Culture

‘Alone Australia’ Winner Krzysztof Wojtkowski: “I Could Be My True Self. Take The Mask Off.”

Krzysztof Wojtkowski when he's told he's won season 2 of alone australia

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Krzysztof Wojtkowski, 39, won Season 2 of Alone Australia thanks to his crafting ability, mental fortitude, and playfulness.

There were three contestants left in the finale, but after over two months in the wilderness, the cold and lack of protein proved to be too much and Krzysztof emerged the victor, taking home the $250,000 prize.

I sat down with Krzysztof to talk about his best asset (and Achilles heel), intergenerational resilience, and his biggest epiphany after 64 days in the wilds of New Zealand’s South Island. 

Donna Lovric, Junkee: You seemed pretty shocked when you found out you won — and happy to be pulled out for medical reasons. How much longer could you have lasted out there?

Krzysztof Wojtkowski: That’s a good question. The big thing for me was the lack of sleep. And by the end, because I wasn’t sleeping, it was almost like I was drunk. I was stumbling around. I had blurry vision, the headaches were coming and going, the dizziness was there. I had all the benefits of being drunk without actually being drunk. But yeah, well, it would have only been a matter of time before I would have tripped over and hurt myself. So it was definitely the right call to pull me out when they did.  

You didn’t accidentally get drunk on fermented berries?

I could have found some berries. I probably would have tried fermenting them.

You were one of the most entertaining contestants to watch. How did you stay so playful out there?

That’s the ADHD. It just goes a million miles an hour, coming up with new weird and wonderful things. So that’s basically what kept me going. But it is a bit of a double-edged sword because it’s also what kept me up at night and ended up being my undoing. 

We saw a lot of your crafting in the background. What were some items we didn’t get to see on camera that you were proud of?

Heaps of stuff. We could probably do a whole other season of the stuff that everyone crafted. At one point, I got tired of getting knots in my hair, so I made myself a comb — I was combing my hair almost every day. I made a fly fishing rod early on as well and basically made the loops out of nails that I found. I sat up at night platting the tapered line and then I was making flies to go on the line as well. But unfortunately, you didn’t see any of that. But I suppose I didn’t catch any fish so it’s no big deal, right? 

I think one of my predictions was that you were going to have a functioning toilet by the end of it. How far did you get with that one?

I didn’t quite get to the flushing water. But give me another couple of months and we would have gotten there.

With that, did you have a designated “water closet” area? Or was the world your oyster, so to speak?

Well, number two is the designated area, you know, for maximum comfort, the best view and all that. The number ones? Well, when you gotta go, you gotta go.

You weren’t mixing with the deer scat?

No, thankfully not. And just remember, when you’re out there, don’t eat the yellow snow.

I grew up with my dad constantly telling me that the best way to look after your mental health is having projects to work on. They help to keep up your resilience. Was that your experience? 

I think there’s a lot of truth to that statement. It’s just the best way to cope with situations in my life. And yeah, I guess you could call it a coping mechanism. If I’ve got something to hyper-focus on, it keeps me happy, keeps me occupied. Life is good.

You obviously would’ve had things you couldn’t wait to get home to, but was there anything that had you thinking ‘Thank God I’m out here, so I don’t have to do that’?

With the ADHD, being in society and having to put the mask on and trying to fit in. I was happy I didn’t have to deal with that. So I could be my true self. Take the mask off out there. And you can sort of see me going a little bit loopy from time to time. I was just having a good time.

Having all the camera gear out there… was that a way to stay entertained and have some human contact on your own terms?

I saw the cameras more as part of the job. So they weren’t really something to talk to because I tend to work by myself a lot anyway, in my day-to-day job. So I’m always vocalising my thoughts. I’m always singing, being my usual goofy self. It’s only once I’m starting to be around people that I think ‘Calm down, you’re in society now’.

Did you find that the sand flies became easier to deal with as it got colder or when you were away from the beach? How did you deal with them?

