Interview: Natalie Anderson discusses her ‘Survivor: San Juan del Sur’ win

We've reached the end of our “Survivor: San Juan del Sur” exit interviews.

Natalie Anderson began this “Survivor” season in a defensively position. Not only did she enter the game with a certain reputation from her two seasons on “The Amazing Race” — “I know we have a lot of Twinny haters. There's no middle. It's either you love us or you hate us,” she says — but sister Nadiya was voted out first by her tribe. That left Natalie with notoriety and without a loved one in the Blood versus Water season.

What followed was a “Survivor” run that stood out both for Natalie's sturdy combination game — She made big strategic moves, performed well in challenges and also found and used an Immunity Idol effectively — but also for her major image overhaul. Coming into the season facing derision from some CBS reality fans, Natalie ended the season a very popular winner, almost universally well-received, at least from what I've seen online.

“It's really surreal to see happen because people are very, very… like they're very stuck in the way they thought about me and Nadiya from 'Amazing Race' if they didn't like me. And it's cool to see that now all my haters have become lovers. It's awesome,” Natalie said when we spoke after last week's finale. 

In our exit conversation, Natalie talks about several of her most important moves in the game, as well as her nervousness about nearly torpedoing herself with an overly persuasive self-appraisal at the penultimate Tribal Council. She explains why she was better-suited for a long solo run than Nadiya would have been and she gives a slightly surprising answer for who she would have voted for if she'd gone home at Final 4.

Click through for the full Q&A.

HitFix: Have you sort of come down off of that winning cloud from last night yet?

Natalie Anderson: I think I'm still a little bit drunk and it's still a little bit of a surprise about everything. I don't think it's really hit me that I got a check for a million bucks last night.

HitFix: You say surprised, if I had asked you before the reunion show to guess on what the vote was going to be, what would you have told me?

Natalie Anderson: No. Yeah. I knew that basically between me, Jaclyn and Missy I had done a pretty good job of sizing up my competition and going to the end with somebody that I was confident about winning. But I did get a little bit nervous last night when I saw Reed's vote because I assumed there is a possibility that Reed and Josh voted together and I don't know, for a split second I was worried and then I was like, “No I'm confident in the guys being proud of me” and basically they liked me as a person but they also liked me and they respected my gameplay. So I was pretty confident.

HitFix: To me, looking at the Jury the X factors felt like they were Keith, Alec and Wes and I really didn't have a clue what they were going to value out there. Did you feel confident that they were going to value what you had done?

Natalie Anderson: Yeah, no, Keith, Wes and Alec, I think Alec just because the way I got him off I felt like he really respected that move, even though he didn't see it at the time because he didn't know what hit him. But looking back when me, Missy and Jaclyn voted off Keith, it looked to me after Keith walked away and they said when we got back to camp they go, “So who do you think Keith is going to vote for?” And I look at those two and I was thinking to myself, “Who do you think he's going to vote for between us three?” Like me and Keith had a good relationship; I was the girl that was always part of the guys but I was always one of the girls as well. I was considered one of the guys and I didn't ever take that in a bad way. I was down to be one of the bros whenever I could be. So I don't know, I just knew that the boys respected me and liked me way better than they did the two girls I was sitting next to.

HitFix: Huh. Okay. The way we saw the Jury, Jon started things out, so obviously that was kind of pro-Jaclyn and then Keith seemed like he had hurt feelings so I wasn't sure if maybe that wasn't good for you.

Natalie Anderson: Yeah. I know. Keith was really upset and I don't know why he was so upset that late in the game. I've been in that fourth leg position where you get the boot right before the final three. I was in that position on “Amazing Race” and it really, really does suck. So I guess Keith could almost taste it, but didn't really get to experience the final. And when I saw that happen during tribal I was a little bit like, “Oh my God if Keith carries this with him into the vote he might vote for Missy, I don't know.” But I just put my faith into their hands and I said, “I know if they're doing what's right they'll vote for me and I was just like I've done the best I could do and I have come out here with two girls that I was definitely better than.” So I was just like, “Let it die right out.”

HitFix: At the time, I thought it was great TV but I didn't know how it was going to work for you to save Jaclyn and take Baylor out. And I've had a lot of people tell me “Oh, it was a no-brainer. It was an easy choice.” Did it feel like a no-brainer to you?

Natalie Anderson: It did not feel like a no-brainer for me. Keith winning immunity kind of was a blessing in disguise for me because I would have gone for the obvious choice of getting out Keith at tribal, but keeping Keith around actually worked well for me because having Keith in that Final Four allowed me to set in this paranoia with the girls and convince Jaclyn that Keith was the biggest threat, even though I feel like I was the biggest threat in the game. But having Keith there allowed me to kind of use him as a shield to get to the Final 3. And having Missy there allowed me to use her against Keith because Keith for some reason was really worried about Missy. It was a blessing in disguise that he won Immunity and I decided to save Jaclyn and send Baylor packing. But at the time it wasn't that obvious. I was really scared about that move but I went with my gut instinct and it ended up paying off.

