The 32-year-old personal trainer from West Hollywood, CA who is originally from Houston, TX was the seventeenth castaway and final fan eliminated from Survivor: Micronesia -- Fans vs. Favorites during Sunday night's finale broadcast of the CBS reality series' sixteenth season.
On Monday, Natalie talked to Reality TV World about how she was able to ride her alliance with winner Parvati Shallow all the way to the Final 4; how the all-female "Black Widow Brigade" was responsible for some of the best Survivor blindsides ever; how an alliance with Cirie Fields was discussed but never came to fruition; and why she initially flew under the radar before stepping up her game when she was characterized as weak.
Reality TV World: Going into that Final 4 Tribal Council, how confident were you about how the vote was going to go?
Natalie: That late in the game, having spent that much time with people down to Final 4, you build relationships. We had to take [Erik Reichenbach] out the way. We had to take him out -- God bless his heart. But when it came down to the Final 4, I basically knew I didn't have a chance. I worked the angles that I could work, but I just said, "Be straight-up with me, be honest with me. If it's me, it's me and I go in knowing."
I knew I was the last man on the totem pole. That's how the game goes. From Day 1, pretty much the Fans and the Favorites assumed we were going down to a Final 3. Had we just been a little more proactive in our thinking and at least shaken down the numbers with the Final 2, Cirie and I definitely could have teamed up and definitely -- very easily -- could have been the Final 2.
Reality TV World: So did you ever discuss that with Cirie?
Natalie: She had addressed me at one point, probably before [Alexis Jones] went out. I don't remember the actual situation or the ability that would have given us the opportunity. But she said, "If you guys would be willing to vote out Parv, we can get Parv out and change the structure of this game."
I almost think that's when we had to take [Jason Siska] out. It was really early to make that decision because I was still close with Parvati and wasn't 100% set on getting her out then.
But yeah, Cirie had addressed it to me once early on and I didn't go with it so she never addressed it again. We were actually joking around Erik's time, she said, "We might have to [vote to eliminate Parvati]. We might have to do this." I was in agreement with her, but once it got safe for her to be in the Final 3, why would she have gone out of Final 3 to help me in any sort of way when she was already locked in.
Reality TV World: Were you surprised that Amanda Kimmel tried to claim that Cirie wasn't the one on the bottom of her alliance with Parvati? Did it give you any brief hope?
Natalie: At that point, I was trying to get my wits about me and they were going at it -- I didn't expect that to go down.
Let me just insert real quickly that once I was watching the show last night, I didn't know that they went to blows about it after they voted me out and went back to camp. They got into and started crying and yelling at each other -- I didn't even know that went down. So clearly there was a little bit of a beef there that I was unaware of or their threesome was a little bit shakier than I had known of.
But I felt like [Survivor host Jeff Probst] in the questions was spoon-feeding us and letting us know, "Hey guys! It's not going to be a Final 3! What are you going to do about it!"
Reality TV World: That leads well into my next question. Why were you all guys so surprised that there wasn't a Final 3? Weren't the facts that the Final 4 Immunity Challenge took place a day early, wasn't a classic endurance challenge, and wasn't proceeded by the usual "Fallen Comrades" march some pretty big hints that there was going to be another Immunity Challenge?
Natalie: We did not pick-up on the hints, and when I was sitting there [at Tribal Council] -- and as much as I'm the cutthroat and I'm going to go out on a limb -- I'm a role follower. I was sitting there, and this is my first go around, and I'm like, "Can I really just shake stuff up at Tribal Council right now? Can I really address Cirie and say if this is going to be a Final 2 go out on a limb with me right here and let's do this right here at Tribal Council? It will be two against two."
But still even then, it was unknown that it was 100% going to be a Final 2. So why would Cirie screw-over her alliance if it was still in fact going to be a Final 3.
Reality TV World: So if you had been 100% sure it would be a Final 2, do you think you and Cirie might have teamed up?
Natalie: Oh man! If we would have known it would have been a Final 2, I would have loved to see myself in that seat and I probably would have been with Cirie.
Reality TV World: Are you confident you could have beaten Cirie in the jury vote?
