If you ever doubt Survivor is a game of social skills as much as strength, remember Natalie White. From the beginning of Survivor: Samoa, the odds seemed stacked against the 26-year-old southern belle and out-of-work pharmaceutical saleswoman. But she made it to the end by forming a key alliance with self-proclaimed "puppet master" Russell, whose manipulative ways got him into the final two, but made him too many enemies on the jury. How well did she play the social game? So well that one of her key supporters turned out to be Erik, a competitor whose elimination she had helped orchestrate. Natalie talked to TVGuide.com about her strategy, surprises in the final vote, and why she'll soon be returning to another warm climate.
Survivor: Samoa winner unveiled
TVGuide.com: Did you know what you were going to say to the jury before going into the last tribal council?
Natalie: As far as my final tribal council speech, I felt I built very genuine relationships and friendships with everyone on the jury. I tried really, really hard to know them well enough so that if I did make it to the end, I would know what their voting criteria were. [That way], I would know how to tailor my speech to what they would want to hear to give me the million dollars and think I deserve to win. I feel like I definitely did that, I felt I built very genuine relationships. Let's face it; it's a very social game. You have to build those relationships and if you don't, it's much harder to pull off. People want to reward someone that they're close to typically.
As far as did I know what I was going to say? Was I prepared for it? Not really. I hadn't been thinking about it at all. Even the last day, I remember Russell asking what I was going to say. ... I wanted to really let it come from the heart and not have anything memorized. I just thought that when I got there, I'm just going to be myself.
TVGuide.com: Talk about Erik coming out in favor of you. Did you see that coming?
Natalie: Here's the crazy thing about Erik. I know at the time he got voted out, he didn't have a clue I was the one really that arranged [for him to get voted out]. There were issues before, I just exploited the issues ... When he started his speech, I'm thinking at the very beginning, where is he going with this? He says my name and he says all these nice things. I thought, "Oh my goodness, and I'm the one that's responsible... I wasn't sure if he knew that I was responsible for his ouster. But you know what? It made me feel really, really good that he did that. The thing is, it was day 19 when we merged. I only had a couple days with him, at that ... I'm a fairly intuitive person and I try to get to know people fairly quickly ... I'm very fortunate that he decided to say what he said and go with the way he felt.
See photos of Survivor: Samoa cast
TVGuide.com: Who else surprised you during the final tribal council?
Natalie: Shambo for sure surprised me. At the final tribal council I will say we were getting beat up. It was a rough final tribal council. As far as Shambo, when she first came in after she got voted off, when we voted off Jaison, she was all smiles. She and I had a great relationship on the show. They don't really actually show it but she and I were great friends. I adore her. She's got a great heart. I was completely shocked by what she did. I thought, what in the world has Russell been telling her? What's he been filling her head with? I'm not going to lie, I was definitely hurt ... It hurts to be attacked by someone you think is a friend. At the end of the day, she apologized to me and [said], "That's just something I'm going to have to live with and I feel terrible." I've definitely forgiven her and we'll be great friends forever.
TVGuide.com: Why did you shoot down Russell's offer to sell him the title of sole survivor for $10,000 at the reunion show?
Natalie: Why in the world would I give away the title that I suffered and worked so hard for? I just got a check for $1 million dollars. I'm probably not as concerned about $10,000. I plan on going back and getting another job. It's not about the money ... You have to receive the majority of the jury vote to get the title. He did not receive the majority of the votes. That's like me saying, "I'll give you $100,000 for fan favorite." You know what? I didn't get the majority of the votes so I don't want it. It doesn't even make sense to me. It's just part of his character. He just wanted to say something off-the-wall and crazy. There's no hard feelings ... I am the one that got the jury votes and that, in the end, is what matters.
TVGuide.com: What do you plan to do with the prize money?
Natalie: I definitely want to go on vacation. I want to take my boyfriend on a nice vacation. This has been so crazy throughout all of this and he's been so great through all of this. I just want to have a nice time somewhere warm.