The 26-year-old pharmaceutical sales representative from Van Buren, AR wonSurvivor: Samoa's $1 million grand prize during last night's finale broadcast of the long-running CBS reality series -- defeating both Russell and Mick Trimming, who finished third.
On Monday, Natalie talked to Reality TV World about how confident she was both before and after the final Tribal Council; why she played a large role in the enormous ego Russell had by Day 39; why she feels she was able to beat both him and Mick; and how she had a deal in the works after the merge to form another alliance.
Reality TV World: First of all, congratulations!
Natalie: Thank you so much! I appreciate it.
Reality TV World: Before you left camp for the final Tribal Council, we saw you telling Mick and Russell that you were happy with third place. Were you just trying to tell them what you thought they wanted to hear or did you really have that little confidence that you could beat Mick and Russell?
Natalie: I definitely had confidence that I could beat them. But I always was making sure I was letting Russell know, "You're the best player, you're the best player." I've got to stroke that ego because I wanted him to continue to be cocky and arrogant because I didn't feel that jury would reward that behavior. I just didn't.
Reality TV World: Did you think Russell was a bigger threat than Mick?
Natalie: No, I actually thought that Mick would be more of a threat. But it's hard to know until once you get in front of them.
Reality TV World: So you do get in front of the jury, Tribal Council happens -- were you confident that you had done enough to sway the jury in your favor?
Natalie: Wow. It was so brutal. It was way more brutal than what they even showed. No, I'm thinking after that, "Man, none of us are winning." (laughing) It was brutal. It was tough. I wouldn't have been surprised if I didn't win based on how hostile they were. After that, I was broken. It was just mentally, physically and emotionally you're at your absolute low anyway.
Reality TV World: Do you think your victory was based more on the jury being upset with Russell and not wanting to vote for him or wanting to vote for you?
Natalie: You can look at it either way. It essentially means the same exact thing. Anyway you want to look at it, I got seven of the nine [jury votes]. That's the vast majority.
Reality TV World: You and Mick both seemed to make pretty much the same case of not playing overly aggressive and kind of laying low until the right moment to the jury but -- like you just said -- you got seven votes while Mick got none. Why do you think you did so much better than Mick?
Natalie: Well, I think honestly with Mick the part that... He even said it in the beginning, "This leader necklace is going to be a curse."
This is what I don't know. I haven't actually talked to the jury, so I don't know if they believe this or not but this is what I am suspecting. They felt that Mick did play the game. He was the captain. Now when I say he did play the game, yeah he was under the radar and he played the game enough to get there. But he was the captain and we never won, so they blamed him for that. That's what I'm thinking the jury was thinking, along those lines. Like, "Wow, their team kept losing over and over and over. He was captain every time."
Reality TV World: Your biggest move in the game seemed to be when you convinced Galu to vote [Erik Cardona] out right after the merge, and you seemed to agree with that and called it your "key move" during the reunion show, but we never saw you bring that up when you were trying to convince the jury to vote for you. Did you never mention it or did it get edited out?
Natalie: No way! Here was my thing, after Erik makes his speech, I'm thinking, "Oh my god, if I sit there and own up to being the one responsible for his boot, he can change his vote easy." I felt that maybe, hopefully they were listening to him and would think about their vote.
So no. Once I realized that was going on, then I did not say a word.
Reality TV World: You adamantly defended your strategy of not playing overly aggressive early in the game. Was that a strategy that you had formulated before the competition began or was it something that only came up after you saw several aggressive females get eliminated early on?
Natalie: It's not really my personality to play completely aggressive and all that. But my strategy honestly was not having anything set before coming in, but too assess my castmates, get to know them and see kind of what makes them tick. I feel like I did that pretty successfully, and you have to be able to do that fairly quickly.
Reality TV World: You just mentioned Erik and his jury statement. How big a role do you think his argument played in your win?
Natalie: Wow. I honestly have no idea. I don't know how much pull he had over anyone, but I like to think it maybe pulled somebody else in. I have no idea. But it was a great speech. We're mentally, emotionally and physically at our worst -- dead worst -- and we're getting crucified. That's hard. It's basically them telling us we don't deserve to be there, criticizing us. It's like, "No. Yeah we do [deserve to be in the Final 3]. We outwitted every one of you."
