Natalie White: “I do want to make new friends. I love that.”

This is the third in a series of interviews with Survivor Samoa cast members.

Natalie WhiteNatalie White was recruited for Survivor Samoa after trying out for The Amazing Race with her boyfriend. While they made the finals, they were rejected, but she was later called and offered Survivor.

While she’s “definitely a fan” of the game, she doesn’t appear at first glance to be someone who’d do well living in the wild for 39 days. Natalie told me, “It’s a little out of my element. I’m probably not the most outdoorsy person–not that I can’t be, it’s just that I never really have been. … Most people think when they take a look at me, there’s no way she can get dirty or there’s no way she can handle being out in the wild with nothing to eat.” Natalie also said she played sports growing up and said there are “plenty of times I’ve been extremely dirty.”

Thus, “looks can be deceiving,” and as evidence, she said that during her pre-game time at Ponderosa, “I’ve gone several days without washing my hair,” and added “I’m comfortable with no makeup,” although she added, “of course I love the makeup.” Her fellow cast members, “hopefully, [are] being open minded and not just judging someone by the way they look,” just as she will “not judge them until we get out there and hopefully form a relationship.”

Building relationships was a refrain she hit on a lot during the interview, and at one point, she said, “I genuinely care about people, I do,” noting that while some people say they are not on Survivor to make friends, “I do want to make new friends. I love that. … I do hope to make friends. This is something that we’re going to share.” Natalie was definitely one of the most personable contestants, immediately asking me where I was from, and engaging me in conversation at various points rather than just answering questions.

That desire and ability to form relationships comes from her job. Natalie worked as a pharmaceutical sales rep until she quit to do be on Survivor, and leaving her job meant a lot since she “knew in high school” she wanted to be a rep. That was compounded by the fact that her job for the last year or so has been representing birth control and women’s health care, which Natalie said “was so me.” But for the opportunity, “I had to resign. I was heartbroken over it. … I really struggled a lot with having to resign” but “the company just doesn’t grant the personal leave.” She hopes she’ll “get hired back on” or find a similar job when she returns, as she’s not planning for Survivor to change her career. “I pretty much figured I’d come do this, get my life experience, hopefully win a million dollars, and go back and be a drug rep,” she told me.

Natalie expects her work in that industry to help her play the game. “This is definitely a game that requires a lot of thinking. You’ve really got to be able to read people. Hopefully, what I’ve done every day in my work live has enabled me to be able to read people and build relationships as well,” she said. With her competitors, Natalie hopes to be able to “see what their actions are, not just listen to what they say. Because honestly, words are cheap here,” she said. She said whether people lie isn’t a question; instead, “it’s just a matter of, can you determine if they are [lying], and how are you going to overcome it if so?”

When I asked if she’d lie, she wasn’t specific. “It’s hard–I mean, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t like to. It’ll be hard. It’s hard for me to say. I don’t want to say,” she said. She also said, “Anybody that’s put in a situation, if they want to win a million dollars, they’re going to do what it takes to win. It’ll be interesting, it’ll be hard to try–I don’t know, because I am very competitive, and I am unemployed now,” with no car, job, or health insurance, she added.

After avoiding the question, she admitted doing that: “One thing I’ve learned in life: Never say never. That’s why I’ve been straddling the line a little bit because I don’t know what I’m going to do until I get out there. What if I’m the first one eliminated and I don’t even have the chance to do any of this? I better not be!”

As you can see, Natalie talks a lot–not in an overtly annoying way, but rather like she’s thinking out loud, which is evident in the audio clip below. I admire that attribute in people, but I can’t imagine this is going to serve her well in the game, because it comes off as like she’s avoiding the subject at hand.

She also demonstrated a bit of paranoia late in our conversation, when she suddenly said, “you’re not going to take little clips when you ask me this and say, ‘She said this?'” Of course, that’s exactly what any journalist or interviewer does, and I said so (and if she thinks that’s problematic, wait until she sees how they edit her on TV). She then asked again who I wrote for, and said, “Yes, I’ve gone to that several times before. Oh dear. I should have looked at that stuff before. All I ask: Please shed me in a good light. Don’t make me look bad.” I’m not sure why she was so worried about that, because she’s nice and comes across as a genuine person.

Those people who aren’t as nice as she is might actually present a problem, though. “I hope people just aren’t malicious,” Natalie told me. “Because there’s honestly a difference between playing the game and being malicious, and I don’t feel like there’s any reason for that.” She later mentioned having “malicious intent” as being the most problematic thing, and I can’t imagine what she’ll think if she gets exposed to Russell H.’s strategy.

As to her strategy, Natalie wasn’t specific except to say, “Your strategy is going to have to be flexible and adaptable,” she said. “I have some basic ones that may or may not work; we’ll see when I get out there.”

Below, Natalie answers the “will you lie?” question, and also talks about her relationships with doctors’ offices that made it hard to leave her job:

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.