Natalie White's strategy of riding Russell Hantz's coattails and not playing too aggressively paid off.
The 26-year-old pharmaceutical sales representative from Van Buren, AR claimed Survivor: Samoa's $1 million grand prize during the live portion of last night's finale broadcast from CBS Television Studio in Hollywood, CA.
"It's about having no regrets. You've got to take a big risk to get a big return," said Natalie after her victory was revealed.
"I had to quit my job to do it. So I gave up a wonderful job -- not just a wonderful job, but one that I loved so much... There was a lot at risk for me."
Natalie defeated Russell Hantz, a 36-year-old oil company owner from Dayton, TX, and Mick Trimming, a 33-year-old doctor from Boise, ID who currently resides in Los Angeles, CA, by receiving five of the first seven jury votes Survivor host Jeff Probst revealed. Russell received the other two jury votes that were disclosed. Jeff did not reveal the remaining eighth and ninth votes, which were presumably also for Natalie.
"Her key move in the game was aligning with me," said Russell after Natalie had previously stated her "key move" as orchestrating Erik Cardona's blindside after the merge.
"Okay, maybe I had two key moves then," replied Natalie.
Survivor: Samoa's finale broadcast began on Day 37 at the merged Aiga camp following the elimination of Shannon "Shambo" Waters -- who was ousted when Brett Clouser, a 23-year-old T-shirt designer from Salem, OR who currently resides in Los Angeles, CA, won Individual Immunity for the second consecutive time and staved off certain elimination.
Mick and Jaison Robinson, a 28-year-old law student from Chicago, IL, discussed the possibility of Brett winning Immunity again and immediately targeted Natalie if that were to happen.
"I think Russell will have a hard time voting her off," said Mick to Jaison.
"I think Russell will have an easier time doing a lot of things than you think," replied Jaison.
However they both agreed that Brett would be first, as Jaison was worried the only remaining Galu member could go on an "Immunity run." Russell was aware that Natalie's neck was on the line if Brett won Immunity again.
"You know what's going to happen if he wins the next one? I ain't going to be able to save you," Russell told Natalie.
"Why would I be next?" asked Natalie.
"Because the three guys stay to beat [Brett] in that last challenge," replied Russell.
"Well, that sucks," she said.
"Well we've just got to win," he said.
Natalie then asked point blank if she'd be going home if Brett won the next Immunity Challenge.
"Probably so," answered Russell.
In a confessional, Natalie said her strategy entering the competition was to "play the underdog," "be underestimated" and "just kind of slide through."
"Which I've done. And it's gotten me this far," she added.
The five castaways then arrived for the Immunity Challenge, and before Jeff explained the rules he asked Russell if it was the remaining four Foa Foa against Brett.
"Yes it is. That's what it is," answered Russell.
"It's an individual competition, so it's definitely a motivator," said Brett.
Each castaway would race across a series of obstacles and grab a bag of puzzle pieces before racing back. They then had to climb a steep wall to a platform and use the pieces to solve a puzzle. First person to get it right would win Immunity.
The challenge commenced, and while Russell was able to grab an early lead Brett's puzzle-solving skills helped him in the end and he won Immunity for the third consecutive time.
"To finally see a Foa Foa member go home will be relieving," said Brett in a confessional.
Natalie said she "definitely felt" like her head was on the chopping block. At camp, she talked to Russell
"I'm going to change it," he said.
"Promise me?" she asked.
"I promise you," he said.
Russell then revealed in a confessional why he wanted to keep Natalie around.
"I'm trying to keep Natalie because she's holding onto my coattails," he explained. "Who better to take to the Final 2 than her? There's no way she can beat me in votes."
Brett talked to Jaison about the impending vote.
"Do you guys know what you're doing, or is it up in the air?" Brett asked.
"You always think you know what you're doing but you never actually know what's going to happen," answered Jaison.
