'Survivor 46' Winner Kenzie Petty Reveals an Unseen Alliance that Ran the Endgame

Kenzie Petty

Survivor 46 is here! Every week, Parade.com's Mike Bloom will bring you interviews with the castaway most recently voted off of the island.

Survivor 46's most stylish castaway, Kenzie Petty walked into every Tribal Council she attended (which was all but one this season) with a different look. Sometimes, her hair was down, flowers woven through, presenting an air of comfort and allure akin to a mermaid. Sometimes, it was up, showing that, even with her friendly demeanor, she was ready to scrap and make moves with the fieriness of a dragon if it meant getting her one step further. But, no matter the style the salon owner brought to the vote, it was accompanied by a mile-wide smile, one that welcomed in and maintained relationships with everyone she came into contact with in the game. And so, when she reached the Final Three, Kenzie vocalized all of the incredible bonds she built and maintained, and how that never put her in danger. And it was enough for the jury to determine Kenzie was a cut above the rest, giving her the million-dollar prize.

Kenzie's journey to Sole Survivor was far from an easy one, though. Yanu proved to be one of the most disastrous tribes in Survivor history, and she was in the middle of it all. She spent the first half of the game hiding fake idols and trying to sympathize with polarizing personalities, all the while maintaining a rock-solid trio with Tiffany Nicole Ervin and Q Burdette. Little did Kenzie know, though, that her superior social skills were already pinging on everyone's radar with Bhanu Gopal even telling the other tribes that Kenzie was a "mastermind" of the game. Despite her reputation, Kenzie was a self-described "cast-iron skillet," seasoned and hardened by having to vote nearly every round.

And so that skillet got cooking, making and substantiating bonds with a whole new group of people. Most prominent was Ben Katzman, as Kenzie served as his main source of emotional comfort through two weeks of panic attacks and insomnia. Starting to see the end in sight, Kenzie attempted to make a move on her closest ally Tiffany, only to relent. And so she was shocked to see when the plan went through without her, the first (and only) vote she was left out on this season. But, true to the adaptable nature of her fashion, Kenzie took it as a lesson to not get cocky. Instead, she locked in with a new group to take her to the end. Kenzie's last hurdle came at the Final Four, when she nearly succumbed to the pressure of firemaking. But she did what Yanu couldn't for 11 days: Make fire. And that flame not only lived in her hair, but her heart on Day 26, as the jury prided her relationships, social skills, and manueverability in a close verdict to give her the win.

The day after the finale, Kenzie talks with Parade.com about how he predicted final Tribal Council would shake out, the various relationships she made in the game, and all the life updates that came after she left the island.

Related: Read our Survivor 46 pre-game interview with Kenzie Petty

Hi, Kenzie! How are you doing this morning? I imagine you're basking in the glow of being the official winner of Survivor 46.
Oh my gosh, it's pretty indescribable. Honestly, I'm just overwhelmed with just gratitude and pride and excitement. I'm feeling like a million bucks.

[Laughs.] There we go. So let's get into what garnered that glow in the first place. What were your expectations on the jury vote as Jeff is coming forward with the urn? What did you think your chances were of winning?
Oh, my gosh. I mean, Charlie and Ben really came to fight in final Tribal. And they both gave such good answers. I was like, "It's 46, so I don't know what's going on!" I love them all. I love everyone on the jury. But you could have gone any way. So I was just like, "We've got to get ready for any possibility." I figured I had Tiff. I was very surprised by Maria; I'm sure everyone was. But you never know what the jury is gonna reward. So I just went out there to be myself. And that's ultimately what I think brought home the win. 

How do you look back on your own final Tribal Council performance, given the questions the jury was throwing your way?
I was very proud of myself. I am not a debater and I'm not a confrontational person. So I was very proud of myself for for standing up for myself. But I was also so proud of Ben and Charlie. Every answer they gave, I was like, "I've got to step it up. These boys are out here to play!" So I was just proud of myself for stepping it up a little more, you know, for putting one foot in front of the other. It's an honor to win against such amazing competitors.

Were there any jury votes you were surprised you didn't get?
I was a little surprised by Hunter, because Hunter and I spent so much time together. But people choose who they choose. I'm not mad at anyone for how they voted.  Charlie deserved votes, that's a fact. So I'm glad Charlie got his votes.

That makes sense coming from the winner. "I got five, that's enough!"
[Laughs.] I'm not mad about it, personally.

