It’s been six years since Natalie White won Survivor Samoa beating out Russell Hantz, and she is still unjustifiably considered to be one of the worst winners in the history of the show.
Natalie White is a perfect winner of Survivor – a game that is all about social capital. Natalie used her social capital throughout the game to stay in the good graces of all of her alliance-mates and even her opposition. In any given season, the path to victory is never easy. Natalie was astute in Samoa in recognizing exactly what was the best move at every turn and her best move of all was teaming-up with the bulldozer that is Russell Hantz – who she recognized very early on as having no chance at winning the game. Many claim that Natalie was just a pawn in Russell’s king-like play…but perhaps upon a closer examination, Natalie was the queen of Survivor Samoa, using Russell Hantz to her advantage before making it all the way to the end and claiming the million.
Natalie in my mind is one of the best social game players in the history of the show. The social aspects to Survivor used to go severely unnoticed by fans of the show as flashy strategic moves were always emphasized. It’s only recently with the help of social-game players like Michele Fitzgerald and Adam Klein that the social game is getting its due recognition. This may be a key reason why Natalie did not get the recognition she deserved at the time of Samoa‘s airing. Perhaps if she had won the game more recently, she would get far more credit as a fantastic winner of this game.
Speaking to her social aptitude – It’s no accident that Russell was threatened by virtually every woman on his tribe and voted them all off, except for Natalie. It speaks volumes to Natalie’s social game that she was able to tame the beast and remain on his good side for the entire game. She understood that all the aggressive women of the tribe were being voted off, so she knew she had to appear unassuming to Russell and tend to his every need, playing to his ego masterfully. Natalie let Russell get all of the blood on his hands with all of his flashy, big, bold (sometimes absurd) strategic moves, while she worked on making bonds with the people that would come back to vote for her in the end to win the game.
Natalie’s role in keeping Jaison and Mick intact with Russell can also not be understated or forgotten. Had it not been for the glue that was Natalie, Jaison and Mick may have taken a swung at Russell early on or might have been threatened to switch to security in Galu’s numbers. Simultaneously, she balanced knowing she could beat Russell in the end with making herself look unassuming and completely beatable in Russell’s eyes. That is a true masterclass of a Survivor great.
Natalie also needs to be praised for the work she did to get rid of Erik Cardona at the merge. Not only is this one of The Mastermind‘s Top 10 Moves in Survivor History, it also cleared the path for her and Foa Foa to get to the end of the game. The details of this move can be read about in greater detail here but the general gist is that at the first vote of the merge, with an 8-4 numbers disadvantage, Natalie managed to sway the Galu members into voting off one of their own. In this brilliant play, she illustrated that it was a “nothing to lose” move for Galu because they would still have a seven to four advantage in the numbers. In actuality, Galu turned out to have a lot to lose with this move as Natalie and her allies were able to take control of the rest of the game and turn an 8-4 numbers disadvantage into Foa Foa making up four of the final five.
To make matters more impressive, at the final tribal council, Russell was poor beyond belief and Natalie capitalized on every opportunity. She connected with each jury member on a personal level, she highlighted Russell’s arrogance and Mick’s lack of leadership and she made sure to let everyone know why her game was the best for her and not for anyone else.
There’s no question that Russell Hantz controlled Survivor Samoa from a strategic standpoint and was the figure head of his alliance, but in the end if you can’t get the people on the jury to like you, they’ll never vote for you in the end. Natalie’s ability to connect with people and her underrated strategic game is what won her a million dollars over Russell, and she is a very deserving winner of Survivor: Samoa. Perhaps in years from now when the social game is given even more precedence and respect among the large fan-base that Survivor still has to offer, Natalie will gain a reputation as one of the best game-players to ever play. For now, she remains a severely underrated Survivor great.