In a confessional, Russell called Jaison "the weakest link" and thought Natalie was stronger in helping to beat Brett in the next Immunity Challenge. He also weighed the pros and cons of keeping Jaison or Mick.
"The good thing about keeping Jaison is he can't beat me in the votes, the bad thing about keeping Jaison is he can't beat Brett in the challenge," explained Russell. "The good thing about keeping Mick is he could possibly beat Brett in the challenge, the bad thing about keeping Mick is he might beat me in jury votes."
He approached Jaison about getting rid of Mick, and Jaison agreed.
"I think Russell and I trust each other enough and we're comfortable. When I say this, I mean it. When he says this, he means it," explained Jaison.
However Russell also told Mick that Jaison would be next, and Mick agreed.
"I wish he could stay around. But Natalie's head is much more in the game than Jaison's," said Mick in a confessional. "He shows up, but he's just not really into it at all."
Russell knew that he and Natalie were in control over what transpired at Tribal.
"We're the ones making the decision," he said before approaching Natalie -- who weighed the options.
"They both have goods and bads," said Russell in a confessional. "So now I'm weighing what in the world I'm supposed to do."
Tribal Council then commenced, and the jury -- Erik, Kelly Sharbaugh, Laura Morett, John Fincher, David Ball, Monica Padilla, and Shambo -- entered.
Natalie explained that if they were unable to beat Brett in the next Immunity Challenge, he would certainly get all the jury votes -- so it was a tough decision about whether to keep someone strong to help beat Brett or keep someone that would be easy to beat at the final Tribal.
Jaison added it was especially difficult because there were a few players remaining who "could command a lot of jury votes."
"It makes sense to keep people that can beat him at this last Immunity," said Mick.
Jeff then asked Brett if he had been "sandbagging it" up until that point in the competition, when he seemed to turn on the burners.
"I think the past few challenges have just coincided with certain skills I have and having really nothing to lose is a different frame of mind that I have that the se people don't necessarily have," he added.
Jaison reiterated Brett needed to go as soon as possible to prevent him from getting to the final Tribal.
"If he got there, he'd definitely have an upper hand," said Jaison.
Brett said at this point, it didn't matter how many jury votes he had since he wasn't at the final Tribal yet.
"I've won three challenges in a row, but it doesn't mean anything if I don't win the next one," he said.
Brett, Russell, Natalie and Mick all voted for Jaison -- who became the sixteenth castaway eliminated and eighth member of the jury.
"I'm kind of pissed off at Russell for blindsiding me this way," said Jaison after his ouster.
"For a relationship that you've had since Day 2, you at least let the guy know that he's going home. So I don't think I'd be cheering for Russell this one. I'd root for Brett. Brett's the underdog. He is who we were. We came from nothing to be something and he did pretty much the same thing."
Back at camp, Brett described it as a "miracle" to still be there.
"This is something I didn't really imagine," he said, adding Immunity was his only hope. "My fate is in my own hands."
The next day on the beach, Russell asked Brett if he thought he could beat him if they both made the Final 3 jury vote.
"I don't know," answered Brett. "I think it would be pretty close."
Russell said he'd rather be next to someone who "deserves it more" and Brett agreed, stating he'd "rather go up against someone that's harder to beat and lose" than someone who is easier to beat and win. Russell saw an opening, and struck a deal with Brett.
"What I can promise you is me and you will be in the Top 3," he told him.
"Okay," said Brett.
"If you win it, then you're safe," explained Russell. "If I win it, I'll take you to the Top 3. If you win, you're in the Top 3. We have no doubts. I'm going to do it straight up with you. Deal?"
"Deal," said Brett as they shook hands.
In a confessional, Russell called the deal an "insurance policy" in case Brett were to win Immunity.
"It looks like I'm going to be in the Top 3 no matter what," boasted Russell in a confessional. "If I win this challenge today, I'm 100% positive that the game is mine. I won the $1 million."
