Australian Survivor returned for a fourth season in 2019 with a showstopping instalment of the ‘Champions vs Contenders’ theme. Fantastic strategy, compelling characters, and bold blindsides were in store, but it was Australian actress Pia Miranda who emerged as the Sole Survivor. She spoke with me about the game that brought her the big win.
This December, all month long, I have interviewed multiple Australian Reality TV participants, to celebrate Australian Reality TV and the competitors fighting for the title and ultimate grand prize on offer. We close out the month with this interview.
Pia came into Australian Survivor as a ‘Champion’ for her acting career, but it was her love of the show as a super fan that proved her strongest asset to manoeuvring through the extreme physical and social experiment. She almost found herself voted out at the very first Tribal Council of the season, but some quick thinking and social manipulation managed to see her come out unscathed. Soon after, she formed an alliance with businesswoman Janine Allis, model David Genat, surfer Ross Clarke-Jones, AFLW player Abbey Holmes, and former player Luke Toki, which saw her make it to the tribe swap, where she took control of her new tribe with Janine and Abbey. Reaching the merge, Pia proved pivotal to the social and strategic mechanics of the tribe, successfully blindsiding ally David and eliminating many original ‘Contenders’ tribemates. She controversially picked up an Immunity win at the final seven, and at the final six Pia’s closest ally Janine was blindsided by the rest of the tribe, leaving her looking down the barrel of eventual elimination. Saved by Luke who was emerging as a threat himself at the final five, she made the emotional yet strategic decision to vote him out at the final four, securing herself a spot in the top three. After surviving the penultimate Tribal Council, Pia eventually won the jury’s respect for her social gameplay, and was crowned the Sole Survivor in a 9-0 vote over PhD student, Baden Gilbert. I am so happy Pia joined me to discuss her game, right here on Reality Review.
We saw you crowned Sole Survivor in September but it’s actually been since late June that you achieved the accomplishment, how are you doing since the 50-Day adventure and winning one of the ultimate Reality TV shows Australia has to offer?
I’m doing great thanks. I still wake up everyday just blown away that I won Survivor, I mean it was such a big dream of mine and the thrill certainly hasn’t worn off. It does take a long time to feel back to normal but a few months have gone by now and I’m definitely starting to feel like my old self. It’s a pretty crazy and intense environment out there and the elements are brutal so I really appreciate the comforts of home, I mean having a fridge and a bed is still very exciting to me. Coming home having won the title is a pretty epic feeling too, and I’m pretty sure I will never get over it.
What was it like watching back your entire game unfold and have that intertwined with 23 others. Was it like solving a puzzle that explained each and every action that happened in the game?
It was a really bizarre experience watching it back, especially seeing things that you didn’t know had happened and watching people you didn’t get to know like Sarah, Hannah and Sammy. It was nice to watch what was happening on the Contenders beach because it was really a mystery to us. Sometimes watching it was such an eye opener because you saw things that went on that you didn’t know about, like the rice stealing was a big one. We couldn’t work out where the rations had gone and it came up in the Final Tribal Council, which was a surprise to me, but to see it all unfold in the middle of the night was really interesting and I thought ‘how did I sleep through that?’ Haha. Some of it obviously comes out differently in the edit to how it happened so that’s always a bit of a bummer when you are watching. Heaps of strategy gets left out too but they only have a small amount of time to squeeze in a few days of gameplay so things have to get left on the cutting room floor.
Once you knew you were competing on Australian Survivor, what was the preparation like in the lead up to going out there? As a fan, were there any signature moves from the American version that you tried to memorise beforehand?
