Pia Miranda has been crowned the winner of Australian Survivor: Champions vs Contenders 2019.
The Australian actress took out the title of Sole Survivor after 50 days in Savusavu, beating out Baden Gilbert in the final tribal council.
It was a difficult road to victory, as Pia found her head on the chopping block in the very first episode. But, as she put it then, "I'll be first out, or I'll win."
With $500,000 prize money in her pocket, Pia reveals to TV WEEK she's feeling "so grateful."
We caught up with Pia to talk about those last few days in the game, her incredible victory, and, of course, to discuss her decision to eliminate fan-favourite Luke Toki from the Top 4.
Congratulations! We're so excited for you. This is a very big deal…
Thank you! Yeah, it's huge. You know it's been a very rocky road to get there and I'm really excited.
After the second-last tribal council where Luke was sent home, you must have just been drained! How did you perk yourself up for that final challenge?
I was so upset after that last tribal, so I didn't sleep much because I was just feeling so many emotions. It was really hard to get to sleep. So the next day, arriving at the challenge, I was really nervous because I was over tired and still super emotional. But once you see your family and you realise that you're fighting to win for them, it all changes and I just went in to battle mode.
What was it like to reunite with your husband (Luke) and kids (Lily and James) after spending so much time apart? Was it nerve-wracking to have them watching on?
Yeah it was super emotional just seeing my kids after that long, I'd been dreaming of their little faces. I couldn't wait to see them, and then I had to do that mum thing like 'don't cry, don't cry.' And then seeing my husband, having him there at the challenge, really pushed me further. I kept going because having that support there was just amazing. You're really all alone on Survivor, so having family there in the end was overwhelming.
Once Baden won immunity, the next step was to try and convince him to take you through to the top two. How did you rate your chances?
Well, the thing was and it wasn't really shown on screen that much, but Harry and I were actually really close. And so, we were very tightly working together and so we were really honest with each other. We had both told each other that we probably wouldn't take each other through to the final two, if we won immunity. So, I knew that my only shot was to convince Baden to take me. I really made sure I beat Harry in that challenge because I knew if I didn't, he wouldn't have taken me.
Obviously it's quite difficult to go to the jury and pitch your resume. Were you confident you could beat Baden? What were the main points you hoped to get across that showed you deserved to win?
I wasn't confident I could beat Baden, but I knew I had a pretty good shot. So I just wanted to remind the jury of the really strong game I'd played early on. I think there were points in the game – from Simon being voted out, to Abbey being voted out – where I couldn't make massive moves because I was absolutely on the bottom and I was struggling to survive. So, I tried to pitch the moves I had made, things like the alliances I made and how we got Abbey out, the Dave blindside, how I played in challenges and even how I'd managed to survive in tribal council that first week! It was really funny because Baden and I really dished each other out, but we'd told each other we were going to do that. Before we started we were like 'apologies in advance for anything I say!' And as soon as it was done, we hugged each other and yeah, we're all there because we understand Survivor, and we love Survivor. And so, none of this was personal. It was about all of us playing the best game we could, because if you go out there and play it half-assed you're sort of disrespecting all of the fans who would love a shot at it.
It's tough because you're literally on trial, being judged and asking the jurors to pick you to win. How did you feel about the questions being thrown at you? Especially from Dave…
Yeah, I mean in a way it wasn't bad. I could see Abbey and she kept making a face like 'you need to keep fighting.' I think in a way people really pushing me, and asking really hard questions, really helped me to push back. Because there was a part of me that felt guilty for being there, everyone wanted that position in that final two and in their own way everyone deserves their chance to have a shot at it. So I think actually having those hard questions really helped me through, and gave me the confidence to fight for my place, because it's not in my natural personality to talk myself up. But I definitely perked up and backed myself [when the tribe asked hard questions]. It's pretty full-on, but it's Survivor.
Luke questioned why you didn't try to save him in his final tribal council, when he had saved you at times. Were you prepared for that question, to see him and face that moment again? Because it seemed heartbreaking for you to actually write his name down…
Look, obviously voting him out was so hard and I was still feeling the emotion of it, because I had only made my decision about which way I was going to go during that tribal. know that Luke plays the game, and I know he would have cut me if he needed to, so when he came at me [from the jury] I really appealed to him on the game-play. But I also let him know what I felt about him was real, and that it was a struggle to vote him out. That I hadn't been taking it lightly.
Definitely. You both have a strong understanding that even though it's a game, that the decisions made aren't done lightly…
Exactly, you have to respect the game of Survivor. You've got to make the right strategic choices about how you get further in the game.
And there's been such an overwhelming reaction to Luke's elimination. Have you seen the GoFundMe page which has raised money for Luke and his family?
It's amazing, I spoke to him this morning. You know, we're really close still, and he understands and I think we all understand that everyone went out there, we all left out families, we all had to do what we had to do to win. We all love the game, and if we do anything other than play the game the best we can then that wouldn't be respectful to Survivor or our other tribe-mates as well.
Totally, and what does it mean to you personally to have won the game?
Oh, being on Survivor has been a dream of mine for 20 years so, it's amazing! Like, I'm the Sole Survivor, that's huge. That was incredible, and obviously I've got a young family and I'm an Australian actor, we don't... It will be life-changing for us, just like it would be for any other normal Australian family.
Of course, and that seems to be something that some of the viewers have forgotten. You're there to win for your family just like the other contestants, yet there's been a lot of hatred directed towards you specifically after Luke's elimination. How are you coping with it?
Yeah, look, I was expecting a bit of backlash because Luke is so popular. I sort of… I think most people can see that it was game-play, and it was the most strategic decision to make. The three of us made the decision together, so I was a little shocked that I've copped the brunt of the negative comments, because I was the one who was really emotional about it and was torn up about getting Luke to the fire challenge. I guess it's a bit hard for me to take, but I'm copping it on the chin because it was a decision I made to further myself in the game and I was thinking about my family the entire time, thinking I can't leave them for this long and then not make the right decision. Yeah… it [the online backlash] will pass, but I definitely feel like I've copped the brunt of it. I've never really experienced anything like that, so it's been really tough.
Of course! Especially when it seemed clear to all the players as well, there was really only one move that made sense strategically. You said you've spoken to Luke this morning, is that one of the positives out of all of this? That you've left the game with such incredible friendships?
Look, Luke and me had been friends and obviously only one person can win, but that doesn't mean it's not emotional. I understand fans get really invested in the show, and Luke is a great person, so it's great that everyone's supporting him. For me, it's been really great to have this friendship with him and he text me this morning to check that I was okay, so it's been really nice. We're all really close, all of us from the jury have a little text chain. What happens in the game, stays in the game.