They then retrieved some Tree Mail, which informed them they'd be remembering Survivor: Samoa's 16 previously booted castaways via the game's traditional "Fallen Comrades" journey. Once it was complete, the castaways met for the final Immunity Challenge, and Jeff explained the rules.
Each castaway would place a wooden statue on the end of a pole. At regular intervals, another section would be added to the pole -- making it more difficult to keep stable. The last person with his or her statue standing would win Immunity and an automatic bid to plead his or her case in front of the jury.
The challenge commenced. Mick was the first one out, followed by Natalie -- setting up a showdown between Russell and Brett, which was eventually won by Russell.
"This is worth $1 million right now. In my opinion, I just won the game," said Russell in a confessional.
Back at camp, Brett told Mick he was "proud" of himself for making it as far as he did and called Survivor an "awesome experience."
"I failed," he said in a confessional. "I'm pretty certain that I'll be going home tonight. The only thing I have to fall back on is Russell's deal that he made with me that if one of us were to win then we'd take the other person to the final."
The former Foa Foa members discussed their chances at the final Tribal -- as Natalie said she thought Russell would win, and Mick agreed Russell had a "great shot." Russell was also confident, thinking the fact that he beat Brett in the final Immunity Challenge was just what he needed to make his case with the jury.
"I made a promise to Brett," said Russell in a confessional. "But you see, I made a promise to Mick too. Either way I slice it, if I break my promise with somebody I'll be putting them on the jury and they're taking it personal -- they hate me. This is why the game gets tough."
Mick told Natalie he was "skeptic" Brett was going to go that easily and thought something might be up.
"Mick, you're fine," assured Natalie. "You're so paranoid... Do you honestly think any of us want to go against [Brett] on the jury?"
"I wouldn't think so, but Russell's got all these little strange plans and ploys," said Mick.
"No Mick, it's a done deal," assured Natalie again. "You're coming back here tonight, and so am I, and so is Russell."
Russell then approached Brett and explained he had a deal with both him and Mick.
"I wish I was like you when I was your age," gushed Russell.
"I appreciate that," replied Brett.
"The only option we have is Natalie is going to vote you and Mick is going to vote you . If I vote Mick and you vote Mick then it's a 2-2 tie," explained Russell. "Then it's a challenge -- it might be a fire challenge. Do you think you could beat Mick in a fire challenge?"
"Yeah," replied Brett.
In a confessional, Brett said it was "hard to take [Russell's] word 100%."
"All I can do is hope that he's a man of his word," said Brett.
Russell said in a confessional he was solely focused on "jury votes" when deciding between Mick and Brett.
"Mick's a real good guy, I like him a lot," added Russell. "Brett's a good guy too. But I'm playing the game. I'm still strongly considering keeping Brett. May the best man win. That might get me jury votes -- keeping the strongest here."
The penultimate Tribal Council then commenced and the jury entered. Russell said he "definitely" knew it would be him and Brett facing off at the end of the final Immunity Challenge.
"I knew he would be the one that would be there at the end," said Russell. "I put more effort into this challenge then I did into anything in this entire game."
Mick said he "absolutely" knew Brett would be next as soon as Russell won, and added it was a "huge relief." Natalie echoed Mick's statement and Russell said Brett played a great game.
"He deserves to be sitting up there with me," said Russell about Brett. "We're probably the two best up here and you want the best up here to talk in front of the jury. That's just how it should be."
Mick said Russell was making a good point, however he didn't necessarily agree with it because Brett in front of the jury met only one thing -- he would win the $1 million.
"Russell knows strategically it's not a good move to take Brett and put him in front of that jury," added Natalie.
Brett said Mick and Natalie had to be "a little worried" and Jeff asked if Russell would get "respect" from the jury for taking him.
"Oh yeah, most definitely," replied Brett. "By that action, you're showing a sense of confidence in yourself."
However Russell, Natalie and Mick all voted for Brett -- who became the seventeenth castaway eliminated and ninth and final jury member.