Reality TV World: What was your reaction when Russell offered you $10,000 and then $100,000 to give him the title of "Sole Survivor?"
Natalie: No. My immediate reaction is no. You have to get the majority of the votes to receive that title. He didn't get the majority, whether he buys from someone or not. It's not about the money. It's not. So no. Not worth it. (laughing)
Reality TV World: Russell obviously disagrees with the idea that you should have won the jury vote, and he's been pretty vocal about it. What's your response to his comments?
Natalie: It speaks for itself. It speaks for itself. It was 7 to 2. It's not 5 to 4. It was 7 to 2. I clearly won. It was fair and square.
Reality TV World: Like I mentioned earlier, Russell disagreed getting rid of Erik was your "key move"...
Natalie: Yeah because Russell is so stuck on himself, as you can see. Of course he's going to say that it was that.
Reality TV World: Do you think you would have been able to win had you not aligned with Russell on Day 1?
Natalie: I don't know. I think it would depend on who else I was in the game with, what team I would have been on. I don't know. Do I think it was an amazing move? Yeah, being in an alliance with him.
Reality TV World: Before it happened, Russell had made it clear to you that he was skeptical that you had really convinced the Galu to vote off Erik.
Natalie: He did not believe me. He did not think I could do it.
Reality TV World: Exactly, but how confident were you that you'd actually done it?
Natalie: I'm not going to say I was... Tribal Council, I don't even know how to explain it. It was so late. It was literally done in five, maybe seven minutes at most. I wasn't for sure just because I wasn't sure that word could be spread quick enough.
Reality TV World: What was your initial reaction when Russell first approached you about forming alliance? What were some of the first thoughts that crossed your mind about what type of player he was?
Natalie: Initially when he first approached me, I'm thinking he actually reminds me of a friend that I have that passed away last year. So he automatically got brownie points -- they're built the same, they both have the bald heads and these beautiful eyes. So I'm like thinking, "Alright, Dustin. Right here." And I'm thinking, "Brownie points."
He's the only one that I gave my word to. I felt that he was a strong guy, and so I didn't have a problem with making an alliance with him.
Reality TV World: What was your reaction to hearing Russell dismiss you as part of his "dumb-ass girls" alliance?
Natalie: Not surprised. It is what it is. Again, how does it feel to say someone is a dumb-ass girl and then they walk off with the $1 million. It speaks for itself. (laughing)
Reality TV World: You just mentioned you gave Russell your word. Did you really never consider flipping on him?
Natalie: For maybe point-two seconds but no, not really. It's crazy. I figured out pretty early that Galu hated him. As a whole, they hated him. So why don't I want to go to the end with someone like that? I do. Reality TV World: During last night's episode we saw Russell boast that you weren't a threat to him in the Final 3.
Natalie: I wasn't?
Reality TV World: Why do you think he was so dismissive of you when it came to the final Tribal Council?
Natalie: I'll be honest with you, I stroked his ego every single day. I mean every day. "Oh yeah, you can beat me. No one can beat you."
Reality TV World: So I guess that means you weren't surprised how cocky he was by Day 39?
Natalie: No. It got a thousand times worse at the end.
Reality TV World: Thursday's episode showed you talking about how you and [Brett Clouser] are "prayer warriors" and suggested you would win the Reward Challenge you ended up losing because God was on your side. Can you explain you comments a little bit, because the idea that God takes sides in Survivor or other reality shows has always been bit controversial for some viewers.
Natalie: Over half the cast I would say prays -- and prayed a lot out there. It is brutal conditions. I prayed since the first day I was out there -- not just for challenges or anything like that, but for individuals, family members and friends. I did. I don't know why they just decided to show just that, they didn't show everything else. But that's what they decided to show.
I hate if it turned anyone off. I'm not judgmental at all. I never have been. I'm not one to shove it down people's throats. I would be more than happy to share with them -- my faith -- if they would like to hear it, but I would by no means shove it down anyone's threats. I hate if it turned someone off because that was not my intent at all.
