Survivor Winners Finalists Reveal What We Didn’t See After That Epic Finale (Exclusive)
That one move that could have changed the entire game…
Moments after Tony Vlachos was crowned the champion of Survivor: Winners At War, the show’s 40th season quickly came to a close. You read Soaps.com’s exclusive interview on Tony Vlachos discussing his win, what his plans are for the 2 million dollars and that ‘bogus’ twist… The other top two finalists, Natalie Anderson and Michele Fitzgerald disappeared from our screens without any time to discuss their strategies, feelings and thoughts.
So what happened the moment the cameras went off? How are they both feeling after missing out on the $2 million top prize? What are their thoughts on the controversial Edge of Extinction twist or Jeff Probst asking teens as young as 16 to apply for future seasons? We had the opportunity to talk with both Anderson and Fitzgerald about all that. Plus, both discuss the one decision that could have altered the course of the entire season.
Natalie Anderson 2nd place
Soaps.com: You were so close to winning the $2 million. How are you feeling about it today?
Natalie Anderson: I have this weird hangover. I just lost $2 million. It’s weird [laughs]. I think I’ve come to peace with the fact that I wasn’t going to win. But then, obviously, re-watching and re-living it, it’s all those could’ve should’ve would’ve start coming back. I’m doing relatively good, to be honest. I guess I’m doing OK.
Soaps.com: What would you have changed?
Natalie Anderson: The biggest is obviously just going to fire with Tony. … Putting way too much faith in Sarah’s hands and wanting this really epic moment where she could’ve have executed and beat him at the end, sitting in a female final three and basically not having to risk getting sent home at that point was my idea. But I went back and forth, even with Michele, just wishing I had gone to fire or sent Michele against him because it just seemed like Sarah’s head was not in the game to actually beat him. It was weird.
Soaps.com: Could you have beaten Tony in the fire challenge?
Natalie Anderson: I was actually really good at fire on the Edge. I made fire all the time. I just didn’t feel like I needed to prove it at that point. Obviously, there was always that shadow of a doubt. What if I lose? I can’t say that wasn’t a factor, but at the same time I had felt like I deserved and earned my spot in the final three with that final Immunity. But, yeah, I don’t know. It’s all hindsight, 50-50. I had no idea how Tony’s fire-making skills were. I had never seen it. They practiced out of sight away from me. I had seen Sarah compete and I thought Sarah was on this feminism train and I thought it would’ve been
awesome to beat Tony at the end because she was doing all the work for this alliance, but barely got any shine for it. Tony got all the props. I should’ve just done it. At the end of the day I should’ve just made fire and sent Tony home. Then I would’ve won $2 million.
Soaps.com: It has been a long time since you filmed this season, which means you’ve had months to wonder if you had won. What did you think was going to be the final outcome?
Natalie Anderson: Oh my God. A bloody year. It changed a lot. Final Immunity I was sitting there like, “Dude, I think I might have a shot.” I knew when Tony beat Sarah, in my head I was like (expletive). I was like, “OK. This is going to suck because Sarah would’ve been (expletive) sweet. I would’ve known I won.” But then after the final Tribal I was feeling really good. As the months went by and then coming closer to this year, I kind of knew it was going to be a really uphill battle for me to win. I had this weird intuition that there was going to be some weird twist at the end. Either there was a fluke vote or they brought back Sandra and make her vote. I was just hoping for some weird twist at the end that didn’t happen. I went in knowing the chances of me pulling a W were slim to none.
Soaps.com: After Jeff Probst announced Tony had won the game, we didn’t get to see much from you. So what happened the moment the camera shut off at the end of the live finale?
Natalie Anderson: We were so caught off guard. I thought I lost power or something. I was like, “What happened?” I was in such shock because the way they did the finale, the Zoom finale part, I thought we were going to ease into it with questions and slowly get worked up for the vote. But immediately as we started rolling, Jeff was like, “OK. Let’s get to the votes.” We had our loved ones come in, and I had my boyfriend. Because of corona and social distancing, Nadiya had first pick quarterback to be my loved one, but because she’s taking social distancing super serious I wasn’t able to sit six feet close to her and have her be my loved one. Luckily my boyfriend, he’s been with me throughout this entire experience. He was there with me when I left to film and he was with me when I came back, so it was cool to have him with me. He had no idea what was going on because he didn’t have a part in his ear, and as soon as they cut me and Michele off, I didn’t cry but I was also shocked. I was like, “OK. Let’s just get drunk.” I had a shot of tequila. I was kind of in shock with some of the votes. I had no idea who had voted for me and who had not voted for me. I was just in shock. Then I took a shot and I was like, it is what is, Natalie. Let’s move forward.
Soaps.com: Traditionally second place is worth $100,000, but are you getting more money since this was an all-winner season and the main jackpot had doubled?
Natalie Anderson: I don’t know. I’ve got to read my contract. I have no idea. I think I was just focused on the $2 million. I called the $2 million before we started filming. I have no idea, I’ve got to read my contract. I’m hoping it’s more than the regular season. What happened to Sia? There’s no Sia award this year? I was hoping she would give me some damn money [laughs.]
