Warning: This post contains spoilers from Wednesday’s Survivor: Winners at War finale.
The last time Survivor brought forth its Edge of Extinction twist, returnee Chris Underwood not only made it to the end, but also snagged the million. Though this season’s challenge beast Natalie Anderson may have won the battle (back), she ultimately lost the War.
In the finale of Winners at War (click here for a full recap), Anderson clawed her way back from Extinction with an idol in her pocket, fueling her determination to become the series’ second two-time winner. And she almost realized that dream, making it to the final three only to come up five jury votes short as the season’s first runner-up behind the newly crowned winner Tony Vlachos (read our interview with Tony here).
Below, Anderson comments on the show’s admitted gender biases (“I’m not gonna change how I approach a physical challenge to soothe the egos of some guys”), while telling TVLine all about the hardships she faced on the Edge and the real war… over peanut butter.
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TVLINE | First off, congratulations on making it back into the game and to final three!
TVLINE | When you left Fiji last year, how did you feel you fared at final tribal? Did you think you won?
I definitely didn’t think I won, but I had a way better feeling leaving tribal than I did as the year progressed. I think maybe it was half adrenaline and half being super confident in myself and expecting people to vote the way I would’ve voted. Maybe I put too much faith in some of the Edge of Extinction people. When I started the episode, I kind of made peace with the fact that I knew I wasn’t going to win.
TVLINE | How did you feel about the Edge of Extinction twist before the game began, and what was your reaction to Jeff Probst announcing its return?
I don’t know if I was the only person who didn’t think there was going to be an Edge of Extinction twist, but a lot of the returning players had thought about it, and I was totally blindsided at the starting line. He said “Edge of Extinction,” and I was like, “Oh. Hell. No.” [Laughs]
[Originally] I was like, “If i get voted off, I’ll have this nice vacation in Fiji somewhere.” My first season, I didn’t even pack a Ponderosa bag because I was just like, “I’m not going to get voted off,” and this season I packed one. Didn’t get to use it, obviously! I was not a fan at the start, because I did not think I wanted to play the Edge game. I felt I had already found myself and I didn’t have to do any soul-searching, as people had described it the previous season. But when it was offered to me and I was on the beach, I just embraced how much it sucked and the challenge of being able to make it to the end. It did end up being an amazing experience.
TVLINE | What was the hardest part of being out on the Edge?
I think the hardest part was the sheer extreme environment and hunger that we were going through. You don’t eat a lot on regular Survivor, but the Edge of Extinction was a different beast. It was insane. I remember getting back to the main beach and cooking rice 24/7 because I was just so starved. You could see me just withering away. When Nadiya came to see me on the Edge, which was halfway through the game, she said I looked worse and more wrecked than when I lasted my entire season in Nicaragua. For me, the hardest part was not eating and how dirty and extreme the conditions were. I had to mentally tell myself to get over it. It was a crazy, crazy experience.
TVLINE | Parvati and Tyson mentioned you a lot on an Instagram Live in reference to some peanut butter hijinks on the Edge. How many jars did you guys actually buy out there and was it kept a secret from everyone?
I definitely bought more jars, but now it’s all a blur because everybody was stealing each other’s peanut butter. We had a fake alliance on Extinction, which obviously, the alliance didn’t fully vote for me, so I don’t know what happened with that. But Dani, Parv, Amber, Ethan and myself, we were the first that bought peanut butter together. Tyson bought it alone, and then us six bought more with Parv’s tokens from her 50/50 advantage she sold Michele. Then I bought another two, which I shared with Tyson and Parv. There were a lot of peanut butter wars going on! I feel like I didn’t share with Ethan, which I feel bad for, because looking back, Ethan probably needed it the most.
TVLINE | Boston Rob called you out for not competing against Tony in the fire-making challenge. If you had faced and beaten Tony, do you think that would’ve won you the game? Do you have any regrets about that?
I think if I sat with anybody in the final five, besides Tony, I would’ve won. Who knows? If I went to fire and beat Tony, I would’ve won hands down. But at the same time, if I was a guy and came back from Extinction and did what I did, would guys like Boston Rob vote for me? Maybe. You can also tell the reactions of people when I won the battle back. Boston Rob, Wendell… none of the guys besides Ethan and Tyson came up to me and hugged me. You can tell immediately. It was a weird feeling, because I would’ve rooted for anybody. I was rooting for Tyson even though I wanted to get back in, but it was different for some people. It’s hard to tell and it sucks to have to play those scenarios out in your head, but I would hope it didn’t affect the way people voted. But there was a little bit of hate coming from the Edge, which is the opposite of what it should’ve been, in my perspective. The jury dinged me for not being as social or as nice toward the end of my Extinction journey. And I said it: I couldn’t be the social, nice Natalie that I was at the start, and focus on myself and want to win.
TVLINE | Sarah talked a bit about the gender bias on Survivor and how women are treated differently from men for their game play. What are your feelings on that?
From my perspective, Sarah was doing way more work than Tony to maintain certain relationships, she just never wanted to sit in the driver’s seat of that alliance. I literally gave her the opportunity to make fire because I wanted her to put the nail in the coffin and sit in the final three with [us]. But I think I put way too much faith in her hands; I thought she was way better at fire-making. I digress.
I agree with Sarah’s statement. I do think women get scrutinized for dominant game play, where men are praised for it. I played my first season like a “dude” and thank God, the jury recognized it as an asset and was proud of that. Everybody said we weren’t gamers and [the season] was full of dummies, yet they still appreciated my game play in a way that winners should have. But this season, it didn’t turn out that way. I was kind of disappointed with that in the end.
I thought about it while I was playing the Edge. Should I really crush these guys on challenges when I don’t have to? I didn’t have to go out there and dominate the dudes the way I did, and I didn’t have to be as aggressive in my challenge approaches, but that’s who I am and I’m not gonna change how I approach a physical challenge to soothe the egos of some guys around me. Maybe if I thought about the $2 million I should have, but it’s just so hard for me to go through those motions. It does suck that we have to think about things like that, because I could see it in the guys’ eyes when I would whoop their asses in challenges. You can just tell they were not OK with it and were maybe not used to it. I was just so unapologetic in how I approached that kind of competition setting. But hey, I can’t change who I am.