Natalie: (pause) You know I don't know. I believe that physical challenges, Immunity Challenges, they're all so different. One can have agility the other has balance; one has brawn and strength; one use your head. They're all different. I believe any one of us could have won those.
The jury votes, either one of us could have won those as well because people respect Cirie on a level because she's straightforward, she just tells it like it is, she plays a good game -- obviously, she's gotten so far in the game on both of her season. She's a good player. She's a good solid player. So people were going to respect her for that. I made some strong social connections with people -- people would have voted for me for that.
So between Cirie and I it would have been a good toss-up on many levels.
Reality TV World: Having seen Amanda go through two final Tribal Council jury sessions now, would you agree that she doesn't seem to be very good at them?
Natalie: (laughing) I think she gets a little flustered. I think Amanda gets a little shaken up and she gets really, really emotional. It's a beautiful thing -- it's beautiful to be emotional and people I know think that I'm a cold, hard bitch but I'm an emotional person. I have to be cold and distant because I am so emotional and sensitive so I know that I have to handle people at arms length because I know I'm easily crushed.
Amanda on the other hand is more transparent with her sensitivity. She's got it out there. I think she lets people fluster her a little bit in Tribal Councils. But I would say that somebody was confessing their undying love at the end of this one, so she must have done something right this time. (laughing)
Reality TV World: Did Amanda and Parvati's jury answers determine your vote or had you already decided to vote for Parvati?
Natalie: People keep asking me, "Why did you ask Parvati that! That came out of no where! What was your basis behind that?"
I had so much time, I had 12 days on the Airai tribe [after the swap] to bond and connect with Parvati. I respected the way she played the game. She was true and she honored me throughout my course of the game. I knew that Parvati was going to get my $1 million vote, so I didn't have any pointed questions to ask her. I didn't really have to dig into her about why she did this to me or how could she have done this. I didn't have any of those questions for her.
So I said she has to earn $1 million -- she's going to get my vote for $1 million -- but I'll be damned if I hand it over to her. With that, there's going to be a question where she's going to have to think on her feet. I wanted to embarrass her and see if I could shake her up a little bit and throw her off -- and if she gives me a good answer, baby girl earns my $1 million vote. She did.
Reality TV World: What was your reaction to Amanda's answer to your jury question for her?
Natalie: She stood up to me, which was good. That's what I wanted, in hopes of provoking that out of her.
She was really good at standing up to Erik, and I felt like she didn't have to get her hands too dirty in the game and I actually took that role on of getting my hands dirty, so I wondered if she could get her hands a little bit dirty with me and stand up to me. She did. I was very impressed with that.
Reality TV World: Based on his final Tribal Council comment, James Clement certainly seemed to think that most of the jury members had gone into the Tribal Council session planning to vote for Amanda. Was that the case? If so, what happened, in your opinion? If not, what was situation? Any idea why James seemed to misread it so badly?
Natalie: Actually, I think there's pretty strict rules about not talking and not discussing. I think there's winks and nods and nose crinkles from across the table -- people giving signs like a coach, trying to make people think, "This is who I'm voting for."
I think James' "Amanda's got it in the bag" comment came out of anger to Parvati. I think it was just a heated emotional comment on his end and his viewpoint on the matter -- because I think at that point he was so upset with Parvati that it was about Amanda at that point for him.
Reality TV World: In both her seasons, Amanda basically seemed to expect the jury to reward her loyalty and physical competitiveness and was worried about the jury falling for an "I have kids and a family" story, but if you look over Survivor's history, that really doesn't happen and they typically reward the "schemer." Do you have any idea where she's been getting that strategy from? Did she ever discuss it with you?
Natalie: Amanda and I didn't get close enough to discuss strategy, we didn't get close enough to even really have one-on-ones.
I do think with her being able to play a little bit under the radar -- because like I said, she didn't have to do most of the dirty work -- but she was definitely involved in the shakedowns towards the end. She didn't have to be the face of it. I think that's part of her strategy.
My strategy was if it needs to be done, I'll do it. If somebody needs to talk and negotiate, I'll do it. I think Amanda's strategy was to have a pretty face and be sweet to everybody as she was teaming up with people to out people. That was her strategy and it was a good one.
