Kristie Bennett wins Australian Survivor.
Kristie Bennett wins Australian Survivor. Channel 10

How Kristie blind-sided everyone to win Australian Survivor

KRISTIE Bennett is half a million dollars richer after winning the inaugural title of Channel 10's Australian Survivor.

Hiding in plain sight proved to be a winning strategy for the 23-year-old former account executive, whose decisions often puzzled her fellow castaways and viewers alike.

"I don't think anyone got what I was doing out there, but I didn't want people knowing what I was doing  out there," she told APN.

"I was playing a game which people couldn't see.  I'm a survivor fan and I appreciate all those big strategic moves, but there's more than one way to play. I wasn't in a power position ever (to make those big moves).

"Essentially I was playing the audience as much as the other gamers... Everybody underestimated me."

Described as a solo player, she didn't form any strong alliances during her 55 days living in basic conditions on a deserted Samoan island.

In tonight's finale she faced the formidable task of breaking up the show's power couple, former cricket pro Lee Carseldine and army corporal El Rowland, by winning the final immunity challenge.

"Life is easy when other people are backing you. If you ever feel down other people are there for you," she said.

"When you have absolutely every person telling you that you cannot do it and you do it , there is no better feeling."

Speaking to me on the phone Kristie is bubbly, outgoing and assertive - nothing like she seemed on the show. During tonight's tribal council she admitted to suffering several panic attacks and from anxiety during her time on the show.

"I think you know one side of me from survivor; I have a whole other side," she said.

"I'm really extroverted but Survivor is a completely unnatural situation. If I came in being my booming personality and being confrontational then I would have been gone, but I was playing to win.

"I wasn't playing to show off or entertain. I didn't care what anybody thought. You guys can call me an idiot. Australia is going to be absolutely shocked when they see the other side of me."

Lee Carseldine and Kristie Bennett in a scene from the final immunity challenge of Australian Survivor.
Lee Carseldine and Kristie Bennett in a scene from the final immunity challenge of Australian Survivor. Nigel Wright

There were gasps and looks of disbelief as the members of the jury walked in to discover Kristie had won the final immunity challenge, which last nearly six and a half hours.

"That was the most satisfying feeling ever," she said.

Lee denies finishing the challenge early after Kristie promised to take him to the final tribal council.

"We all wanted it that badly, it was just a matter of whose body shut down," he said.

As she promised during the challenge, Kristie did take Lee to the final tribal council. She finally revealed her true strategy, while Lee was grilled for trying to play a moral game.

"I always knew my game was only going to get the credit that it deserved if I made it to the final and the ability to state my case," she said.

"There were so many details people couldn't see that needed to be explained. My whole game rode on me making the final two.

"I wanted to be able to say 'you didn't see me coming'."

The one person who didn't underestimate Kristie is her runner-up Lee.

"I had a huge admiration for Kristie and how she played the game," he said.

"She did it by herself the whole time, which is something I would have struggled to do."

Australian Survivor's final two, Lee Carseldine and Kristie Bennett at their final tribal council.
Australian Survivor's final two, Lee Carseldine and Kristie Bennett at their final tribal council. Channel 10

Lee believes it's no coincidence the show's three finalists are all originally from the Aganoa tribe.

"I won't say the other tribes had it easy, but they bonded a lot quicker," he said.

 Lee said he was happy for Kristie, a super fan who has watched the American series religiously since the age of eight.

"A lot of people on the jury underestimated her. I'm happy she proved them wrong," he said.

Bennett plans to use some of her prize money to travel around Australia.

"I will be buying a van and converting it and then rescuing the oldest dog from a shelter and traveling around Australia," she said.

"I feel like so many people travel overseas, but Australia has so much to offer and most of us haven't seen our own backyard. I want to prove it's not just for retirees and that you can do it at any age or any budget.

"I don't know what I'll do with the rest of it."

She has some advice for anyone thinking about applying for the next season of the show, recently ordered by Ten.

"Go to your psychologist and get your head on straight," she said.

"Yes physical challenges are a part of survivor, but they're only a small part. The mind game is the biggest part."