How'd she do it? With a combination of spunk, determination, and humor that made her as fun to watch as she was fun to root for. Natalie was playing the game from day one and never seemed to let her eye off the prize. So many steps she made along the way led her to the victory. From allying with fellow superfan Jeremy, to developing a tight relationship with Baylor, to keeping in mind that strategic players get rewarded in the end, she made nearly the perfect move at every opportunity.
Remember how it was this little spitfire to got into the shouting match with John Rocker? She stood up for herself, her tribe, and everyone who Rocker had ever maligned, leading to getting one of the strongest players removed by his own team? She was the one who volunteered to go to Exile Island, twice. She was the one who first thought of giving away her reward to build loyalty and trust. She was the one who bounced back from having her loved one eliminated first and used it to her advantage. She was the one who worked hard back at camp and was never seen whining or complaining.
But she was also the one who was able to scramble quickly when things didn't go her way. When she was blindsided by the vote to oust Jeremy, Natalie could have had a meltdown, freaked out, and sealed her own fate. Instead, she pretended to understand, said all was forgiven, and snuggled even closer to her alliance - long enough to return the blindside favor to both Jon and Baylor. When Reed almost maneuvered for Jon's ouster, at a time when the numbers would have worked against her - she quickly saw what was developing and saved Jon from himself. When the numbers were getting low, and her eyes were fixed on getting rid of Jon, she figured out how to keep his biggest challenge threat in the game (by voting out Alec instead of Keith) and yet was able to play dumb and not let on that it was all strategy.
I cannot find a fault in her play over the entire 39 days.
It says a lot about Survivor that the first person eliminated was the identical twin of the last person standing. Having a big personality, playing hard, can mean you're the first boot or the sole survivor. Of course luck - which tribe you're on, what competitions you play, who quits, tribe swaps, etc. - has a part in who wins. But there are some personality types that literally are of the go big or go home variety and the Twinnies seem to possess that exact makeup. I saw in both of them strong, smart women who understood the game and came to play hard. For one, it was an utter failure, for another it was a sublime success.
What I don't want to hear is how easy Natalie had it or how all she had to do was outplay the combine brain power of slack-jawed Alec, golly gee Jon, and the hillbilly spitter from Louisiana. One, as I had drummed in my brain when I questioned Derrick's Big Brother 16 win against a weak field, it is often harder to play a good strategic game when you're playing alone. Two, the critique about Natalie's competition this season ignores that there were true superfans on the show who played hard and failed gloriously, most notably Josh, Reed and Jeremy.
Maybe it's hard for Survivor fans to give women credit for strategic play, but for me Natalie Anderson will go down as one of the top ten Survivor winners. Just look at her last week in the game:
She orchestrated Jon's blindside, decided to backstab her closest remaining ally (Baylor) and managed to convince both Missy and Jaclyn to take her to the final three. She managed to outwit, outplay and outlast two superfans who had made it together through the merge - Josh and Reed - and get them not to target her as a threat to their game. She played a stunning social game while also winning individual immunity and finding a hidden immunity idol.That's how you win Survivor.
My favorite players from this year were Natalie, Jeremy, Reed and Josh, and none of them disappointed in the end. In fact, Reed gave what to me was the second best Tribal Council speech of all time (behind Sue Hawk's never-to-be-outdone rats v. snakes speech). He very accurately portrayed what camp life must have felt like during the Missy and Baylor show and why the Blood v. Water set up is so ingenious. Without Baylor there, Missy might have been the loving den mother, adored by all the tribe. With her daughter there, well, we saw how she was seen by at least one of her fellow tribemates.
Jeremy also did a great job at tribal, pointing to the, uh, less aware jurors (those like Alec who looked to be a screen shot but were actually just sitting there mouth agape for an ungodly amount of time or those like Wes who were thinking more about their next meal than their next vote) who deserved the win, who played the best, who should get the title "Sole Survivor." Sometimes it's important to remind people who are playing the game that the winner should be not their best friend or the one who did them the least harm or the person who needs the money the most, but the person who played the best game.
For Survivor San Juan Del Sur Blood v. Water 2, that person was Natalie Anderson.