I really tried to prepare a lot although I didn’t realise how much upper body strength counted in the challenges so I definitely should have done more weights. I do a lot of yoga so I kept that up and I ran and swam laps a lot. My husband built me an awesome fire-making challenge in the back yard so I practised that most days. I am really, REALLY afraid of heights so I hired a diving coach, a great guy named Tommy who trains divers at MSAC (Melbourne Sports & Aquatic Centre), and he had me jumping off high boards. We watched and measured the Tower of Terror challenge from season three and then he said as long as I could jump higher than that I would be ok so we just kept practising. He eventually had me jumping off the 7.5 metre board which was horrendous but I’m so glad I did it. I know without that training I would have really struggled because the Tower of Terror came up a LOT and I hated it every single time. I also went back and watched both of Cochran’s seasons and studied Sandra’s gameplay again. No joke… I googled, “how to win Survivor,” and read so many blogs. A couple of them said ‘DO NOT SING’, that drives your teammates nuts, which was a bummer for me because I’m used to a drama camp kinda vibe where we sit around the fire and sing show tunes and cry about our childhoods haha. Turns out it was good advice because I was on a very sporty tribe to begin with and they had a very different vibe and I think if I belted out one Broadway classic it would have been over for me!
The Champions end up losing the first Immunity Challenge and you are immediately on the chopping block by the Sporty Seven for being seen as a weaker tribe member. This has got to be your worst nightmare! What was it about your game and/or personality that ended up flipping Nova Peris and thus the rest of the alliance to eliminating Anastasia Woolmer over you?
Oh as a fan this was a nightmare, I mean the mental preparation and the training is so intense that to go home after two days was my worse case scenario. I knew they would come for me when we lost because of my physicality and besides Anastasia and Janine, no one was talking strategy with me which I knew was a bad sign. I got along pretty well with Susie [Maroney] and Nova and I had been trying to find an in there, so I was cooking and cleaning with Nova a lot because she liked to see people pull their weight around camp. When we were standing around the well and Janine threw Susie’s name out I saw Nova get really cross so I knew I had a possible ally there and I also had that terrible instinct that everyone really wanted to talk about me at the well so I left them to it and worked on Nova. I guess throughout the game I had good instincts about when I was in trouble but I think essentially it was my social game that got me through 100%. I knew I had to scramble and I had really worked hard to get Nova and Susie to like me which definitely helped flip the vote onto Anastasia. I worked on them so hard that day because I could tell Nova was in charge and was with the majority so I really played up the idea that I was here to make friends and not to be strategic and that I was loyal to them and would never vote out Susie etc. And at that point Anastasia had annoyed Nova in a challenge, so I found the crack and that’s how I got through.
Your tribe would then consistently lose Immunity Challenges up until the tribe swap, but thankfully, you had formed an army with Luke, Janine and David, to flip Ross and Abbey and subsequently eliminate the remnants of the Sporty Seven (with the exception of Simon Black). Why did this group stay loyal and the athletes just crumbled after one Tribal?
It was so funny because the day after the first Tribal, Janine and I were walking to the well and I thanked her for not voting for me and she said, “actually I did,” and we had a massive laugh about it. Luke came and asked what we were laughing about and we told him and he said, “oh I voted for you too,” which was hilarious. Then we had a moment of realisation that we were on the bottom, so we hooked up with Dave and the four of us had a chat at the well and we made a really solid alliance of four. The thing that was great about that alliance was that the four of us just really like each other and we just had a great time together. I think that’s why that four was so strong because it was a genuine friendship and not just people working together because we had to. When we talked about who we wanted to flip, Abbey and Ross just made sense because we all got along with them really well and when the six of us came together it was just a great group. I think it was a bit of luck that you had six people who really enjoyed each other’s company, laughed a lot, and just caused mischief, so there was no reason to break that up because it was a really happy family.
After the tribe swap, it really becomes clear that you, Janine and Abbey had become a tight trio and were running the new Contenders tribe. What was it about Janine and Abbey that made you form such a strong connection with them? You three have proven that you’re still incredibly close since the season has concluded, is that friendship something that is so unique to the three of you because of the circumstances surrounding when it was created?
To be honest, my happiest times on Survivor were on the Contenders tribe, Ross, Simon and I also became closer and J and Abbey and I were unbreakable at this point. We just had a great time and I guess because we were in a majority we could breathe for a bit and enjoy the experience before the madness of merge. Janine, Abbey and I have stayed really close, they are such amazing women and they were both incredible players. I think it’s a testament to how we all understand and love the game that any weirdness that happened out there was just left on the beach because we all respect the fact that we were fighting to win. Obviously Abbey and I had some dicey moments near the end but it was all gameplay and the fact that we were gunning for each other for so long in the game but can remain close friends outside of it is what Survivor is all about. Janine and I were incredibly tight and we have remained super close, we bonded so deeply out there and working with her was so much fun and really our friendship has stayed the same. My friendship with Janine is absolutely one of the most special things I have taken away from Survivor.
