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Natalie Tenerelli remembers the adjustment back into society after playing Survivor. “It was weird,” she says. “I felt like an alien. A very hungry alien, at best! I just remember thinking, 'I can eat whenever I want to!’ I’d wake up at four in the morning and eat five bowls of cereal.” That is not uncommon for players forced to starve for up to 39 days in the hopes of winning a million dollars.

But, as hungry as she was, Natalie was not the one who tried to smuggle a peanut butter and jelly sandwich onto Survivor: Redemption Island. In her Quarantine Questionnaire, Natalie reveals that during the Loved Ones' visit, Boston Rob’s sister Heather tried to smuggle him a PB&J. There was only one problem: Natalie’s mother Tracie “caught her in the act!”

That’s just one of the juicy nuggets served up by Natalie as the youngest finalist in Survivor history — Natalie was only 19 when she lost in the finals to Rob — talks about playing the game as a teenager, the pressure she put on herself after returning back home, her union with another reality show veteran, and the note that host Jeff Probst wrote her after she was not selected by fans to return in Survivor: Second Chance. It’s everything you want, and then some.

Survivor
Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS via Getty Images

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you’ve been up to since appearing on Survivor. 

NATALIE TENERELLI: It’s so hard to believe that it has been over 10 years since my Survivor experience! I’ve evolved and grown so much since then. Soon after I got home from Nicaragua, I moved to L.A. and pursued my dance career. I danced for multiple sports teams including the Los Angeles Clippers for three years. The E! Network picked up a show on us dancers in my final season with the team where I was featured (as basically the worst dancer on the team). It’s all good now. I’ve since healed from that journey. Haha!

After hanging up my dancing shoes, I have worked as a fit model for brands including Patagonia, SavageX, Vans, and many more. Oh, and I have also met my guy, Dan Cox. He didn’t find love on The Bachelorette, so then we paired up! We both share the love for adventuring and seeing more of the world! This March when COVID hit, we launched Peaches.LA, which is an extension of my family’s peach/stone fruit farm. In a matter of weeks, we had a box engineered and tested to ship our insanely sought-after peaches nationwide. It’s been so rewarding to be a part of the family business and bring it to another level. That about wraps it up! A lot of learning and expanding in between.

What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?

Honestly, I’m most proud that I took the opportunity and threw myself into an experience far from anything I ever knew! I’m really proud of 19-year-old me for being daring enough to say yes fearlessly. I look back and now realize like a lot of Survivor contestants, it meant more than winning the million. I’m also very proud of the moment that I won the very first individual immunity on my season. That was the best feeling, especially because I was competing against some really athletic and strong individuals.

What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?

I don’t have any regrets. I played with my heart, because that was my strongest deck of cards at the time. I cringe at watching myself back on the screen because I know how much I have grown since then. 

What’s something that will blow fans’ minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?

When we had our loved ones out, Rob’s sister snuck a peanut butter and jelly sandwich [in] for Rob, but my mom caught her in the act! Haha! 

How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?

I think my edit was pretty fair and accurate to who I was on the show. I was a little timid and afraid to tell producers exactly what was happening in my brain. I didn’t even trust them when it came to gameplay! I guess that’s something that I have had to work on since my time on Survivor too — trusting people. What a concept! 

What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?  

It was weird. I felt like an alien. A very hungry alien, at best! I just remember thinking, “I can eat whenever I want to!” I’d wake up at four in the morning and eat five bowls of cereal. I also couldn’t tell anyone what I had been up to, so it was hard to see friends and be conspicuous while I had bug bites still healing, a tan like no other, and zero percent body fat. I also had broken up with my high school sweetheart before I left for the show, and on top of that, I didn't know what in the world I wanted to do in life.

It all felt very heavy at the time. I’ll be 30 in six months, and lately have been reminiscing a lot about my late teens and 20s. I wish I could have told myself, “Natalie, relax. It will all fall into place.” I put a lot of pressure on myself to do big things after Survivor. I felt so accomplished after spending 39 days living off the land, and everything else didn't feel good enough. 

Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?

There were absolutely moments of me feeling like maybe Survivor was too much for me to experience at the time. I was so young and naive then. Now I see it as the most crucial point in my life because it caused me to look inward more than ever. Watching yourself on TV is strange. I learned to be easier on myself after beating myself up for all the things I didn’t like seeing. At the end of the day, I’m a much better human for all the perspective Survivor has given me.

Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?

There was a ton of animosity between my castmates. I keep in touch with Rob and Andrea most. Rob is like a brother to me! We don’t talk too often, but I know he always has my back. I feel the same way about Andrea! I love that girl! I always love seeing Phillip at different Survivor events. He always has a positive energy and brings a smile to my face! Julie Berry wasn’t on my season but deserves a shout-out because she is one of my dearest friends and I can’t imagine not having met her.  

Do you still watch Survivor, and, if so, what’s your favorite season you were not on and why?

Of course I still watch! I live for Survivor Wednesdays! I think my favorite season would be Winners at War. It was so emotional and I felt invested in everyone's story. Every episode was pure entertainment. 

Who’s one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?

Parvati! She was who I looked up to for gameplay before I left for Survivor. I think she and I would have a ton of fun playing and scheming together. 

If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?

All of the twists give me massive anxiety! I’m sure it’s the part of my personality that I like to feel as though I have control of things, but sometimes I wish it was more like “old-school” Survivor — more attention to relationships rather than the excessive idol action!

Finally, would you play again if asked?

Yes, if given the opportunity I would go back! My heart starts beating really fast at the thought of my return. Ekkkkk! I feel like I’m such old news though! Maybe one day it will happen. Jeff did write me a note after I didn't make it back on Second Chance saying, "We do want you back, we just have to wait for the right season!” We will see. He possibly told everyone that to ease the pain! Ha!

To keep track of our daily Survivor Quarantine Questionnaires and get all latest updates, check out EW's Survivor hub, and follow Dalton on Twitter.

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