Reality TV World: Did you ever really think Erik would give you Immunity until he actually did it?
Natalie: Dude, are you kidding?! That was probably one of the biggest shakedowns if not the biggest shakedown in Survivor history. I don't know where that came from.
But I will say this. When I was sitting at Tribal Council... Of course, I was kind of annoyed with Cirie and Amanda because I thought they were joshing with me a little bit. I was like, "You know what? You guys are screwing with me right now. It's not cool. You guys are kind of assholes right now." I was getting kind of heated with them.
But then I was sitting at Tribal and [Erik] went into his soliloquy of how he needs to redeem himself with the jury votes. I was like, "Wow! He's like a sponge. Everything we told him, he soaked it in an immediately believed it." That's a very endearing quality on his part I will say -- it's refreshing to see someone that pure and innocent with a good heart. I love him for that. I think that's a great quality.
But I was sitting at Tribal Council and once he passed the [Immunity] necklace to me and put it on, I thought, "Man, somebody up high is definitely on my side right now." It was an otherworldly experience that I was actually going to get to stay one day later -- the last Fan standing. It was miraculous for me.
Reality TV World: After he won the Final 5 Reward Challenge, were you surprised that Erik didn't just give up the prize and send himself to Exile Island so he could get the re-hidden Idol? That seemed to be almost as big a mistake as giving you the Immunity necklace later on.
Natalie: That was our beef with Erik. He promised me he was either going to take me to Exile -- which I would have found the Immunity Idol -- and he would have taken whoever else on Reward. Who cares about Reward at that point, it's about Immunity. Then he flip-flopped completely when he made his choice of the cuff at the challenge.
At that point, you can't go with that. That's a loose cannon. You need to be able to bet all your cards in certain situations and that what was so scary about Erik to all of us. He was the whim guy -- Jeff could have asked him the same exact question and he could have been on one whim to give me the necklace or another whim to not. That's very dangerous in this game, to deal with someone like that.
Reality TV World: How confident were you in both situations that Ozzy Lusth and Jason wouldn't play their Hidden Immunity Idol?
Natalie: I was more sure on the Ozzy shakedown going down. He had absolutely not idea. We kept it air tight -- there was no loose lips sinks ships. We kept it tight. We kept the numbers small with the people who knew. That went down seamlessly.
With Jason, I thought, "I've never said more than two words to this guy. There's no way he's going to go with what I'm saying to him. This is ludicrous." But he did it. I was completely shocked and completely amazed. I would have seen Ozzy's going down far before I would have seen Jason's going down.
Reality TV World: How surprised were you when Amanda decided to play the Hidden Immunity Idol? Did you initially think it was you who would be going instead of Alexis?
Natalie: Of course my eyes were bugging out and we're looking around and Alexis and I are like, "Oh shit! Here we go. What's going on."
But I was just as fearful of Alexis leaving me and me being separated from my cuddle buddy of 34 days and my one true alliance -- I was almost more fearful of her leaving me or me leaving her than who was going home. It wasn't who's being booted, it was more about we're about to be separated. It was, "Is Alexis leaving me or am I leaving Alexis?"
Reality TV World: Were you surprised at how easy it seemed for you and Alexis to form an alliance with Parvati before the merge and that she ultimately picked you two over her original alliance with Ozzy and James once the merge happened?
Natalie: No. I did ask her on several occasions, "Where are you at? Where are you at? James is super into you." She's like, "I have not promised him anything. I have not promised him anything." She promised Ozzy -- she didn't promise James anything. So she kept reassuring me, "It's all good. It's all good."
Logically, she could not win against James. In an Immunity Challenge maybe, but probably not. So that's what was a little bit more believable for me to keep going along with her strategy. God bless her. She's a girls girl, she had our backs. The girls didn't get caught-up in the cattiness. We made it and the Final 4 were women. We all had a part in keeping every woman there and making it an all-female Final 4. Parvati had a really big part in that.
Reality TV World: It seemed like forming the all-female "Black Widow Brigade" was a strategy of yours. Why did you feel better working with the women than the men?