Once Shaun is sent to the Champions tribe, the Contenders really begin to decimate and it almost looks like a likely wipe out of Casey, Matt, and Harry. But then Ross, unfortunately, is medically evacuated from the game. How did this impact you both personally and strategically?
Oh Ross getting medevaced out of the game was one of the lowest points for all of us I think. Ross was beloved and kept our spirits up and we had bonded with him really tightly on Contenders tribe so we were not only losing an ally but a great friend. I did have concerns that Ross was going to hook up with Luke and Dave after merge and take us girls out because he was always giving us little trust tests which I thought was a sign that he felt on the outs, which wasn’t true. We always passed the test but I felt his heart was really with Luke and Dave. We were in a bit of a pickle this vote because if Ross came back and Harry [Hills] had an idol then Harry got to choose who went home which wasn’t good for me because he had already written my name down once. At this point Janine and I thought about taking out Simon instead of Harry, because if we split the vote between Harry and Simon, and Harry went home then we risk taking a very grumpy Simon to merge. We loved Simon but I guess he was just on the bottom of our alliance as a hangover from the Champions tribe because Ross, J, Abbey and I had been together for so long. So Janine and I thought if we could gain an ally with Harry and take him to merge trusting us it could work in our favour because it was better to take a happy Harry than a grumpy Simon. Turns out there was no Tribal which sucked because Ross went but it was great because we didn’t have to flip on Simon. It was a bummer because we didn’t get to make that big move to get Harry to trust us so we went to merge not 100% sure where we stood with him.
We saw David as a massive powerhouse throughout the season with multiple idol finds, an Immunity win, and it led to you (very subtly) leading the charge to his blindside. Of course, this wasn’t really reflected until you revealed it at the Final Tribal Council. How did you manage to lay so low yet still pull the strings to take out probably the biggest threat in the game?
Well this was an exciting move because I was definitely desperate to get a threat out from the Champions tribe because the problem with my Champions alliance was it had all the big threats. Janine, Abbey and I had talked about how we needed to get Dave out but hadn’t discussed when. The night before Dave’s blindside Luke had come and told Janine and I that Dave was gunning for us at some point. That got my back up and I knew we had to get him out immediately so J and I told Abbey we wanted to go for him right away, so we concocted the plan to get him out. It was really risky because we were sure he had an idol. We knew Luke couldn’t know but we also knew we could get him back in our fold after the blindside because he was such a smart player and not the type to hold a grudge at this point. It was risky telling Baden because he and Luke were such a tight alliance but everyone was so on board to vote out Dave it was easy to get people to keep quiet. I was really trying to work with Jono [John Eastoe] so we had a chat about it and I told him the plan, but I always underplayed my roll in it so the fallout wouldn’t hit me. Harry was just so pumped to make a big move I knew he wouldn’t tell anyone so it was easy getting him on board. Simon helped to get Jono to trust us because they were starting to work together and Jono, Simon and I were in the early stages of a possible new alliance so it all worked really well.
The craziest part about that blindside was Janine, Abbey and I decided that we had to sit with Dave all afternoon and if any of us talked strategy we would go off one at a time so we would keep Dave happy and relaxed. So Abbey, Luke, Dave, Janine and I sat on the beach for hours before Tribal and had a massive bonding session, and to Dave and Luke it did not seem like any strategy talk was going on outside our group at all. I mean we were laughing and sunbaking and having the best afternoon and it seemed on the outside that this alliance was the tightest it’s ever been but really we were plotting Dave’s demise. The worst bit was that we actually had the nicest afternoon with Dave that day because he is genuinely a really awesome guy and I almost felt bad about blindsiding him. Almost. Lol. I mean I knew he would understand and he did, he was such an amazing sport about it and he loved his blindside episode, we talked after he saw it and he just thought it was awesome. Dave plays the villain well but he’s actually a really great guy and we are still really tight which is so nice.