The editing is a little irritating side for that scene. (laughing)
Reality TV World: You seemed to react pretty calmly when Russell told you that you'd be going home next if Brett won the Final 5 Immunity Challenge. Were you surprised he decided to try and fight to keep you after Brett did win immunity?
Natalie: I honestly don't even remember that conversation. I really don't. It's the strangest thing.
Reality TV World: You had told Mick he was being paranoid when told you he was worried Russell might be considering voting him off and keeping Brett at the Final 4 Tribal Council but once you got there [host Jeff Probst] pointed out that there almost seemed to be a moment where you were worried he might actually do it. Was Jeff right -- did you begin having a little bit of doubt?
Natalie: No way! It would have been suicide.
Reality TV World: Okay, so you never really thought Brett was going to the Final 3?
Natalie: No. Never. Never in a million years. There was no way.
Reality TV World: Did you know about Russell had gone out and made a Final 3 deal with Brett before the final Immunity Challenge?
Natalie: Oh yeah. I knew. He was like, "Well, I lied to everybody else. This won't be a new thing."
Reality TV World: While having Russell as an ally certainly helped you, it also put a target on your back -- like when you became Galu's target in the 5-5 tie vote in which [Laura Morett] ended up being eliminated and when [John Fincher] and [Monica Padilla] also wanted to target you instead of Russell at the previous Tribal Council where he ended up saving himself by playing an Immunity Idol. Did that ever become a big concern for you or did you feel the benefits far outweighed the risks?
Natalie: The benefits outweighed the risks. It did. By far. At some point, you have to make alliances. So at some point -- like Laura and Monica -- targets were on their backs because they were in something together. That's just the way it is.
Reality TV World: Do you think the fact that you were so closely aligned with Russell helped a lot of your own strategic moves go unnoticed?
Natalie: Absolutely. (laughing)
Reality TV World: You already said you never really considered turning on Russell, but after Brett won his third straight Individual Immunity, did you have any conversations with [Jaison Robinson] and Mick about possibly blindsiding Russell?
Natalie: I honestly don't remember. It's so hard for me to remember. I'm not sure if Jaison would have budged. He might have entertained conversations, but I'm not sure he would have budged. I'm not sure they would have even thought that I would budge.
Reality TV World: During the last couple of episodes viewers saw how you had seemed to form a close personal relationship with Brett. Where and how did that relationship originate and how hard was it to separate it from the game?
Natalie: Brett and I talked on the first day of the merge. I talked to everyone. I built a relationship with everyone from the first day. Brett and I, it was all about -- from the get-go -- we talked about family, and then our beliefs came up very early on. So from that point on we talked about our faith a lot. Like I said, these are tough conditions and your faith can really help to get you through. I know it did for me.
Reality TV World: Right after the merge, you seemed to get along well with Laura, [Kelly Sharbaugh] and Monica -- however nothing strategic ever came of it. Did you ever consider creating some sort of alliance with them?
Natalie: Oh yeah. This is the thing, it's not shown, but we actually had something in the works.
Reality TV World: Really.
Natalie: I never solidified anything because I was concerned that if I did make it to the end and I had solidified something and I stabbed them in the back, there's no way they'd vote for me. So I was very, very careful to not solidify anything. But we had something in the works.
Reality TV World: What about Brett? Did you really never talk strategy with him?
Natalie: It was almost all friendship. There was hardly any strategy. I'm still playing the game for $1 million. Literally, he is such a good person he would have swept the jury easy.
Reality TV World: How were you cast forSurvivor: Samoa and what are your plans for the $1 million?
Natalie: My plans for the $1 million are to -- obviously save a lot of it -- but to go on vacation with a ton of food. (laughing)
I was given the opportunity to do Survivor. I'm a huge fan. I was given the opportunity and it was hard to be such a huge fan and get the opportunity but yet have your dream job taken away from you that you've worked so hard for and that you knew in high school that's what you wanted to do. So that was tough. But big risks equal big rewards.