I want to rewind to the beginning of the game. You and I spoke out there about how people might clock your social game quickly, especially after just seeing a hair stylist win in Yam Yam. And indeed, we see people like Jess and Bhanu make comments early on about how you can't get to the end of the game. Were you aware of this perception?
I knew my name was out there. Jelinsky threw my name out. And then I knew Jess was throwing it out, and then I knew Bhanu was throwing it out. So by the time the merge came, I was like, "I've got to lower my threat level immediately." The way we were playing on Yanu, I was playing with Q and Tiff. They respect heavy hitters. I was like, "If I want to team up with them, I've got to play hard." Once I got to the merge, I had a little bit more options of how to play, and I knew I just needed to get the limelight off of me. I was like, "Mermaid dragon who? Getting away with murder, where?" That was how I flipped that around, because I didn't have to play so hard to get into the "in crowd."

As you mentioned, you get in with Q and Tiffany early on and seem to ride it until the merge. How solid was your trio? Were you ever debating breaking them up the way they were talking about getting rid of you?
I think because we were constantly in crisis mode on Yanu, it was like, "Alright, who's next?" Tiff and I had talked about getting out Q. Q and I talked about getting out Tiff at one point. We were just all preparing for the next thing. But I think the three of us were always very solid, from my point of view anyway. I was always with Tiff 100%, and Q I were cool premerge. Everybody was working together in that three.

You mention at the merge how you were like a cast iron skillet, seasoned by going to Tribal Council so early on. How much do you think that premerge affected the way your game took shape in the second half?
It hardens you in a way. But then when you get to know people and spend more time with them, it's harder. It gets harder the farther you go. So I am grateful that I did have the Tribal experience. It's a very big theatrical thing. [You're]  not only focused on what people are saying. Tribal is such a dance of saying enough that people hear you, but not saying enough to where you give it away, which obviously people were great at this season. Five idols went home in pockets! People played Tribal very well. And I went to the most of them. [Laughs.] So I would like to say that I got very good at going to Triibal as well. And I attribute a lot of that to the disaster that was Yanu in the beginning.

Looking ahead to the merge, as you mentioned, Bhanu had told the other tribes that you were a "mastermind." Talk me through how you were able to dispel that. Did you seek anyone out in particular among all the new faces?
I was going wherever the tide took me, whoever I vibed with. I vibed with Ben pretty much immediately. We have so much in common; he's so funny. We had so much fun out there together. And we were both kind of on the bottom. He was on the bottom of Charlie and Maria; I was on the bottom of Tiff and Q. But it was funny because Ben and I just vibed. We never were like, "We're number ones now." That's never what happened. So definitely Ben, definitely Liz, and definitely Charlie. The four of us teamed up pretty quickly. And really, honestly, I was still working with Tiff up until her blindside. I floated her name; that was dumb, because it lasted for like 12 hours. Then I was like, "I don't want to do that!" It's way better to have my girl with me. And then ultimately, that came back to blindside me, which flipped me around to get my head back in the game.

Talk to me more about your bonds with Ben, Charlie, and Liz, because you all made the Final Four together. Was this something you made formal early on? This idea of standing among the rubble as the big threats took each other out?
Ultimately, a lot of us felt left out. Charlie was kind of in the six, and the rest of us were not in the six. So we were like, "We're the leftovers. And we all get along really well. And we are here to play." And everyone had kind of overlooked each of us at this point. So we were able to fly under the radar, work together very closely, and have a good time. We had been together from seven and on. That's kind of a long time for an alliance to go undetected. And we called ourselves "The Gathering of the Goats." It was so funny, because everyone really did not expect us to have it in us to pull it out.

So we talk about relationship building. Let's talk about some that fell apart. You were already bristling with Q at the Tim vote for the way he was seemingly dictating things. And things hit the fan among his chaos of asking to be voted out, then being part of the Tiffany blindside. It's almost the opposite of what you said before. Instead of having difficulty voting someone out because of your positive feelings towards them, it's trying to work with someone in spite of your negative feelings towards them.
It's a tricky balance. That's Survivor. Q and I had a very complicated relationship. I think everyone would say that about Q. Because we would fight and then we would be like, "Yeah, I'm going home to start our family!" Q and I would have these deep and beautiful conversations. And then he would be like, barking orders at me. And I would have to be like, "Yes, Q. That's fine." And that is not me in regular life. So it was just an interesting balance. But, ultimately, like I have so much respect for Q for sticking around for so long that I was like, "Now he's gonna win! It's annoying if we let him get to the end, everyone's gonna be like, 'Well you let him get to the end!'" He was a big threat by the end of it. So that's ultimately why I was like, "Okay, Q has to go. I don't know how I feel about him anymore, but he's gonna win. So he's got to go."