Sand flies were a plague. They were there all the time. If you look back at the show, you’ll see that I’m always wearing a pair of gloves because, in the first week, they destroyed my hands. So after that, it’s gloves all the time. And then after a while, I just started wearing my hair out as well so that I could cover my face to try and keep the sandflies off. I remember the first shower I had when I finally got out of there. I was washing my hair, looked down and I was horrified because all these dead sandflies just washed down into the water. Not cool.

Did you get scarred or anything from all the sand fly bites?

Not so much, it’s like you sort of adapt to the scenario and you appreciate the good things. Sure, there are sandflies, but there’s this billion-dollar view that I have all to myself. I’ve got this wide open space all to myself. I could do whatever I want. I can sleep until whatever time I want. I can go to bed whenever I want. All I needed was some food.

You did struggle with food. Were you tempted by the eels?

The eels were tempting. But I work with eels. What was more tempting was all the birdlife that was around. There were these big, plump, juicy pigeons that would sit in a tree maybe five metres away. We could literally throw a rock at them and knock them out. I had a weka. I’d never seen a weka before. It was so cool. It looks almost like a kiwi, but with a shorter snout. It was running around my camp. It walked right up to me in my shelter. And if I could have turned that thing into chicken nuggets, I’d have been so happy.

Did you make friends with any of the animals? Or were you just eyeing them off for food?

I was in my head, basically roasting them over the fire and eating them up. But yeah, unfortunately, we couldn’t do that. 

You had one of the most impressive shelters. How long did it take you to make that? And do you think that was the ultimate reason why you outlasted everyone?

It took a while to make but that was on purpose. And yes, it did help me survive. But not because it was a shelter and for the sake of protecting me from the elements. It helped me survive because it gave me something to do. It was like an ongoing project for me. I started with just the top, then I then put the back wall up so I could stop rain from coming in. And I thought okay, now we’ll do one wall, then we’ll do the next wall, then we’ll do the front walls. And we’ll start on the roof. It was just step after step after step and basically learning as I was going. And it’s a shame it wasn’t shown but if you look at the different walls in the sequence of how I built them, you could see they go from average to slightly better to even better to even better. So it was a constant learning process. And it was just great to be out there and practice all these things that I’ve read about but never actually had the time to do.

Gina mentioned in the Alone podcast how important an insulated roof was to keep the shelter warm. How long after you got there did you start putting a roof on?

Honestly, I didn’t put the roof on to keep the heat in — it was pretty toasty warm because the walls were a good foot thick. The issue I was having was, because it was so warm, there was water condensing on the inside of the shelter and dripping down my sleeping bag and my clothes. I was like, ‘I can’t have that’, so I had to dry it all over the fire. The roof was going on just to create that barrier to stop the condensation. 

What was harder — being alone for the first time on the island or re-entering society?

I really enjoyed just spending some time alone. It gave me a chance to do a lot of self-reflection. I came up with a couple of epiphanies along the way. It gave me a chance to recharge my spoons. And I think the hardest part was actually stepping back into society and having to put the mask back on and just being part of part of the world again. 

What’s one of the biggest epiphanies you had on the show?

It’s okay for me to be me.

You spoke about your fascinating and resilient family history on the podcast — is there more you can tell us about that?

Stay tuned for the book. How long have you got? We can go back generations. I spent a bit of time talking about my grandmother, who survived the Warsaw Uprising. She was very young at the time, starving while people were shooting at them. Her mother was murdered by the Nazis. Yeah, they suffered. And they survived. And they were resilient. So I like to think that some of that resilience has been passed down.

You can definitely see that in your time on the show… 

So what’s next for you?

The next plan is to spend a bit more time in the bush. Walking away from the whole experience, it’s something that I’ve realised — I just want to spend more time in the bush. It’ll be good to do some crafting, better fishing — and actually catch a fish.

[Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

Alone Australia Season 2 is streaming on SBS On Demand.