Seal Media Group, Australia
Australian Survivor: Brains Vs Brawn has a new winner, with Hayley Leake crowned sole Survivor after a hard-to-watch final challenge that pushed all of the top three to breaking point.The final three contestants left standing – pain researcher Leake, political operative George Mladenov and pro surfer Flick Palmateer – faced off for a mammoth final challenge which, in true Survivor style, seemed like an instrument of medieval torture. There was one welcome treat before they submitted to that pain: Each of the final three got a visit from two of their loved ones from back home. For Flick – who suffered the tragic loss of her mum midway through the game and decided to play on – seeing her partner and best friend was clearly overwhelming.“It’s hard to keep it together,” she said between sobs as she held them both tight.“It‘s hard enough being out here away from your family – and losing my mum while I’ve been here. All I wanted is the people I’m closest to for support, and not having that has been incredibly tough.”A very painful final challenge“That looks like torture,” a nervous Hayley said as they laid eyes on their final challenge.She wasn’t wrong. The trio each had to hold position in a chamber with narrow pegs on the floor and spikes on the ceiling. At intervals, the ceiling dropped, making it harder to stay in position.George offered a succinct review after the first lowering: “Oh… s**t.”Battling intense pain and fatigue, George was the first to fail after an incredible four-and-a-half hours: “I think I’ve got to do it… I can’t do any more,” he said, hobbling over to his mum and sister.That left Flick and Hayley to go head-to-head well past the five-hour mark. After keeping her poker face for most of the challenge, Hayley finally started to show signs of discomfort – but at five hours and 17 minutes, a tearful Flick called it: “I need help… I need help getting off,” she called, as host Jonathan LaPaglia helped lift her out of the chamber. It meant Hayley won the final immunity of the season – and the advantage of deciding who she would compete against in her final tribal council.Believing Flick already had a few confirmed votes among the members of the jury, Hayley opted to eliminate her and bring George – one of this season’s most divisive contestants – as her “safe bet” competition in the final tribal.The final two make their pitchGeorge faced the jury at the final tribal council, switching into politician mode to deliver a story of triumph against the odds: He was a “minority from the outset”, flagged as a physically weak player because of his lack of success in challenges. But, George argued, he wanted to control the game, playing other contestants off against each other and making it all the way to the final two.Hayley spoke next, talking up her equally impressive game: Working with different alliances and clawing her way back from a minority position thanks to controlling the game via one of the most well-played Immunity Idols in Australian Survivor history. “I know that this game is about outwitting socially, outlasting physically and outplaying strategically… ..and I think I am the one person left here who has done all three of those things really, really well,” she said.Then they both faced some very tense questioning from the jury. “If you had the chance to do this again, would you play the game the same and still be spinning lies and destroying relationships with everyone in the game?” Emmett asked George, taking him to task when he felt he didn’t get a straight answer. Hayley didn’t get off lightly either, with Dani asking her if she “regrets poking” the jury members so much “now that we have all the power.”After that grilling, it was time to vote. LaPaglia made the count: Two for George – and seven for Hayley, earning her the title of sole Survivor and a cheque for $500,000. “I survived 48 days, I made massive blindsides and I was a physical beast out here,” Hayley said after her win. “I’m proud of being able to come out here and play a really big strategic game. I didn’t want to hide in the shadows, I wanted to make big moves from the start, and I did that.”There’s no denying this has been a tougher-than-usual season for Australian Survivor contestants, who competed to last 48 days in the Australian outback rather than the usual tropical setting of beachside Fiji or Samoa.And US Survivor host Jeff Probst’s recent announcement that the American version of the show may permanently move to a 26-day game shows just how much tougher our contestants have it, having to compete for almost twice as long.