"Wow. They did it," said Erik as Brett had his torch snuffed.
"I knew a couple Tribals ago that it was my time to go," said Brett after his outer. "I'm the last Galu member, I'm so proud of that. To get to where I got -- 38 days, one of the Final 4 -- was definitely a testament to will, my hard work and I definitely feel like I went out on my own accord to some degree."
The next morning, Russell, Mick and Natalie toasted to making the Final 3.
"I said from Day 1 that I was going to get here, and here I am," said Russell. "Not only did I get here, I brought two people here that I wanted to be here with me."
Russell told Natalie and Mick that the jury would accuse them of riding his coattails and asked how they would defend themselves -- specifically claiming he was going to call them the "nice guy and nice girl."
"Russell has good points, but he needs to be reminded that he couldn't have done this without us," said Mick. "We just took totally different paths to do it. Some people may say I like your path a little better, here's your vote."
Natalie thought there was "strategy" in Russell boasting that he had the jury in the bag.
"I'm not going to give up," she added. "I'll just explain to the jury I do not work the same way as Russell. That would clearly not have worked for me. The girls that were aggressive, they got eliminated early."
In a confessional, Russell said it would be a "shame" if Natalie or Mick won.
"It wouldn't make any sense to me," he said. "I played this game strategically better than anybody -- maybe in history. I really think this jury is going to put my name down. I accomplished the impossible out here. All by myself and brought a couple of bums with me."
The final Tribal Council then commenced, and the nine jurors entered. Jeff explained that Mick, Russell and Natalie would each make an opening statement before the jury members would have as opportunity to either ask a question or make a statement of their own.
Mick said he came into the game realizing there would be a lot of pressure on him to have more of a "moral leeway" than he was "willing to give" -- and added that temptation only grew at the merge. However he said he still wasn't willing to go outside the parameters he set for himself.
"The fact that I was able to get this far doing that, that was kind of my goal in this and I feel like I accomplished it," he said.
Natalie said there were lots of doubters in her Survivor ability even before she left, and added she decided to go through with it because she wanted to gain confidence and go outside of her comfort zone -- which she felt she did despite it being the hardest thing she had ever done mentally, emotionally or physically.
Not surprisingly, Russell made it clear he was there to win, which he tried to do by making "huge strategic moves" throughout the game -- beginning at Foa Foa and continuing after the merge. He called Laura's ouster the "biggest move of the game" before he turned on John.
"It went like dominoes from there," said Russell, adding defeating Brett was the "most difficult" thing he had to do physically.
"If either one of these outwit me then give them the money. If either one of these outplayed me then give them the game," said Russell about Natalie and Mick. "But you know what? I don't think that they have."
Jaison went first and he gave the Final 3 an opportunity to share information about who they "really are."
Natalie said she's "technically unemployed" since she quit her job to join the show's cast. Russell explained he was a "businessman."
"I opened a business five years ago, struggle for three years and just became successful with the business for two years," added Russell. "This is the first business that I have succeeded with."
Mick said he's $320,000 in debt from medical school. Jaison said he believed all the answers, but pointed out Natalie neglected to reveal she "made a lot of money," Russell was the "wealthiest" in the Final 3, and Mick will get paid very well as a doctor.
"Whatever decision is made, no one is broke," said Jaison. "I think you guys should look for other criteria."
Shambo apologized to America for "dismantling" Galu and questioned that decision. She then called Mick's decision "feckless" and insulted him for not knowing what it meant and called Natalie Russell's "coattail" rider. Natalie disagreed and said it was "intuition" to not play "aggressive" and put a target on her back.
"No way in god's green earth you're getting my vote," said Shambo to Natalie.
Brett asked Mick how he would plan a man date for the two of them and explained it was a way to see how invested Mick was in him as a "human being." Kelly said she disagreed with Natalie being independent.
"It wasn't because I had no fight," argued Natalie. "But I did do things on my own and I'll tell you I got better throughout the game to believe in myself."
