Last night Natalie White won Survivor: Samoa by a 7 to 2 vote. I may be one of the few people who can honestly say they were rooting for her from Day One. For two months in 2007 we both lived in the same small town of Van Buren, Arkansas. My fiance was from Van Buren, and we were visiting her family over the holidays after a 2,000 mile post-graduation road trip.
If Natalie and I ever passed at Wal-Mart or the Calico County soul food restaurant, I certainly didn't notice. But I know the effect the Whirlpool Factory layoffs had on the whole town, and the way the town's single Broadway looked anachronistic, not because the people there were living
in the past but because they didn't have the money to refurbish it every 30 years.
Russell could be the most dynamic player in Survivor history, but make no mistake. Winning a million dollars is a very happy ending for a girl who could buy the nicest house in town outright for that money. A rich oil executive getting richer would not have packed the same punch for me. It's easier to curse the jury when you don't have to see where they went to high
Last night I talked with Natalie on the red carpet after the Survivor finale, and asked her about issues of faith, Arkansas and Russell's use of an unkind expletive. She told me how she played Russell, rather than the other way around, and avoided being burned by him, when no one else could.
You start out the game unemployed, no car, no insurance. Now you have a million dollars. Is this the great American story for the times we're living in?
I know, right? And I plan on going back and getting a job.
In Van Buren?
Yeah. That's where I live now. I love Arkansas. My boyfriend and I are in sales. That's his territory so that's where we live. I plan on doing that.
Did you grow up in Van Buren or Fort Smith?
I actually grew up in a town called Bryant in central Arkansas. It's right outside Little Rock. But I've lived in Van Buren almost two years.
Some people have mocked you for asking God for help on a reality show. How would you respond?
Just because you pray about something doesn't mean you're going to get it. It doesn't mean it's going to be answered the way you want. But if you don't ask then you may not ever get it; so I think it's fine to ask for the things you want. God is going to bless you the way he sees fit.
Did your faith play a role in the way you strategized?
Oh, absolutely. I knew it was going to be hard for me. I knew I was going to struggle if I had to lie, or backstab, cheat, steal, whatever you want to call it. I knew it was a game, so I didn't write any of it off. Luckily, I was able to avoid or not completely confirm many things, so it kept me out of the total backstabbing. That was me setting myself up, too, so that I wouldn't have to.
Was your relationship with Russell a rational strategy?
Oh, absolutely. Here's the thing: You know as well as I do that in the very beginning you want to win challenges. Recall ,the very first challenge, he wast he strongest one and we won. So I knew very soon that A) He's not going to be voted off anytime soon, B) Girls are running their mouth. He and I started talking from the very first day. I mean, I'm pretty intuitive. I read people pretty quickly. I kinda figured out how he was. If you stroke his ego, you're in good shape, and I did that really well. It was definitely a strategy, and that's what I had going for me. Let him take the bullets. Why not? We made group decisions. We played a different game then you saw. We bounced things off each other and we grew more trust.
Did you trust Russell?
Every day I had to say, "Oh, I'm on your coattails. You can beat me. Take me to the end." That was one thing I trusted. [Also,] we did bounce things back and forth, and Tribal Council would go just as we had talked about, so of course it built. But I did see him backstabbing me, and I thought, "Oh gosh! That could be me. I'd better be careful." I did have a checks and balances system.
You did? Did you ever think about double crossing Russell?
Actually, I gave him my word. We made a deal on the first day and he was the only one I gave my word to, so no. I can't say it didn't run through my head. Everything runs through your head. But logically speaking, no, I would not have done it.
Did anything surprise you when you watched it back?
Absolutely! Pouring the water out of our canteens? No wonder we were dehydrated! Burning Jaison's socks? And then, I thought we were in this alliance, and we were great friends, and he's calling me a -
A dumb [expletive]?
Yeah! I'm like, "Aww, man!" But Russell plays the camera. Period. No hard
feelings. He's apologized, though.
Read more backstage interviews:
-Interview conducted by Henry Jenkins