HitFix: And then it gets down to four and you don't win Immunity, how confident were you that you had made a good enough sell to Jaclyn that you were going to be able to stick around in the Final 3?

Natalie Anderson: Yeah, they didn't show… Obviously me and Jaclyn, after the Jon vote, we came back and we got into it, obviously. And then I realized I did not expect Jaclyn to win Immunity. Obviously I thought it was me versus Keith for that final Immunity. I had totally written off Jaclyn, Missy couldn't even compete so I was like “Missy and Jaclyn are both the same in challenges, like basically worthless so it's me or Keith.” I never thought that Jaclyn would win, but I was at the same time happy that I was able to use Keith in that position to make Jaclyn nervous. I was not confident, sitting in that last Tribal before the Final Three, I was not confident that I had made enough of a sale because it didn't make sense for them to keep me around and I had done a lot of work leading up to that point socially with the girls and like with Keith that everything became worth it at the end and it all happened the way it did. But I'm not confident that they would've kept me around.

HitFix: Then Jeff Probst sort of nudged you into essentially making your Final Jury argument.

HitFix: Yes! Oh my God! Watching that? I can't even believe I was saying the things I did because I was looking at it and I was like, “Oh my God, what an idiot!” Because I'm saying that sitting next to my competition. In my defense, we had to each say answer the question if we could win. I just went really way too into why I deserved to win right then, because it wasn't even the Jury speech and I was already giving it. Watching it I was totally like, “Oh my God I can't believe they kept me around after saying what I said.”

HitFix: Okay. So if you had gone out there and it's a Jaclyn/Missy/Keith final three, who were you voting for?

Natalie Anderson: Missy/Jaclyn/Keith, I would for Missy.

HitFix: Why?

Natalie Anderson: I would vote for Missy because I respected her gameplay. I feel like Missy should have owned up to how she play the game and that she shouldn't have worried about what everybody was saying to her. Missy did an amazing job and I commend her on being such a strong competitor, not only for herself, but for Baylor as well. I did respect Keith's game. He was badass in challenges and he had to kind of snuck his way by and I don't think Jaclyn did much to get to the end. I think she and Jon kind of made their way to the end by just being in the middle a lot. So I respected the way Missy played this game from the start in a social aspect of the game and the relationships she made paid off.

HitFix: On “Amazing Race” a lot of fans love you guys, but as you know a lot of fans were a little bit less loving…

Natalie Anderson: Oh yeah. Don't worry. I know we have a lot of Twinny haters. There's no middle. It's either you love us or you hate us. And I think we had more haters than lovers, so it's fine.

HitFix: But it still has been funny watching this season and watching people turn positive on you. What has it been like watching that for you?

Natalie Anderson: Yeah! You know it's crazy and that's like such a crazy experience because at first we were casted and they announced the cast, like most people on Facebook and Twitter were, “Oh my God these bloody Twinnies. Get rid of them. Why are they on 'Survivor'? Oh my God. I don't want to watch them.” And it's kind of crazy when Nadiya got voted up first, everybody's reaction was like, “Okay one Twinny down, one more to go and I'll be happy.” But it's so crazy to see the way I played that people can respect me as a player, even somebody who didn't like me before and they can be like, “You know what, I wasn't a fan of Natalie and Nadiya before but I'm totally a fan of Natalie in the game” and they're actually happy that I won. It's really surreal to see happen because people are very, very… like they're very stuck in the way they thought about me and Nadiya from “Amazing Race” if they didn't like me. And it's cool to see that now all my haters have become lovers. It's awesome.

HitFix: Nadiya has sort of had the disadvantage early on of having Dale who had been a viewer and had opinions of you from “Amazing Race.” Did people on your tribe seem to know you in the same way or not?

Natalie Anderson: I think they definitely knew me. Kelley was a big fan of “Amazing Race” and she had actually reservations with working with me. She knew the way I played. And Dale, for the record, is a complete idiot because I didn't backstab anybody. I was very loyal to my alliance. I didn't backside anybody; Ryan and Abby, that we strategized the U-turn were not in my alliance. But whatever. But they knew me from “Amazing Race” and then they decided, Kelley and my tribe, was just better than Coyopa because they said, “You know what? Natalie is going to be good in this game for me. Let's use Natalie in my alliance instead of trying to just vote her off. I'd rather work with a girl like that that I can get further in the game with and strategize with instead of voting me off.” And the guys in my tribe came up to me and said, “Natalie you're the strongest girl,” like the boys that didn't know about “Amazing Race” like Drew and Jon and stuff, they saw me as a physical asset to the tribe and they said, “You're not going anywhere so we may need you around; let's strategize. If we lose we're not getting rid of you because we need you.” And that was awesome.

