San Juan del Sur, Winners at War
|To celebrate the 40th season of Survivor, we’re counting down the 40 Most Influential Survivors to ever play the game. Because Survivor is a game, a tv show, and a rabid fandom, we’re taking all forms of influence into consideration for this list. Go here to view the criteria we are using to determine what qualifies for the list. Note: this list is presented in chronological order and there will be spoilers for various Survivor seasons.
Natalie Anderson is the 34th entry in this series.
Natalie Anderson is a badass. Wait amend that. Since I am writing about Natalie Anderson I should pay her the homage she would demand. Natalie Anderson is a fucking badass. Just a giant fucking badass. Being a badass though is not necessarily enough to be influential. However, I think Natalie’s influence is heavily informed by her badassness (badassitude?). Natalie is brash, loud, aggressive and most importantly, in terms of influence at least, completely unapologetic.
It is a common talking point on this site, in the podcast and the comments, that Survivor rarely allows women the same freedom to play the game that men are allowed. We have seen this in how often women are targeted pre-merge. We have seen this in the disparities in finding idols. More recently, we have seen this reflected in who is winning seasons. The last woman to win Survivor was Sarah back in Season 34. Only two women have won in the ten complete seasons since Natalie won. And we have rarely seen someone win like Natalie Anderson did.
Usually, Survivor and the contestants on the show, punish those who defy easy stereotype and characterization. Stepping out of line with gender and culture expectations can make someone a target early on before bonds have truly formed. Add to that the burden of having competed on a reality show before Survivor that some of the cast of San Juan del Sur were familiar with in The Amazing Race, and Natalie could have suffered the same fate as many women before her. In fact, her twin sister did suffer this fate, being the first boot of the season.
After losing her closest ally in Jeremy (who Emily already wrote about), Natalie’s story becomes one of revenge. Carefully biding her time and maneuvering herself into position where she is perceived as nonthreatening before unleashing her master plan and voting out all responsible for voting out both Nadiya and Jeremy. Here is my recreation of Natalie unleashing hell at the end of the season.
And in delivering that revenge she offered up iconic moments like when she faked screwed up a vote split and, of course, “Did you vote for who I told you to vote for?” And throughout her entire endgame, Natalie totally owned her moves. She was up front with what she was doing, she made it clear to the jury that she was playing hard as hell and she explained in confessionals to the audience at home how she was manipulating the game.
It should also be noted that as rare as women winning has become recently, even more rare over the history of the show is minority women winning. By my count (and please correct me if I’m wrong), Natalie is only the third minority woman to win Survivor after Vecepia and Sandra. I cannot imagine that this isn’t important for people out there. People identify with and desire to see people that look like them succeed and do well, and Survivor has a crummy history of minorities being voted out early and not doing well in the game, mirroring its history with women. I cannot measure the influence in this regard that Natalie’s win has had, but I cannot imagine it is not important.
Natalie’s brashness certainly has similarities with Sandra, but her game is more aggressive. It is not the quiet all-seeing control of Kim. It is not the survive at all costs of Denise. She did not fuel her win with an immunity run. She did not win by forming a women’s alliance (though the final three was all women), like Parvati had in Micronesia. Natalie made big moves, she was patient, she was brash and aggressive, and most importantly, she was not penalized for any of this. And that last part is influential.
Not just for what the show has been since Season 29, but for what we want the show to be. I believe we have seen an increase in women being more aggressive in the game since Natalie. We have certainly seen more discussions about double standards in the game. We just haven’t seen too many other women breakthrough like Natalie has. I think Survivor is in the midst of change right now. It’s final effects are not entirely manifest. It may be that it ends in a place where it turns out that Natalie was not one of the 40 Most Influential Survivors. But I am hopeful this isn’t the case. I think we are moving to a place where future contestants are going to look at Natalie’s win as aspirational, and as something to be emulated. I think some contestants already are at that place, but they just haven’t reaped the rewards yet. I hope the results start changing soon.
Who else made the list?
You can see each entry on the list by clicking this link.
Matt is convinced that all Survivor contestants named Michel(l)e are bad tv and you cannot prove he ever said otherwise. Also if he ever takes a strong stance about why everyone else is wrong, it is he that is inevitably wrong.
Favorite seasons: Micronesia, Heroes vs. Villains, Palau, Philippines, Pearl Islands, Cagayan