In what was possibly the most heart-shattering scenes that have ever aired on Australian Survivor, fan favourite Lee Carseldine departed the show after his mother Elizabeth unexpectedly suffered a stroke.
Fans and players alike were left in tears during the emotional scene as Lee explained his beloved mum was unlikely to ever recover. In a tragic development, Lee's mother passed away shortly after the initial phone call - which he found out off-air.
Before the episode went to air on Monday night, Now To Love caught up with Lee, where he spoke candidly about his grief, what it was like finding out about his mum's passing while playing Survivor and the work he's doing to raise money and awareness for the Stroke Foundation.
First of all, I'm so sorry for your loss; it was such a shock to go out that way - how are you feeling about it all a few months on?
It's a tough one where the grieving process is always very, very tough and I'm not even halfway through that at the moment. There is a "first" of everything without a loved one, whether it be a first birthday of that year or a particular event without that person. So at first, it's the first year without if you know what I mean. And now as the show's being aired tonight, it's like you're being sucked back into that timeline again so it's hard. It put me straight back on the island, hearing about it.
Are you planning to watch tonight?
I've already watched it with my family. Channel Ten were very nice and gave the episodes to myself and a close group of family so I have seen it already. Obviously it's very different circumstances from other people exiting the show, so Channel Ten was very respectful of that. I don't know whether I'll watch it tonight, I've already seen it. I may and if I do watch it, I'll probably watch it by myself.
WATCH: Lee Carseldine's shock departure had his tribemates in tears. Story continues below...
They were quite emotional scenes – what was going through your head when you got that phone call?
You don't expect that at all, you don't hear about family at all over there but you're always wondering how they are. If you don't hear from them, everything's fine – that's sort of the Survivor rule. If you get a phone call from home, normally something big has happened. So when one of the producers called me over and said "There's a phone call from home", I knew something had happened and then obviously I didn't know what that was until the doctors got on the line and said Mum had suffered a massive stroke and it was highly unlikely that she was going to make it throughout the night. Only an hour after I got the phone call, I was back at the hotel preparing to get all my gear and get out of the island and that's when I heard she had passed.
Your tribemates were obviously upset for you and rallied around you, particularly Tarzan – how much did it mean to you to have their support when you were so far from home?
Yeah, it meant everything. Even though it's a hectic game and people are playing and trying to vote you off and there's other agendas, when it comes to family, I don't think anyone messes around with that. Everyone is so supportive of everyone when it comes to family. You get to know everyone intimately as well and really get to know everyone's family members on first name basis and how old they are. Even though these people are strangers on the island, you get to know who they are and their family and you almost feel like you know their family. It's like they knew my mum so they felt that pain as much as I did.
During the episode, Survivor showed a touching scene of her from last time she was on the show when you made it to the finale. Was she excited that you made it back for All Stars?
Yeah, it was different and Mum was a part of that first show. They flew her over and she was part of that final Tribal Council so it was amazing that she could experience that with the kids. This time, I was actually doing it for Mum and Dad because Mum had been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease six months before I went on the show. And Dad suffered a stroke about 13 years ago, before my firstborn was born. So they were both struggling through some health issues and I just wanted to get on that island and do it for them but hopefully win the prize money as well and take some financial pressure off them. That was a big motivation for me to go on.
After you shared news of her death with a beautiful tribute on Instagram, what was the reaction from fans and other Survivor players like?
I've got a bit an eclectic mix of fans. I've got the cricket community and the single dad community, the Survivor community, a bit of reality TV community – so I've got a bit of a mix of all different walks of life and obviously there was a huge amount of support. I'm one that opens up on social media if something like that happens and there was a huge amount of support I got from everybody. For those who are closest to me already know what's happened and what's coming up. They know the episode is coming up and I'm already starting to get emails and text messages. It's nice to have that support.
Do you have any favourite memories of your mother you'd like to share?
I just think that connection on a spiritual level. We connected and spoke every day. There wasn't just a one-off memory – we were so close. That's what makes it so tough, you've lost someone you're so used to talking to on a day-to-day basis. Not only that – my dad struggles with his communication because of the stroke as well so it almost makes it feel like you've lost both parents. I think with her, she was someone who touched a lot of people very closely on a one-on-one basis and I just want to continue that legacy and I think she'd be proud of the stuff we're doing in her name.
I hear you're doing some work for the Stroke Foundation and bringing back the famous Towel Challenge – can you tell me a little bit about that?
Yep, bringing back the Towel Challenge! David Genat and I chatted and we got along on the island and we thought let's relaunch this and do something good to bring some awareness to the Stroke Foundation and the work. Something's coming up and we're trying to raise some money and awareness for something that takes so many lives and affects so many families.
I've lost my mum and it's also affected my dad as well and we want to get that message out there. One person every nine minutes gets struck down by stroke, which is half a million people. I didn't realise the severity of it all until Mum was taken. It's something that's going to be a bit of fun as well. We just want everyone to get involved and get the Survivor crew behind it, they're going to push it – we've got a calendar coming. We've had some professional photos taken. There are some black and white photos with some people not wearing a lot – just a towel! We've got some big names coming on board and they can wear a towel however they like.
What is it?
The towel challenge is a campaign designed to raise money and awareness of the impact that strokes have on victims and their families
Why a towel challenge?
The challenge all started when some of the Australian Survivor players started to poke a bit of fun at super model and fellow player David Genat's recent modelling photo. Lee and David are now taking it a step further for a good cause and using it to promote awareness and raise funds for the Stroke Foundation.
How can people get involved?
Anyone can get involved. All they need to do grab a towel, take a picture, upload it in black and white to Facebook or Instagram, hashtag #towelchallenge, call out your friends and family and also donate to the cause. We want to celebrate all body shapes and sizes of all ages so that the message can reach far and wide. Most importantly we want people to have fun with it.
To donate to the Stroke Foundation, click here.