Let's talk about the third point of that Yanu triangle in Tiffany. Talk to me about your relationship, and that brief 12-hour window when you wanted to take out your number one ally.
[Laughs.] I know. So Tiff is awesome. We bonded immediately. She's so funny. She's creative. We have a lot in common. She was just my girl. She just feels like someone I would hang out with. I mean, I do hang out with her. But like, out there, I was like, Do we have mutual friends? Are we connected?" And that was just so nice. And because 46 was such big personalities and players, it got in my head that I needed a big move. And Q's like, "Tiff's coming for you." So I was like, "I gotta come for her." And then I was like, "Wait, this is all happening because Q got in my head. Never mind. Abort. No, no, no, no, no. We're keeping Tiff now."

And that's just on me for getting cocky and thinking I had so much power, that everyone was just going to listen to me say, "Never mind. "But regardless, people wanted Tiff out before I said it. I was just hopping on board, more so than being a driving force. But really, ultimately, I just ended up looking dumb, because I got blindsided by her vote. I don't know, it was too early to go after your number one. And ultimately, it ended up working out. Because I didn't vote for her, and she votes for me. If I had voted for her that early and still made it to the end, which would have put a huge target on me in hindsight, who knows how it would have shaken out? 

You've mentioned a few times how the Tiffany blindside completely altered your game. Was it as simple as you locking in with the "Gathering of the Goats"? Or did you have to overhaul your entire thinking of the endgame?
I pretty much attached myself to the goats, but I was still overhauling. I knew I could go with Q and Maria too, if I wanted to go that way. I just didn't. I was like, "I will lose, I have a shot the other way." But it was difficult, because then I got my name written down at the Venus vote. But I really did just look at my options and look at the people out there. And I was like, "I just trust Ben, Charlie, and Liz more." And sometimes you really just have to block everything out and listen to your intuition and gut and go with what feels good. And those were just the homies! Those were my options. And that's where I went.

Well speaking of blocking everything out, you mention the one vote you got all game from Ben, which happened by accident. What was your reaction to it, especially when Maria tried to convince you a couple of days later that it was done out of deception?
My reaction was kind of mixed. Because Ben came clean immediately. And we had such an open and honest dialogue. And it's so hard. Survivor's so difficult out there. And I knew that people were struggling, especially Ben with the sleep. And so it wasn't that farfetched that someone would write someone's name down accidentally. So I believed him mostly. And the parts of me that didn't believe him, I was like, "Well, what are my other options? To go with Q and Maria? That's not looking like the path forward that I want to take right now. I've got to just swallow it. I didn't go home, who cares? Move on. Forgive, forget, let's keep it moving. If it continues to be a problem, we'll deal with it. But right now, this is what's in front of me in this moment." Sometimes Survivor's moment to moment. And that was just what I did in the moment. And it worked out.

You mentioned at final Tribal Council about having one-on-one moments with all the jurors. And you go into it more specifically in your Entertainment Weekly pre-finale interview. Did that just come naturally from your interpersonal skills? Or were you strategically seeking out specific things to connect over?
I really am just a people person! And there's so much time out there that all there is to do is talk sometimes. And I really do build bonds so quickly. Sometimes, I'm just doing someone's hair for 30 minutes, and I have to make them feel special and included. And I love getting to know people. Every Survivor contestant is so unique and so original and so interesting that I was like, "Something got you here. And I want to figure out what that is." So I just am so grateful for the cast and getting to know all of them. They're all so fun. You've talked to them all! They're a bunch. [Laughs.]

[Laughs.] Very true. Of your many relationships, what's one you wish we saw more of?
I wish we got to see more of me and Liz, Liz and I were very close. It was funny because we did not vibe at all at the merge initially. And then, there was a moment when Liz was upset and having a moment. And I was the only one at camp. And I was like, "This is where I get her to like me. I'm gonna kill her with kindness." And I just sat with her and got to know her, and we talked. And after that, we were like this. [Crosses fingers.] So funny, having such a good time. I felt so comfortable with her. I wish they would have shown more of Liz looking less crazy. She's not as crazy as she seems on TV. I swear she's actually a very level-headed person. And I wish they would have shown more of that.

Finally, I know you recently announced your pregnancy. And you had said in your final Tribal Council speech you would try to put the money towards starting a family. What has your journey been like since leaving the island until now?
Oh, my journey off the island was crazy. I think adjusting from Survivor to regular life is pretty crazy. We had moved our wedding. So I got married two months after I got home. And now I am pregnant! I got pregnant four months after that. So now I'm having a baby in September. So it's just been a whirlwind since I got home. I set my mind to something and I do it. I was like, "I want to win Survivor." Did it. "I want to get married." Done. "I want to have a baby." Almost done. [Laughs.]

Next, check out our interview with Q Burdette, who was voted out in Survivor 46 Episode 12.