HitFix: It felt to me like the Drew vote was a very big vote for you because that was the moment at which really all of the women on your tribe, but you in particular, kinda mobilized and got into game mode out there. Did that seem like a big vote to you looking back?

Natalie Anderson: Yeah. Looking back it was a big vote for me because I kinda was able to do what I needed to do but still stay under the radar as far as being in, I was not in anybody's wavelength; I was in everybody's conversation and like everybody thought that they were down with me, which was awesome because I was in Drew's “alliance” and he told me everything, but he's talking about the girls like I'm not one of the girls, which for me like an amazing moment. So he's sitting there and he's telling me, “The girls alliance, the girls, the girls” and I'm one of the girls but I was such a bro with him and guys on the beach that he didn't even see me as being one of the “girls.” Taking out Drew had a lot of reasons. We didn't want Alec and Drew to team up together because that was going to be a scarier situation for us than Jon and Jaclyn getting together. And being to do that, it was basically the girls plus Jeremy, it kind of evened out the playing field, because we realized that that point because we were on the chopping block. If we had lost, the guys were basically going to try and do the same thing that the guys on Coyopa had done and it was awesome to rally up the girls. And all the girls on Hunahpu were down for the cause. And getting rid of Drew allowed us to do everything else moving forward.

HitFix: Do you think that if you had kept Jon around you could have beaten him or was he the last player who was left in the game who you thought could conceivably beat you?

Natalie Anderson: I was so gung ho about getting rid of Jon for Jeremy, it just really worked out conveniently that that also allowed me to take him out as a threat. I think that I could have taking him in the Final Jury vote the way I was playing, but if I didn't kick him out then I wouldn't have had the sequence of events I had. And I could have gone to the Finals the way Jon and Jaclyn and Missy and Baylor had designed this stupid Final Five to be, but why would I stay there? I would be like, “Oh yeah Jeremy got voted out and then I was like in this convenient Final Five and I can't do the final doing jack beans.” Like I wouldn't have had anything to say and Jon would have been able to pitch, “I designed this stupid alliance and I made people come with me and I designed this and I stuck with it.” And he may have been able to beat me if he got his way.

HitFix: Tell me a bit more about the bond you had with Jeremy, because we only saw a little of it but obviously that was something that meant a lot to you out there.

Natalie Anderson: You know, me and Jeremy losing loved ones back-to-back was the initial bond we had. Like Jeremy on our tribe, the girls and him got along immediately awesome like day one and I think Jeremy is he's used to being around women; he has a wife and two kids, two girls, and the way he showed his emotions, so much raw emotions the first episode and like all the girls realized that Jeremy was somebody that you would want to work with rather than being on the other side of that. And losing Nadiya and Val back-to-back allowed us to really solidify the relationship we had out there. And I needed somebody that I could rely on. The only other person I could see that would have my back is somebody who didn't have any other blood out there. And we talked a lot when he came back from Exile actually I told him I was like, “Dude, there is a fake paranoia out here. People are pitching it like they're scared. They don't trust you but they're just nervous about going further with you.” I told them I didn't trust Jon. And he was very confident in our alliance and he shouldn't have been and he says that. It was a strong bond and I was really happy to be able to avenge him at the end. It was awesome.

HitFix: If the roles have been reversed, if you had gone out first and Nadiya had been still left in the game alone, do you think she would have done as well as a solo Twinny as you did?

Natalie Anderson: No. I don't think Nadiya would have done as well. She's way more trusting and not as vindictive as me. Everybody calls me the Evil Twinny between the two of us and I think being the Evil Twinny works well on “Survivor.” It's better to be evil than to be nice on “Survivor.” Obviously I was pretending to be nice but deep down inside I was just being evil. So I think that Nadiya wouldn't have done as well as me. So she had to go up first. I'm happy it was her and not me so that I could have done it for both of us and made her proud by being the Sole Survivor.

HitFix: And having now won a CBS reality show for yourself, does that make you want to get back out there again even more on “Amazing Race” for a third time and try to actually win one with Nadiya?

Natalie Anderson: I know! I don't know it's crazy because “Survivor” and “Amazing Race” are so totally different but it would be awesome to be able to – because I didn't get to play with Nadiya at all on “Survivor.” Like it was just basically me by myself the entire time. I had no blood out there. And me and Nadi together, we have such an awesome time. So even though we didn't get to, I would love to do anything with Nadiya again. “Amazing Race” would be awesome. I don't know when the hell they're doing another All-Star but I'd totally be down.

Other “Survivor: San Juan Del Sur” exit interviews:
Jaclyn Schultz
Missy Payne
Keith Nale
Baylor Wilson
Jon Misch
Alec Christy
Reed Kelly
Wes Nale
Jeremy Collins
Josh Canfield
Julie McGee
Dale Wentworth
Kelley Wentworth
Drew Christy
John Rocker
Val Collins
Nadiya Anderson