Soaps.com: You lived the whole Edge of Extinction twist to the fullest having been there for most of the season after getting voted off first. What’s it like living there that fans will never understand?
Natalie Anderson: I think the main thing about the Edge that is so hard to convey over a one-hour episode is how completely depleted we are out there from morning to night; how harsh the conditions are and how little we’d eat. I described us as basically White Walkers of Extinction because we would walk around like zombies. To get up to go to the water to wash your hands, or even go to the bathroom, seemed like a tedious task. It was so weird because as soon as a challenge was on the table, all of us would somehow spring up — some of us a little more enthusiastic, obviously. I don’t know how I pulled out the energy and that grind to do the challenges the way I did because the conditions were just so harsh. For me to say that, you know it’s hard. For me to say that it was really, really difficult you know that place was like complete misery. The amount we ate was so little. I wish they would show how much rice we ate because I think we probably ate like a small seashell of rice a day. It was so brutal. It’s indescribable how we all managed. I was so proud of everybody who made it through. People like Ethan. It was brutal.
Soaps.com: As you know, there are some Survivor purists who don’t care how tough the Edge of Extinction is, they simply don’t agree with giving anybody voted out a chance to reenter the game with a chance at winning. How do you feel about that Survivor purist mentality?
Natalie Anderson: I think if you’re going to make a comment like that you have to experience the Edge and experience Survivor in a different kind of platform. I said this the whole time when I was on the beach. It’s not my job as a Survivor player to kind of dictate what the game is. My job being on Survivor is to adapt and roll with all the punches. If you’re sitting here and criticizing the way Survivor is and you want this old-school kind of game mentality, I don’t think that you’re a true fan. I think that you have to embrace the game evolving and any twist that’s thrown into the season. For you to downplay my ability to survive the Edge, get back in and make it to the end it’s just a really short-sighted way to think. It’s Survivor. It’s not up to anybody else to decide what we’re playing. It’s our job to embrace everybody’s journey. If you can’t appreciate somebody being on the Edge as long as I did and give them a fair shot at winning without any judgment, I just think that’s really short-sighted. I also think that unless you’ve been on the Edge for at least a certain amount of time you shouldn’t judge it because you have no idea what you’re talking about.
Soaps.com: You had time to bond with the jury on the Edge of Extinction. Did it seem the group was planning to vote for whichever player returned later in the competition?
Natalie Anderson: Yeah. I got a sense that we would all stick together, especially the core Extinction group, which was me, Ethan, Danni, Amber, Rob, Parv and Tyson. … Then the rest of them were kind of later on to enter. Toward the end when I started focusing on myself and putting the collective on the back burner, I could tell people were really on the edge at the Edge. There was a lot of tension. There was a lot of ego. Maybe crushing the coconut challenge is something that I did that rubbed people the wrong way. I could tell people’s egos and tension was kind of coming to the surface. I couldn’t apologize for the way I played. Toward the end I could tell people weren’t as lovey-dovey. I definitely didn’t feed
into the “we’re all in this together” because I was so focused on me. I definitely thought Amber and Danni would’ve voted for me. That was really bizarre that they didn’t. I don’t know what I did so bad at the Edge at the end to make them not vote for me. Those two votes are just so, so, so weird.
Soaps.com: Boston Rob said at the final Tribal Council that you had isolated yourself toward the end. What happened?
Natalie Anderson: When Nadiya came to visit me on the Edge and I told her what happened, I was basically telling her, “I lost the first battle back. I don’t know if I can get back in.” Nadiya told me I was kind of blended into this tribe with the rest of the Edge and I was part of this zombie kind of movement where people were just going through the motions. When Nadiya visited me, it sparked me to focus back on who I really am, which is a crazy all-or-nothing kind of girl. I put all my chips onto myself. I was like, at this point I have to change around thinking about the Edge. I have one more shot and even though it’s going to be even harder, I have an attempt to get back in. I have to just play this really aggressive game at the Edge and focus on being that person who is like, it’s me or one of these other guys. If I don’t do what I need to do I’m just going to be in the wrong head space. I definitely withdrew from the pact. I wasn’t part of the people that were just sitting around all day in the shelter trying to make fake jokes and be cute with each other. I wasn’t out there campaigning for jury votes. I wasn’t being fake like other people. My focus was getting back in the game. What’s the point of campaigning for jury votes if you’re not going to get back in? I did what I needed to do to get back in, but at the same time I think it definitely alienated and rubbed some people the wrong way. I went from Natalie, the amazing person who was fishing for everybody, getting rice for everybody, cooking for everybody, to just being like, “Listen. I’m here for one job and that job is to get back onto the main beach.” If I got to rub some people the wrong way to do it, too bad.
Michele Fitzgerald 3rd place
Soaps.com: This season was filmed nearly an entire year ago, so you’ve had a long time to wait and wonder if you were going to win the $2 million. Leading up to the finale, what did you think was going to be the outcome?
