Thursday, December 18, 2014

Survivor Ratings: Natalie

As a big fan of The Amazing Race, few teams have annoyed me as much as Natalie & Nadiya Anderson, a.k.a. "The Twinnies," a.k.a. the twin sister duo who yammered and carried on like fools over two seasons of the show.  (Though they were the first one eliminated in their second appearance, thankfully.)  So it was with no small amount of surprise that I found myself really rooting for Natalie as she made her way through Survivor.  For the segment of the Survivor-watching fan populace that doesn't watch the Race, she seems to be one of the most popular players ever.

Then again, I think of how my brother and I would act if we were ever teamed in a race around the world, and if we lasted even a leg before coming to blows, it'd be a minor miracle.  Audiences would be left thinking, "geez, those two meatheads are in their 30's and they're still sniping and arguing like children."  So while Natalie's Survivor edit surely plays a role, I must admit that I look back on her Amazing Race performances with a bit more sympathy now.
How She Won: Technically you could say Natalie won via alliance, yet her original grouping of herself/Missy/Baylor/Jeremy/Julie (plus Jon & Jaclyn) sprung so many leaks along the way that it took some deft gameplay to avoid every problem.  For one, you had Julie quitting right after the merge.  Secondly, her group needed to woo the Jon/Jaclyn swing votes that led to Josh's ouster.  Then Natalie faced her biggest problem, which was that Jon/Jaclyn swung back to the other alliance to vote out Jeremy, her closest ally.  Rather than go vengeful at that point, however, Natalie decided revenge was a dish best served cold and bided her time to ditch Jon, instead using he and Jaclyn to get rid of Wes, Reed and Alec.

Remember, if it hadn't been for Natalie speaking up after Keith's "stick to the plan" goof at Tribal Council, Jon would've been blindsided out with an idol in his pocket and left Natalie/Jaclyn/Missy/Baylor going up evenly against Reed/Alec/Wes/Keith and being at a decided disadvantage in immunity challenges.  Natalie could've taken the easy short-term play of eliminating Jon then, but she took the longer view and it worked to her advantage.

After finally ditching Jon, she then went total ninja and voted out Baylor, who'd been her closest ally in the latter stage of the game.  It was an ice-cold move that was very well thought out --- after seeing how Missy turned on her allegedly tight pairing with Jon, Natalie was right to suspect that Missy might do the same to her.  (This move also undoubtedly won some jury votes given how unpopular Baylor and Missy seemed amongst the jury.)

Through two Blood vs. Water seasons now, I think it's fair to say that it's a real advantage to having your loved one eliminated early, or at least it's a disadvantage to still being in a twosome very deep into the game.  As we saw in S27, Tyson, Gervase and Monica essentially formed an alliance of 'singles' and rode it all the way to the end.  This season, Natalie lost Nadiya after the very first Tribal Council and never got any chance to actually play with her sister, though it likely helped her a ton when it came to the final moments.  Jon/Jaclyn and Missy/Baylor always had to keep one eye out for what their loved one was doing, whereas Natalie could focus entirely on herself and her own plans.

To that same end, I wonder if it isn't also generally a good thing to lose your alliance partner relatively early in the game, a la Natalie and Jeremy.  While Nat was surely annoyed by the play, Missy/Baylor weren't turning on her --- they were just getting rid of a big threat in Jeremy.  Frankly, Natalie herself probably looks to ditch Jeremy at some point down the line anyway.  That said, Missy/Baylor going behind Natalie's back to eliminate Jeremy made them dead to her, and merely game pieces to be used rather than your standard "let's go to the end together, gang" alliance partners.  This generally seemed like a pretty laid-back cast that, judging by most of the jury questions*, were okay with getting voted out and realized it was just a game.  Natalie's business-like approach really appealed to them, as opposed to the games of Jaclyn and Missy that were so centred around their loved ones; the jury just saw them as halves of a whole player, while Natalie was see as her own person.

* = The exception, of course, was Reed's instantly legendary "evil stepmother" speech to Missy, though that was probably more about Reed wanting a big moment for himself on TV than it was about him being truly upset.

Skillset: Quite an impressive social player, which was again a fairly stunning development to Race watchers.  Natalie also more than held her own in challenges, and was competitive in virtually everything, physical or mental.  I've got to tip my cap to Dale, as in the very first episode, he warned his tribe about Nadiya by saying, essentially, "I've seen the Race and these two are dangerous, let's get rid of her right now."  I can't say that Nadiya would've played as well as her sister had she stuck around, but Dale was right, the Twinnies were a force to be reckoned with.

Could She Do It Again
: Now that I finally updated my ranking of Survivor winners, it's already a relic thanks to another season.  Sigh.  The ranking might be outdated in another way since it's hard to say that Natalie doesn't deserve a very high placement --- I'm hard-pressed to necessarily find a real weak spot in her game.  Good at challenges, good social player, found an idol, very smart strategically…what am I missing here?

As noted earlier, Natalie had to do a fair amount of scrambling despite her fairly solid position in an alliance, making it one of my favourite types of Survivor wins -- one that's equal parts dominant (to show how a player owned their season) and improvised (to show how a player can scramble).  It really shows off a player's strengths to win in such a way, and you could almost say that Natalie's victory is only a slightly lesser version of a Kim Spradlin-esque evisceration of the game.  The only thing keeping Natalie from the really top tier is that her life in the game essentially hinged on nobody voting her out at F4, yet even that was set up by her own decision to keep Keith around over Alec.  If Alec had been around at the end, Missy or Jaclyn are likely more apt to keep him because he's a total goat for FTC.  With likeable challenge-monster Keith still in the game, however, Natalie could realistically point to Keith as a bigger jury threat, leading Jaclyn/Missy to vote for him instead of her.  My guess is that a Natalie/Jaclyn/Keith final three probably leads to a Natalie victory anyway, though Nat should be credited for taking the easier path to a win.

I also guess that Natalie would face long odds at a repeat if she made another appearance on Survivor.  If Dale and company were already wary of the Twinnies before they ever set foot on the beach, future players will be even more worried of Natalie in a return appearance.  Clearly, Natalie's best strategy would be to return but say she's Nadiya --- everyone'll be like "oh, no problem, it's the 'bad' twin," and then be caught off-guard as Nat romps her way to victory again.

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