‘I Lived The Full Survivor Experience’: How Losing Herself Helped Kate ‘KJ’ Austin Find Space For Herself

On Sunday night, KJ Austin was voted out of the tribe, just days before the Grand Finale.

After attempting to swing both Mark and Chrissy to vote against their alliances, KJ and Shay hoped they were backing the right horse as they attempted to vote out Josh, not realising Chrissy planned to vote for Mark. Resulting in a tied vote between Josh and KJ, Chrissy swung back and KJ joined the jury with just a few days left in the game.

Looking back on her experience KJ let out a nervous giggle, unsure of how to summarise her Survivor experience.

“It was complicated,” she told 10 play, “it was exhausting, it was brutal. And then it was incredibly rewarding, so much fun and I’m just really grateful that I got to live out a dream.”

Having been a longtime fan of the series, KJ said that when she was first approached for Blood V Water it was an immediate no. Having just had a baby, and now with three young kids all under six-years-old, she felt like it was impossible.

“It was my husband that really pushed me and said, ‘You supported me for such a long time, it’s your turn’. He took full control. We had plans and spreadsheets and whiteboards all over our house with what to do every day,” KJ said.

She prepared four weeks worth of meals (not confident enough to prep meals for the entire run of the show) and organised nannies and grandparents to help out. “It was a big mission to get there, and then the game started,” she added, laughing.

During Melbourne’s lockdowns KJ also practiced fire making at home. In quarantine before the game began she read, listened to podcasts and watched past seasons to prepare. On top of all that, there was the season’s added twist of playing with a loved one.

“It is so much easier playing this game on your couch with your red wine in your hand, I’ll tell you that. I was really good at playing it on the couch!”

As soon as the harsh realities of the game set in, KJ realised that it would be completely different to play a game tied to someone else.

“The Blood V Water element really came into play and probably hit me harder than anyone else in the game,” she added. “It was very raw and I became almost a shadow of myself at some point. I feel like I really retreated and wasn’t as confident for a while there.”

Early in the game, KJ’s sister Sophie was blindsided and voted out, but in a twist she was actually voted to join KJ’s tribe. The move shook up the game, and Sophie made waves across both camps, affecting the relationships KJ had formed with her tribe. Eventually, after Sophie was voted out, the target on KJ’s back never truly vanished.

“My Survivor journey wasn’t linear at all, it was so many twists and turns and I really lived the full Survivor experience,” KJ explained.

“I’m proud I made it as far as I did, having lived the full experience. Every twist, every advantage, I was there. I was in and amongst it.”

Seeing comments online about her game, KJ admitted hers was not a bold, flashy style. “I played a game that probably isn’t made for television. I’m not going to be one of the big characters, and that’s okay for me. I was very comfortable in my passive, under-the-radar game. Strategising, forming relationships, being that support person.

“I will even own that I followed along at points in the game purely to survive, and I knew when to strike. And when I did, I did it well.”

Admitting that watching her final Tribal Council was difficult, KJ explained her and Shay’s thought process simply that they had Mark’s word, they could not say the same for Chrissy.

“We knew it was going to be a big risk,” she said, adding, “based off of past form and history we were so convinced that Chrissy was not going to make that move. She was so tight with Josh and Mark.”

Shay and KJ had also decided to try and take aim at Chrissy’s closest ally, Josh, knowing that he posed a larger threat than Mark.

“On the ground he was very, very good to watch,” KJ said of Josh. “He had full control and it would have been a huge battle to go up against him at the end.”

Shay was also confident that, in a final endurance challenge, she could beat Mark more easily than Josh. They were also still unsure how the Jury was feeling after Sam and Mark’s two Idol “debacle”, whereas Josh had many supporters (and former allies) on the Jury.

“It made more sense for Mark to vote out Josh than it made for Chrissy to turn on her alliance,” KJ said.

“Twenty-three players aren’t going to make the most perfect moves the whole time, I don’t even think the winner walks away playing a perfect game in Survivor, but if there was going to be a mistake that was going to cause me to go home, so be it.”

Though she said watching the season back has been “awful sometimes”, KJ also gets to relive the beautiful moments that make all the negative thoughts disappear. Watching with her husband and eldest daughter who can sometimes be her harshest critic KJ joked, “these Twitter people have got nothing on a seven-year-old”.

But seeing herself in the season, KJ never gave up or backed away from a challenge.

“I was never going to be a physical threat, but I gave it everything and I just wanted to show mums out there that yes, our whole life is consumed by children and we give them everything, but you can actually have a bit of time to yourself and fulfil dreams. I wanted to give it everything and do Survivor justice,” she said.

“I didn’t win, but the direction my life’s taken since the show finished has been incredible. I have so many f**k it moments now, where a decision will come up and I’ll just go, yeah. You know what? Let’s do it.

“I am in a really good place, I’m so happy in my personal growth, I’m so happy in my own skin.”

Before the show, coming out of the extended lockdowns, KJ said she was just trying to get through each day.

“Now I’m actually living every day, and I’m really happy with where I’m at, and I don’t think that would have been possible without my appearance on the show.”

Find out who will be crowned Sole Survivor when the Australian Survivor: Blood V Water grand finale airs Monday at 7.30 on Network 10 and 10 play on demand