Did Natalie deserve the win on Survivor: Samoa? Yes.

For one, her strategy–lying low and hanging on with arguably the best player this season–is a valid one. She’s right: the more aggressive female contestants get eliminated early on. She was right about Marisa, who got kicked because she felt Russell was playing the game too hard. Same goes for Betsy. We all did treat her lightly, just as part of the so-called “dumb-ass girl alliance” that he was done with early on in the game.

We may question her decision to hang on Russell in everything, but it wouldn’t have happened if not for the unusual circumstances that surrounded Foa Foa. One, Russell felt that he could trust Natalie enough to bring into the merge–perhaps a wrong decision in his part, but he had no other choice. He had to bring someone who’s easily dispensable (disproved) and will keep his sympathies (disproved slightly). Plus, he needed the numbers, especially after the merge.

To her credit, Natalie did grow as a player during the 39 days she spent in Samoa. Or, maybe, she was keeping herself in check before the merge, keeping tab of everything and allying with the person she thinks will do the least (or most) damage, and launching herself only at the right time. That, she did, when the merge happened–the game matters the most there, after all–and she engineered Erik’s elimination, and kept the Foa-some afloat as the former Galu got smaller, and smaller, and smaller.

The only problem for me is, she’s played the underdog card for far too long. Sure, she did those things to Erik, not to mention her killing a rat, but she still stuck to Russell far too long, even after Monica stirred the pot and he went going after her. That, coupled with her jury strategy–play up her growth and be unapologetic when it comes to her decisions–made the win more unwelcome for most. I mean, you can’t just win on growth alone! You might as well have gained lots of weight and joined The Biggest Loser instead.

So, did Russell deserve to win? Yes. More so.

Now, I’m not going to apologize for anything that he did during the game. Some of his tactics, especially early on, were just plain nasty, if not paranoid. He votes people out at the first sign of a threat–it works, but it looks too jittery in the first days of the game. But I’ve got to give it to him: he did take the game much more seriously than anybody else. While the rest got settled, he played the game hard–maybe too hard too early, but as the game went on he was still playing as hard as everybody else!

Unfortunately for Russell, he was the victim, also, of unusual circumstances. Everybody, from both tribes, saw him as the most evil guy in the whole wide world, and decided to vote against him just because of that. With a jury populated by former Galu members–people who dedicated their lives in the game to kill Foa Foa, perhaps solely because of Russell’s presence and strategies–he was doomed.

Think about it: lying, cheating and stealing is one way you could go about Survivor. Any season. It’s also a valid strategy. Maybe Russell’s mistake is being all-out with it, talking about his moves from the moment he set foot on the beach. But everybody else does it. Whoever blindsided Erik–the same people in the jury, I must mention–did the same thing. What makes this situation much worse? Russell was saying it out loud? They’ve taken things too personally, and indeed, this jury sucks because they’re absolutely biased towards one of their own… and they had no choice but to choose the lesser evil, at least in their perspective.

You can’t say the same for Natalie, who was a freeloader as opposed to Russell’s actual worrying.

At least Mick didn’t win. (Now there’s an undeserving guy.) At least Russell won the popular vote. At least Russell, or so I’ve heard, gets a second chance…

(Image courtesy of CBS)

Henrik Batallones

Staff Writer, BuddyTV