Michele Fitzgerald: I pretty much knew the outcome. After the votes were cast, I’ve had an opportunity to talk to a lot of my cast members. I think we all kind of knew the way it was going to shake out. We were a little bit concerned about a few votes, but I think overall we kind of knew it was going to go to Tony.
Soaps.com: Were you surprised by the way some of the jury members voted?
Michele Fitzgerald: I was kind of surprised by Parvati’s vote, but I know her and Natalie were very close on the Edge. I always thought there was a possibility of her voting for Natalie, but I didn’t know 100 percent.
Soaps.com: What happened in your house the moment the cameras went off after Tony was revealed as the winner?
Michele Fitzgerald: Well, we were drinking over here to be perfectly honest. I’m with my family. My boyfriend is here. We just celebrated, honestly. We celebrated the fact I was able to be in every episode of both seasons that I played, and I made it to final three in both seasons. Not a lot of people can say that. We celebrated the journey and the fact that we could sit together on our couches instead of in LA.
Soaps.com: You said throughout this experience that you went into the game feeling like you had something to prove after your first win. How do you feel about your Survivor experience as a whole today?
Michele Fitzgerald: My first season, I always felt that I deserved my win, but I knew a lot of people have doubted me. I am grateful that I had this opportunity to go back out and show people that I can play a really strong game. It may not look like Tony’s, it may not look like Natalie’s, but I played to my strengths and that’s a really powerful way to play the game. I’m proud of myself. I feel really proud of my journey.
Soaps.com: A lot of viewers are calling you “Queen Michele” with many expressing their disappointment you didn’t win. How does that make you feel?
Michele Fitzgerald: Oh my God, that’s wonderful because I actually have not been on social media since this aired. So, thank you. I guess I’m going to have to check that. I just made a conscious decision I really didn’t want to look at that stuff because I felt very proud of myself and I didn’t know what the response was going to be, and I didn’t want to take that. So now that you’ve given me the green light that it seems everything is OK, I think I can go back on social media.
Soaps.com: Did you know Natalie was bringing you to the end with her or did she keep that decision a secret? Were you thinking she was going to force you into the fire challenge against Tony?
Michele Fitzgerald: So she had told me all day that it was gonna be who was making fire. I had a breakdown. I was so stressed out. I was like crying. I was cursing her out. I was like, “Natalie, we’ve been ride or die since day one. Now you’re going to throw me under the bus to compete against Tony?” I was distraught. I think she saw that I probably was not in the right headspace to be competing, so she sensed that. I really thought up until she had said that Sarah was going to go, I thought it was gonna be me.
Soaps.com: Looking back, do you think she made the right choice or would it have been better for you to take on Tony at the fire challenge since it seemed your skills were solid?
Michele Fitzgerald: That’s a good question. I’m not sure. … I think that I’m good at fire-making. I think that I also am good under pressure when my back is against the wall. I probably could’ve beaten him. It
probably would’ve been really stressful on day 38 trying to get to final Tribal. I’m not sure, but I probably would’ve won, yes.
Soaps.com: If you conquer the fire challenge and Tony gets eliminated, who do you think wins the season between you, Natalie and Sarah?
Michele Fitzgerald: I have no idea. This is probably the thing that plagues me and Natalie the most. I also think Natalie could’ve beat Tony if she was up against him. She’s very, very strong at fire. I think that’s the thing that keeps her up at night. Most likely, I think Natalie would’ve gotten a lot of votes. I think Sarah probably would’ve had Tony, Ben and Denise. I don’t know. Natalie could win if Tony lost fire.
Soaps.com: What was your strategy going into this season?
Michele Fitzgerald: I really didn’t have a strategy. I know that sounds crazy. For me, being adaptable and just day by day seeing what cards are dealt, that was kind of how I planned on playing. My goal was always to get to the next day. That’s really hard when you have to tell a story on day 39 and you have to shake that narrative somehow, but my goal was to get to day 39 and then I could figure out the other stuff.
Soaps.com: What’s your take on the controversial Edge of Extinction twist?
Michele Fitzgerald: My thought was, “Well, this sucks. If I get voted out now I can’t even eat a cheeseburger.” So, I wasn’t very happy. On the other side, if I do get voted out, I have a chance to get back in and win $2 million. … I can’t say I love the Edge, but I’m grateful that everybody had an opportunity.
Soaps.com: Jeff Probst suggested teens as young as 16 years old start applying to be on Survivor. How would you feel about watching a season with young players?
Michele Fitzgerald: I played on a season with Julia Sokolowski, who was 18 at the time. She’s one of the best players that I’ve ever played with. I don’t think that you need to be married with children to excel in this game. I think whatever your experience is, take that and use it to your advantage. Why not? Why not have young players bring their all into this game?
Soaps.com: Would you ever play again?
Michele Fitzgerald: If Survivor calls me, I’ll pack up my bags and brave the airports with coronavirus [laughs] and leave right now. I’m ready.