Kelly then asked Russell if he was the same in real life as in the game.
"I'm 100% different outside of this game," he answered. "The thing that bothers me is I don't want my kids to think this is how I really am."
Russell added he embraces "honor, integrity and loyalty" outside of game, which Kelly had a hard time believing.
Monica asked Mick why he deserved the win over Natalie and Russell. Mick said he was not really sure what Natalie did along the way except align with Russell, whom he felt was willing to lie and pit people against each other for his own gain. Mick added he felt Russell let his "giant ego" get out of hand and said that wasn't the kind of character that deserved the $1 million.
Russell defended himself by stating his character wasn't in question when Mick and Natalie were using it to get to the Final 3.
"They both didn't mind following the snake," he said.
Dave asked what each thought there current chances were -- as Mick said between 20 and 25%; Natalie between 30 and 40%; and Russell said he initially thought his odds were much higher but now pegged them around 55%.
"It might happen, it might not happen," he said.
Laura asked Russell what he learned about her through the game, and he said he knew she was Galu's "biggest threat" and was also "controlling."
"If it wouldn't have took place like it did, I don't have a doubt in my mind you'd be here right now," he added.
John then asked Mick to give his "hard sell," and Mick said he has a "solid character" and doesn't treat people "like pawns."
"I don't think you could give it to a more stand-up dude. I just don't," said Mick.
He then asked Natalie to defend herself, and she reiterated that she'd been flying under the radar and tried not to play too aggressively.
Erik went last and said Mick did nothing before stating Russell "admittedly played an unethical game."
"The crazy thing about it is you're sitting there and I'm standing here. Did you get to the right place by behaving the wrong way?" asked Erik.
"I've never been in a situation in my entire life where that was the case. But you sit there proud of it."
Erik said while Natalie may be "weak" and "undeserving," that shouldn't be any less admirable than "lying, cheating and stealing" your way to the Final 3.
"You are sitting there and that makes you just as dangerous as any one of those guys there. You would say that you were probably the least deserving of the title of Sole Survivor," said Erik.
"But maybe, just maybe, in an environment filled with arrogance, delusional entitlement, maybe the person who thinks that she's least deserving is probably the most. You've got my vote, I hope you get four more."
The nine jurors were then given a minute to think before casting their votes. The live portion of the broadcast then commenced and Natalie was revealed to be the winner.
During the live reunion show, Jeff pointed out that Russell looked "visibly upset."
"I feel like I played the best strategic game in history, and I'm not the only one who thinks that," replied Russell. "I can guarantee you millions of people probably think the same thing. Natalie, her best move was to jump on my back."
Jeff then quickly polled the jury about whether Russell would have won had he instead chosen to take Jaison and Shambo -- and according to the results, he would have.
"Natalie, all I want is the title of Sole Survivor. I will pay you $10,000 for the title. If Jeff says, 'Russell, you are the Sole Survivor,' and I get it in paper written down -- that I am the Sole Survivor. I want the title," he pleaded.
"Are you asking Natalie to tell you you're a better player?" asked Jeff.
"No, I'm asking Natalie to ask you to tell me that I'm the Sole Survivor," replied Russell.
"I'm going to decline Russell's offer," said Natalie later in the broadcast. "I'm not interested. In order to win the title of Sole Survivor..."
"$100,000," interrupted Russell, upping his offer.
"No," said Natalie.
Jeff later revealed that Russell had won the "Survivor of the Season" text message/cbs.com vote that allowed home viewers to award $100,000 to one of the season's castaways, with Brett and Shambo finishing in the Top 3 with him.
In addition, Jeff also formally confirmed that Survivor's upcoming twentieth season -- which was filmed back-to-back with Survivor: Samoa in Samoa this summer -- will be dubbed Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains and feature "20 of Survivor's greatest castaways."
Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains will premiere February 11, according to Probst.