After 40 days of starvation and exhaustion, you achieve something that very few players and fans can only dream of. Win an Individual Immunity Challenge. What was that victory like, especially since you’re a smaller woman and probably less inclined to be perceived as capable of winning a challenge, additionally with the controversy when it aired?
Well at the time I didn’t know there would be any drama around it, but yeah it was SO amazing. I mean it was sad for me that there was controversy because on the day there was no question [that I won] so it was a really horrible shock. You have so many eyes on you during challenges, they will call out if someone strays outside the rules (which is usually due to exhaustion or your mind drifting) so to have people question my moral character in relation to that challenge was really upsetting as we all took the rules of challenges seriously. Saying that, I actually really enjoyed the Individual Immunity Challenges. They definitely suited my strengths way more than the team challenges and I somewhat looked forward to them as opposed to the team ones where I would turn up with a knot in my stomach. It was a weird challenge though because upper body strength is my weakness but I had found a way to take pressure off my arms so I was really in it for the long haul and I knew I had a good shot at winning as I wasn’t struggling at all. At the end Simon started struggling a bit and Luke asked me how long I had and I said ages so they started making a deal to drop (unbeknownst to me because Luke wanted to blindside Simon, so he wanted to make sure he didn’t win). I said I was okay to battle it out but they made a pact to drop so they did a countdown and then I was the only one left and I was so pumped! Janine and I kept talking about how cool it would be to have our kids see us win an Immunity and she had won one and I was so excited to join her, it was really cool. Lucky my kids don’t have Instagram though, lol.
On Day 44, we see Abbey make a major game move and vote out your closest ally, Janine. How were you then able to shake the target off your back, and do you think maybe losing Janine actually benefited your game because it did break the threat of an obvious duo?
Well the weird thing about this vote was that it was actually between Janine and I. Luke was gunning for me hard at that point, Abbey said she could go either way and it was actually Harry who turned the vote from me to Janine so I was really close to going home that night. If it wasn’t for Harry being adamant that it should be Janine and not me I definitely would have ended up on the jury. So right before the Tribal where Janine goes home, both Harry and Abbey came up to me and said they needed to speak to me after Tribal and I said to Abbey, “ok I know what’s going on”. I went back and told J that she was pretty much going home and it was literally five minutes before we had to leave so we both knew it was hopeless, but I think J still held out hope that Abbey would stay loyal to her. I guess they edited it to look differently for drama on TV but I 100% knew Janine was going that night. It was a weird feeling because I would never write her name down or lie to her and I didn’t want her to go but once she left I definitely saw it as an opportunity for me to shake up my game and it was probably what I needed to happen for me to take out the win, but it still really sucked. Plus it was my birthday and I lost my best mate out there so it was a really bad birthday present.
At the next Tribal, Luke really comes through and the two of you pull of the impressive 2-1-1 vote against Abbey and send her home. But with big moves come big consequences as we saw with Luke being voted out by you, Baden and Harry at the next Tribal. The decision really pulled on your heart strings and we saw the sheer emotion of the move come from right at that conversation on the beach to the moment the last vote is revealed. If you don’t make the decision however, I don’t think we’re sitting here talking about you being a Sole Survivor. This is something that Ciera Eastin of the American version of Survivor advocates for. “Play to win”, don’t play for 2nd place. Yes, keeping Luke guarantees you make the Final Tribal Council, but it’s a much harder victory to pull off. Given how it really was that decision that kind of set you up as an eventual Sole Survivor, how do you reflect on the move all of these months later, especially with the social media fallout from it?