Natalie: In one of my casting interviews they said, "What's your strategy going to be?" All of my female friends have always come to me because I'm strong and I'm stoic and I'm one that you can come to for strength because I don't let my emotions show. I talk a lot of smack and I joke around, but I went into this game not wanting to shed one tear, because if I shed one tear, I'll start crying and it's a downward spiral and I'm out of the game because my head's going to get the best of me. The only time I cried was when my mom came out to see me because I was happy and I was ecstatic.
So a lot of my female friends in life come to me for my strength. So I thought if I could go into this game... I mean guys are easy, come on. Clearly. Guys are easy. I'm a guys' girl -- I like cars, I love bikes, I love speed, I love to talk guy talk. Easy. Women, if I can make them feel safe with me, like, "We can do this on our own. We can be our own protectors. We can rely on one another to make this happen."
It would disarm them on a level to where they'd fell safe. That's what I knew and that was one of my answers in casting. I said, "If I can disarm the women to not be catty but to actually align and be strength for each other, we can do this."
Reality TV World: We saw the Fans tribe eliminate some of its strongest members early in the competition. do you think you weren't regarded as one of the stronger players earlier in the competition? It seemed like we didn't even see might of you or Alexis until after the merge happened.
Natalie: Alexis was coined as a strong player. They loved Alexis in the original Airai tribe. She's strong, she's got four brothers so she probably got knocked around quite a bit. So she was a strong player, but I kind of fell in under the radar. I just kept my head down and worked for the longest time because I didn't want to get caught-up in all the drama. I kind of stayed removed from it.
But I heard a couple times, "Natalie's weak." And I have two metal rods in my back, so I went in with a disadvantage that I tried to keep secret and private because I didn't want people to think I was the weak link. So I stayed low under the radar.
So once I started hearing I was a weak link, that made me nervous. So those very people that were saying I was a weak link, I'm like, "Okay, now you have to go." It was either me or them at that point.
Reality TV World: So that's what happened with Michael Borton and Mary Sartain?
Reality TV World: How were you cast for Survivor: Micronesia? Had you previously applied to the show before?
Natalie: I have applied to the show before on several occasions. I finally got on went to casting -- the casting process is brutal. They could have wanted me for this season and not looked at me for 10 other seasons.
So what I would say to everybody who wants to do the show, keep applying because they are constantly looking for different people. What I represent might not have worked four seasons ago, but it worked this season. So I'm very thankful to have been cast for it.
Reality TV World: Given you were on the Fans tribe, how much Survivor had you watched before the show? Had you seen every season?
Natalie: I have seen every season I believe, but one. I was really a little bit nervous when I got on the matt [on Day 1] and it was raining and Jeff says... We were a little bit shaken up because there were only 10 of us, and we were like, "How is there going to be a season of Survivor with only 10 people? There's got to be a twist."
And sure enough, when Ozzy and Amanda and Parvati and [Yau-Man Chan] and Cirie and [Ami Cusak]... I thought, "Oh man!" Then I thought, "Okay we better merge right now and switch up right now or we're screwed."
Reality TV World: So you initially thought it was going to be tough for the Fans to compete against the Favorites?
Natalie: Oh man. Honestly on Day 1 when all the Favorites came out and it started raining on us -- and I don't do well in cold rain -- I said, "What did I just get myself into? This is Day 1."
Reality TV World: Did Amanda or James ever tell you about what happened in China?
Natalie: Nope. They kept it all under raps. If you think about it, if Amanda had said, "Oh, I was this number." We would have thought, "Okay, she's definitely a threatening player." Because she seems very unassuming and nice and doe-eyed and sweet. But if had she said that she was Final 3 in China, we would have kept her at arms length. It would have not benefited her at all.
Reality TV World: So what's next for you?
Natalie: I am riding the wave. I am enjoying this experience so much. I am putting my website together, I'm getting ready to work, work, work -- I'm hoping to work quite a bit. I went into this whole Survivor experience wanting a life change, and I've been given that. I have a different perspective -- I'm hopeful and I'm excited about my life.