim Stempel: At the beginning of the game, you were seated in the same jeep as Boston Rob. What were your thoughts?

Aron Barbell: Yeah. Yeah. I was intimidated. I knew he was a legend. And when I recognized him, I was like ‘They’re going to put us in…they’re going to put us in the same Jeep.’ I knew it because we’re from the same area.

So, it worked out really well. And I was like, I know he’s good. I also know riding coattails is not a bad idea. So, I was excited. I was like, I can kind of be the middle ground. Maybe say, ‘Oh, I’ll be on your side.’ But maybe not. I didn’t know it would work out this well, but I knew it was good. It was good for me.

Why working with Rob was a smart move

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Kim Stempel: When you formed an alliance with Rob, did you think that it was the best move for your game? Or were you concerned about being backstabbed at some point?

Aron Barbell: I was definitely concerned about that, about being backstabbed at any point, you know. Everyone else was a blank slate. Everyone else I knew could do anything.

But if anyone knows the game it’s Rob. So I was like, it was always in the back of my mind, ‘Is he playing me? Is he playing me?’ So, the alliance I thought was a good idea. I told him, I said, ‘Oh, I don’t know your game too well. I know you because we’re from the same area because word gets around of local guys being on TV.’ Which was kind of not true and I think he realized that pretty fast.

I knew I could kind of play the middle. I knew that if I connected to him secretly, it would be good for me because he’s a great player. Or openly, you know, he’s the biggest target. So he’s always a shield to me. So, I had a feeling it would be beneficial.

Did Aron know that Stephanie lied to him?

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Kim Stempel: Were you surprised when you found out that Stephanie [Mitchell] lied to you about Rob putting your name out there?

Aron Barbell: No. And I kind of knew then. The thing is, she did get to me, but not in the way… because she lied. She kind of hopped on this idea. ‘Look. We’re building the pot together. We’re working as a team and Rob is out for himself.’

And I had been doing that for weeks. I’m out for myself. I don’t care how much money I put in. [Rob] put in $49,000 because that gave him a chance to be safe. So, that was my thing. I don’t care if the pot is $5 million…I’d rather the pot be $5 million and I win than $10 million and I lose.

Kim Stempel: Right.

Aron Barbell: So [Stephanie] and Amy [McCoy] kind of mentioned, ‘Oh, you know, Rob is only looking out for himself. He’s not working together. He doesn’t care about anybody.’

And they told me, ‘It looks bad on you. You’re making yourself a target because we’re not working together.’ So, I got really in my head about that, and that is what led me to take that middle case. I was trying to find a middle ground instead of kind of just owning what I wanted to do, which is play for myself.

Aron’s competitors underestimated him

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Kim Stempel: It seemed like people didn’t give you enough credit for playing your own game, and just kind of assumed that Rob was calling all the shots.

Aron Barbell: That is absolutely true. I think people really underestimated me. And, to an extent, that is also on me. At some point, I think Dawson [Addis] said, ‘You look kind of weak right now because you look like you’re just listening to Rob.’

I was like, ‘Oh no!’ And I kind of made myself smaller. The small things I was very aware of, so one thing…I made sure to make myself look smaller and more demure and kind of leaned into it.

I feel like I’m a pretty confident person who can kind of say things [from] my chest. But I kind of leaned into it a little bit, thinking ‘I’m just sweet old Aron.’ So it is kind of on me, but I didn’t think they would run with it so far. So, I did eventually get frustrated. I was like, ‘I am here. I can play the game.’ So, it was nice.

Who would Aron send home if he won against the Banker?

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Kim Stempel: If you had won against the Banker, who were you going to send home?

Aron Barbell: The million-dollar question – almost literally. Yeah. I want to joke and be like, ‘It’s Jordan [Fowler]! Jordan!’ No, it was never Jordan. It was going to be Stephanie. It’s crazy because I should never have put myself in that position.

What we missed out on was right before Temple, Rob was like, ‘Please don’t cater to them. They’re going to tell you Rob is on your side. Don’t be like, Oh yeah, I know. Or Rob is against you.’

The big thing that I was waiting to see was… I kind of threw [Rob] under the bus when it comes to this Stephanie plan. He knew about it, but he wasn’t afraid of it. I was. I was in the chair. [Rob] never said, ‘Aron did that. I didn’t do anything. It’s Aron’s fault. It’s Aron’s fault.’ He took the brunt.  

We had this conversation and he was like, ‘Please stop letting them think that I’m manipulating you.’ Because I would. I’d let them think he was manipulating [me] for the sake of my game.

So, that weighed on me, and the fact that I messed up so many times and still being here, and still being here because of him. So, I think it probably was…it was the wrong game move. I think we knew that the final four goes to this two-part finale. That was something we knew about.

To me, when I was told that, that sounds like it’s free-for-all. I don’t need an alliance. But, you know, I play with my heart. So, at the end of the day, there was this mindset of like, I felt like I created this Rob [and] Stephanie tension to an extent. You know, pushing this narrative.