I mean this is tough because it was really hard mentally being ruthlessly attacked online (especially since the boys in that vote got nothing) but honestly I was there to play Survivor and so I stand by my choice and know it was 100% the right move for me. I think the fact that I’m female played into it heavily which I find really challenging and I guess some people questioned the authenticity of my emotions but I think it was pretty obvious that they were real. So much happened in these few days that isn’t in the edit I guess because time is limited, and also I think they really wanted to raise the emotional stakes and create some jeopardy for the audience which obviously didn’t work in my favour. Before that Immunity Challenge, Baden, Harry and I had agreed that if Luke lost it was no question we were taking him out. We actually had a pretty tight alliance at this point and Baden had even taught me Auslan so we could communicate in tribal. If you watch him in the Tribal Council when Luke goes home he is staring at me non-stop (and I was actually signing to him throughout it to try and calm him down which isn’t in the edit). When Luke lost that Immunity I was sad for him but I was like, “ok no brainer he is going,” and Harry, Baden and I were knew we would take him out.
So we get back to camp and the first thing that happens is Luke asks me for a chat and we sit down on the beach and I look in his eyes and I just burst into tears and it kind of took me, and him, by surprise. I just saw how sad he was and I guess I was so sad because we had been so close for a long time and had this amazing ride together. We had fractured badly for a bit and I think I felt sad about that too, but when we came back together on the Abbey vote it was like old happy times again so we both had a massive cry and then he pitched me his fire idea. I decided in that moment that I owed it to him to think about it and not just write him off but really weigh up all the options, because we all owe it to each other at this point as we were so close the end. I told him I had to talk to Harry and Baden and that I would get back to him. He said he was going to pitch the same thing to Baden and hopefully me or Baden would go to fire. I could make a fire but I knew Luke would absolutely beat me in that so I was nervous. Baden and I also had a long chat as I had been working on him for a while and I knew I was pretty sure he would take me to final two so I didn’t want to lose him. It was a long afternoon on the beach though with many conversations happening and everyone was feeling emotional to be honest. Just before Tribal Luke checked in with me again and I said I was leaning more towards him going home but I was still thinking about fire which was true. I thought I would read the jury and if it looked like they thought fire was a ballsy move then I would keep Luke for sure because I had wanted one more big move but I’d been playing from the bottom since the Simon vote so I hadn’t had a chance. I knew the final three challenge was endurance which wasn’t Luke’s strength so I was pretty sure we could take him out next vote anyway which in hindsight is probably what would have happened. When we got to Tribal I was in complete shock when it was all dumped on me and I was really upset and confused about what to do. I looked to the jury and I didn’t get a good vibe for sending Luke to fire, so it just wasn’t reading as a clever play from me. Then Luke gave this amazing speech which wasn’t on TV but it was incredible and I thought I can’t risk sitting next to this guy at the final two, so I knew I had to vote for him with the boys. It was really hard but honestly I’d left my family for seven weeks and no way was I not going to play to win, it was just unthinkable to me because a true Survivor plays to win and that’s it. Not going to lie though, we were all really upset that night after Tribal because it was sad to see him go and it was definitely one of the most stressful days I had out there.
You then (along with Harry and Baden) surpass the Australian Survivor record for longest Immunity Challenge ever, standing on narrow pedestals and holding onto ropes with two heavy idols, of course, you don’t win the challenge but even though you had already been through so much, what did just surviving so long in that challenge do for you and your mentality that you really can do anything?
This challenge was epic, I mean we were all so proud of each other and even though we were competitors we were really in it together. It was so crazy because they had tested that challenge and they couldn’t get past three hours so I think we all took them by surprise, and to break the record was just icing on the cake. I had been working hard on Baden so I knew he was probably going to take me, and Harry and I had been pretty honest with each other and said we would take Baden, so I knew it was important for me to beat Harry. He was really the one who pushed us on to beat the record so I blame him for my never-ending sore feet, haha. It was really amazing having my husband there because when I was taken off at the end he came over to comfort me and he said “what just happened?!” I said “that’s Survivor,” and at that point I really understood the journey I had been on and it felt really overwhelming. I mean I would usually complain after 20 minutes on the treadmill so it was quite the metamorphosis. The final challenge and the first Tower of Terror challenge where we grabbed the pegs were the hardest physical things I had ever done and just pushing through such difficult physical things really does change you, I mean not much feels hard to me anymore.
