Luke Toki was the 21st person eliminated from Australian Survivor on Monday night, in an episode that left viewers – and the remaining contestants – in tears.
Luke, who originally appeared on the series in 2017, signed on for the second time in the hopes of winning the life-changing prize money for his family. Luke and his wife Mary Toki are parents to Lennox, seven, Nate, five, and six-month-old Madeline.
Luke's baby girl was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis in March this year, just six weeks before he went in to the jungle for Australian Survivor. She underwent surgery while he was away, making his time on the show even tougher. But, he was there to win the $500,000 for his family.
"It would secure the family's future," he tells TV WEEK of the prize-money, which he came so close to winning.
Unfortunately, Luke was eliminated after he lost out in an incredibly tough immunity challenge. Without a necklace to protect himself at tribal council, Luke – one of the game's strongest players - was voted out by Pia Miranda, Baden Gilbert and Harry Hills.
We caught up with Luke to talk about his devastating elimination, his arrival at Jury Villa and his reunion with his beautiful family.
TV WEEK: Tonight's immunity challenge seemed incredibly tough. Could you feel that added pressure the entire time? How do you put that to the back of your mind?
Luke: Yeah look, I just tried to… I suppose when you're in those situations, it wasn't because I decided to quit, I tried my hardest. I tried to keep myself in the game but unfortunately things don't go your way. It was a very emotional moment for me. Final four, man, that was the one I needed and I didn't pull through.
When you lost, it definitely seemed to take a toll on you emotionally. Was it hard to get through those last few hours?
Yeah look that last... walking back in to camp after losing and knowing I was potentially going home, you really just sit there and think how the hell can you get out of this with a big target on your back? So I was emotional. I pitched to Pia because we'd had a relationship from day one. Baden didn't want to hear me out, he heard me once and didn't want to talk about it again so I kind of knew my best option was to try everything I could to get Pia to vote with me. I knew where Harry stood, I knew where Baden stood after he cut me out. Yeah, look, it nearly got me across the line. I wouldn't say Pia was completely against saving me, I think she definitely had moments where she thought she'd save me. But what can you do?
You pitched to Pia to vote with you, which could have lead to a fire challenge against Baden. Do you have any resentment that she didn't help you out?
Look, Pia's made the right decision for her game at this point. You know, she chose her head over her heart, and we'll see how it works for her but, no, I have no hard feelings. Pia and I have some good memories from the whole game and you know, this game is all about a bit of luck, a bit of chance, and the hope that you've picked the right path to win. Yeah, what do you do? It was out of my hands and I was hopeful the Survivor Gods would look down on me… but they didn't [laughs].
A direct quote from Harry tonight was "If Luke's still here, I can't win." Everyone in the game was saying you were the best player, is it hard to come to terms with the fact that you're sent home despite being the best? It's the way it goes on Survivor...
Yeah, it's such a long game, you know, 50 days and there's only two who get to sit at the end and there can only be one winner. It's not about if you're the most liked, or played the best game, you've got to get to the final two to win and if you can't do that… you get nothing. So it's a very... it's a balancing act. I suppose I'm just like, it's the end of a chapter and it's been one hell of a ride. It was bloody more emotional than the first time I went on. I'm excited just to sit back and watch it now, there's a lot of love in the air.
Everyone seemed heartbroken for you, what was it like when you got to Jury Villa?
Yeah look, by the time I was walking around to go see the gang in Jury Villa I felt like I'd been crying for about two hours. I was like, the moment JLP put my flame out and I walked down that path I was an absolute emotional wreck. I was so sad, to just fall short like that, just because I didn't have the necklace. You know it was just such an overwhelming amount of emotion that hit me at once. I'm a bit of a stone cold killer sometimes, but that moment was just a lot. And riding back to the Jury Villa I'd had to call my wife and I'd spoken to her and my boys, and their voices just cut through me, I was just a wreck. But by the time I got to the house, and saw the food and the boys I was just happy and like, you know, 'I suppose I'll join these legends' and have a bit of food.
Tell us about being able to call Mary and talk to her and find out how the kids were - they must be so proud of you?
When you haven't heard their voice [in so long] and you hear 'Dad' through a phone, after you've just been voted out... when you hear their voice and you know who you've been doing this for… it's just so much more emotional this season. The first time I just really tried to enjoy the experience and I didn't get to top four then, so the money didn't come in to it for me. But, this time you get to top four, I'm counting my money you know? I'm spending money in my head, so to have all those little plans you've made taken away, it's tough. You just have to hope there's a good person in the final that you want to win.
Your boys must be so proud of you, are they enjoying watching dad on TV?
Yeah they have their moments! I was thinking they'd get in to it, but then they have their moments like 'I'm gonna go in my room' kind of stuff. I think when they get a bit older they might want to sit back and re-watch it, because they'll understand the strategy side to the game.
And how is the gorgeous little Madeline going now?
She's good! She's just got a big smile on her face, it's been smooth sailing at the moment. Like, as you've seen I've put a few photos of her on Instagram, she's just a doll!
This was a really emotional return to Survivor for you and the fans have really rallied behind you. You must have felt the immense support throughout the series, has that meant a lot to you?
Oh man, the fans are crazy. They are incredible, I've got a lot of love for them. I was hoping to pull through you know, I call myself the people's champ... but hopefully I haven't let anyone down!
You've made them proud, and you've definitely got the support of the fans. Would you go for round three of Survivor?
Look, right now round three is off the cards for me. I think there are a lot more people, super fans and favourites, that definitely would love to have a shot at Survivor and I think the talent pool should just keep growing and growing you know. But maybe, one day, I'll make a return!
As much as this was an emotional return for you, did you still manage to have fun while you were there? Because you ticked off a lot of big milestones, like getting your first immunity necklace (and your second, third, fourth)...
Yeah of course. You know, you get to see the camera crew that don't speak to you again [laughs], the producers, the chaperones, everything that goes in to creating such a stellar project. You get to be back on the beach, enjoying snorkelling and everything. The connections I've made with the Champions and the Contenders this year, you know, the connections I've made with each and every player, are incredible and if you can't win, you can only hope for that. There are a lot of people who aren't even fortunate enough to get that. But yeah I got to fulfil a lot of dreams, you know, to go from never having [an immunity necklace] to being tied for having the most [of any player]. Yeah, I'm happy with what I did.
The Australian Survivor finale airs Tuesday, 7:30pm, on Network 10.