Stephanie even called me, and she said, ‘You are the master manipulator or the master deceiver’…something like that. Right before I left, right before we went to Temple, [Stephanie] was like, ‘Aron. I’ve been assuming that Rob was out to get me because of you.’ Which is a half-truth. It is true. I felt like I owed [Rob], so it’s not the best game move, but you know I play with my heart so I’m not ashamed of it.

An emotional exit

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Kim Stempel: I cried when you left at the end after you and Rob hugged.

Aron Barbell: I didn’t think I would. I was ready for it. So my momentum was off, I had been ready for it and had been wanting to talk about all this stuff. And then Jordan has her heartfelt speech.

I was like, “Okay. I can feel it.’ Then Rob said [his] and the tears came down. It was emotional. I felt it in the moment, and I had been ready for it for weeks, but when you see it is amazing. It was emotional.

Kim Stempel: It was. Even Kamari [Love] was emotional, and Joe [Manganiello] didn’t want you to go.

Aron Barbell: Me and Joe are genuinely friends. We’d talk during the challenges when we could and during other people’s Deal or No Deal nights because he was a fellow nerd. It’s crazy. I’m like, half his size. He could lift me up with one finger but I think he saw himself a little bit in me. And so did Rob, apparently.

And even Stephanie. Me and her weren’t on the same page, but you could see, she’s emotional. Me and Stephanie, we weren’t on the same side alliance-wise. But I guess it’s a little fun fact, we were friends at the start of the game. I think we were like good friends. That’s what hurt her the most when that plan happened. I made that whole thing to protect Rob and Alyssa [Klinzing].

Yeah. So it was emotional for everybody. I think it was a bittersweet moment for Stephanie even though it was the only outcome that kept her safe.

Aron has some regrets

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Kim Stempel: Do you have any regrets about the way that you played the game?

Aron Barbell: The way that I played the game? No. The decisions…a little bit. Yeah. Of course. It’s like so funny. I really think I did the small things right. The way I portrayed myself, the way I carried myself, the way I interacted with the people.

But the simple stuff, like I’m yelling at myself, ‘Just pick the $3.5 [million]! Don’t try to play the middle ground.’ You’ve been playing this game on Rob’s side as Rob’s ally. Don’t try to placate Stephanie and Amy. Who cares? It’s the final five!

So, yeah. Those are the easy regrets. The simple mistakes. I don’t regret things I didn’t know the answer to. But I knew the answer to that one.

So, it’s a little stinky, but you know, it’s as if there’s some poetic justice in that…I had kind of gotten in my own head and that was the end of me. At the end of the day, no one eliminated me. I eliminated me. And that is something to work on.

Aron’s reaction to facing the Banker again

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Kim Stempel: Did you want to face the Banker a second time?

Aron Barbell: No! I didn’t want to face the Banker at all…I was pissed at Amy. I was like, ‘Amy. You want to be in the final two with me. No one is going to eliminate us. Everyone wants me to be in the final two with them. And the consolation prize, if it’s not me, it’s you, Amy. Everyone wants us in the final two. Just put anyone against the Banker. You’re safe. I’m safe. We’re good to go.’

Even though I don’t want to work with her. You know, we’re not friends. We’re friendly now. And the things she has said have maybe been a little mean. Like, I don’t take it personally. It’s okay. And she’s really [been] reaching out and she’s been really nice. So, water under the bridge.

Oh, I was pissed. I was like, ‘You guys all wanted Rob out. Why am I the one to do it? You guys should get him out.’

I was annoyed. I was more annoyed at myself because it all had to do with [picking] a different case and I wouldn’t have had that choice.

Kim Stempel: I was surprised that Amy didn’t put Rob in.

Aron Barbell: The simple decisions really screwed me…you get in your head. When it comes to Stephanie, the lie didn’t change much.

I have an acting background. I was definitely emotional, but I knew how to lean into it and kind of get a little more emotional.

So, I knew that lie was off, but the words that she said… definitely worked – especially [as] someone that I started the game with as a friend. I, you know, wanted to trust her in some respects and not trust her in others.

Who is Aron still friends with today?

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Kim Stempel: Who are you still friends with from Deal or No Deal Island?

Aron Barbell: Yeah. I’ve talked with a lot of the cast…water under the bridge. I don’t want to hold any regrets.

It’s obvious. Rob, Alyssa, and Jordan. I think that Jordan is the only one there may be a question mark because they don’t show it, but me, Jordan, and Alyssa were super close. And Jordan didn’t trust Rob a lot, but she always really enjoyed his company.

And the fourth is actually Joe. I text Joe. He called me after the episode where I had the panic attack. He’s a legit friend. He’s just a great guy and we’re going to play Magic the Gathering soon.

This interview was edited for conciseness and clarity.

Deal or No Deal Island continues on Monday, May 6 at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.