You and Baden really copped a lot of heat from the jury at the Final Tribal Council but you held your own and really put up a strong, one of the best, defences for a Final Tribal in Survivor history. When and why did you make the decision to be aggressive yet respectful in your approach to win over the jury?
Oh wow honestly Final Tribal is brutal! It goes for hours and the jury absolutely pummel you, they really don’t hold back and it gets pretty crazy at times. Look my strategy was to get along with everyone on the beach, be fun, and only show a few people my gameplay and then to come into Final Tribal, put on my debating hat, and go for the absolute kill. I had been really careful to make sure I had good relationships with all of the jury members but at this point it gets tricky and you don’t really know who is angry at you and who isn’t. Saying that I kind of chickened out of being cutthroat in my opening speech and Baden’s was pretty good so I panicked a little after that. I knew the Q and A was going to be my strength but I started off playing the nice guy and trying to have a laugh with the jury and it was falling flat. Abbey was mouthing to me that I needed to fight and I could sense that it was a fairly agitated jury so I just changed my tactic and went for blood and I could tell it was working so I kept with it. I could sense that everyone on the jury wanted to be sitting in my spot and they wanted to see us fight to the death for a win and not throw the opportunity away so that’s what I did and the minute I changed gear I could tell that I had them so I went for it. I got along really well with everyone on that jury and I would truly call all off them friends but that isn’t enough to make people vote for you, you have to fight for the win in their honour otherwise they feel like you aren’t worthy of being there.
The votes are then read right there on location, and it’s a landslide 9-0 victory, crowning you the Sole Survivor for 2019. And, I might need a fact check here, but I’m almost certain you’re the only female unanimous winner in WORLDWIDE Survivor history. That’s something you can really only dream of. Of course the money’s great, but how does that reward of being a Sole Survivor really feel?
I know, and it’s true! Winning Survivor is a dream, and to be the first female to unanimously win was just icing on the cake. Honestly one of the best things to come out of Survivor is now I am a legitimate part of the superfan community. I could talk strategy for hours, so now I can tweet or have a chat with someone and they actually care what I think which is so cool. I mean the Survivor superfans are amazing and it did not go unnoticed how many people in that community had my back when things got a bit ugly for me and for that I’m truly grateful.
Australian Survivor: All-Stars begins early next year. Are you excited to return to the couch to not only watch some of your fellow players play again, but watch the show with the memory of your own journey this year?
I am so pumped to watch All-Stars and see my mates Dave and Harry go and smash it again. I can’t wait to enjoy it from the couch and get in to random Twitter conversations with strangers and to also support the players and the show. They deserve a second chance.
What’s in store for you next after this chapter in your life? Something exciting brewing between you and your gal pal Janine?
Haha Janine and I are always brewing something so nothing has changed there. I’ll definitely be hanging with her over Summer and I’m catching up with Harry too which will be fun, we have lots of ice-cream dates planned. I went straight back to an acting job a couple of days after I got back from Survivor which was pretty full on so now I’m super excited to chill out over Summer and have a break with my friends and family and just reflect on what a nutso year it’s been. There have been so many ups and downs but to walk away at the end of this year having won the title of Sole Survivor is honestly a dream come true so I think I’ll be cracking a nice bottle of champagne on New Year’s Eve, patting myself on the back and enjoying not having to worry about bills for a little while.– PIA MIRANDA, AUSTRALIAN SURVIVOR WINNER
Wow. Never would I have thought when I started this blog that I’d be able to speak to one of my favourite Survivor players (as well as a Sole Survivor) but I truly thank Pia for taking the time to answer my many questions surrounding her time on the show. It was such a pleasure to chat with you, thank you times a million!
You can watch all of Pia’s winning season of Australian Survivor on 10 All Access or 10play, where you can also watch the three previous seasons. Australian Survivor: All-Stars airs very early next year too, so stay tuned for that!
This is our penultimate post for 2019, and I am so happy to finish off the interviews with Pia, and spend this month interviewing the other Reality TV contestants. If you’ve missed an interview, you can find the latest here: under the Interviews tab. On New Year’s Eve, I’ll post out the 2019 Reality TV Year in Review. Stay tuned!
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