After 55 days, a monster six-and-a-half hour endurance challenge, and outplaying, outwitting and outlasting 23 other contestants, Sydney superfan Kristie Bennett, 24, won the title of Sole Survivor and $500,000 on the first season of Ten's Australian Survivor.
"I've always known I had it in me,” Bennett tells WHO of surviving more than 20 tribal councils on her way to victory. “You always have to back yourself no matter what anybody else is saying.”
Sticking with her original Aganoa tribe members El Rowland, 33, and Lee Carseldine, 40, despite the admonitions of players past, Kristie knew she had to win the final immunity challenge or else El and Lee would be making their case before the jury.
Yet the finalists received an emotional surprise when their loved ones arrived to witness them on a wind- and surf-blasted outcropping, balancing on small poles while holding on to an immunity idol.
"It was more pressure, I'm not gonna lie," says Rowland of having her sister witness the challenge. "It just added that extra element, which we didn't need. We just wanted to make them proud."
For Bennett, having her father there reminded her of how they both began watching Survivor when she was eight years old and how she dreamt of being on the show.
"I am so proud to say I'm a superfan and I made it to the end," Bennett says. "I got a lot of appreciation for people who aren't superfans and go so far in the game as well, but I know a lot of superfans out there will be screaming and I'm happy to do that for them."
More than the monetary prize, being named Sole Survivor "is why I was playing the game and always has been,” she says. "You can always make money another way.”
Of her individual game, Bennett says, "People are going to say whatever they want to say, but if you believe in yourself, you can go far and I'm proof. There’s more than one way to play Survivor, and there is no textbook solution to it. It's playing with the cards that you're dealt with and being flexible and adaptable within that, and I definitely proved that you can play it as an individual game as long as you are willing to work with people and collaborate."
Bennett, who quit her job before landing on Samoa, knows exactly what she will do next. "I will be buying a van and rescuing a dog from a shelter and travelling around Australia, says Bennett. "I've wanted to do that for so many years and now is the perfect time. So many people don't see their own backyard, like we all travel around to Europe and that stuff, but people in their '20s and '30s never see their own backyard and Australia's got so much to offer.”
But Bennett knows if fans meet her on the road, they may encounter someone a bit different than the Bennett on TV.
"I am not as introverted as I appear on the show,” she says. "I was extremely introverted when I was out there, but I was playing the game I had to play. I do have that side to me, but on a regular basis, I am really extroverted and out there. I think people will get a shock seeing me like that!”
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