Over its 38 seasons, Survivor has had its fair share of memorable characters, from inimitable winners like Tony Vlachos and John Cochran, to strategic masterminds like Cirie Fields and any number of likeable people in between, but ever since Season 20, Heroes vs. Villains, one has stood out among the rest, the only two-time winner, Sandra Diaz-Twine.
In preparation for Season 39, Island of the Idols, Todd and Mary have been re-watching old seasons of Survivor that feature both Sandra and “Boston” Rob Mariano, and after finishing Game Changers one thing became clear, the title of Queen is not bestowed lightly, and it only belongs to one player. So in this post we will be talking about all things Sandra (and we might even include some Rob love as well).
A SPOILER WARNING, I GUESS? for Survivor: Pearl Islands, All-Stars, Heroes vs. Villains, Redemption Island, Game Changers, uh, and a bunch of others probably. Just, read at your own peril if you are not thoroughly versed in Survivor lore and don’t want to be spoiled.
Mary: I want to start by saying I wasn’t expecting to like Sandra so much. In the first episode of Pearl Islands, she aggressively bargained with locals (which TBH was a CHOICE on the part of producers--what in the world?) and just seemed very pushy. However, as the season went on, Sandra showed that she could be equal parts strategic and sass. She walked a fine line between those two categories for me, and it works really well. We got some straight up ICONIC moments in Pearl Islands, including Sandra telling Johnny Fairplay, “I CAN GET LOUD, TOO” when he was being, well, Johnny Fairplay.
But the most striking thing to me is that Sandra has done well on a strategy most people think isn’t worth pursuing. She sits back, listens to everyone, and makes sure that the name on everyone’s lips isn’t hers. And that’s pretty much it. Sandra has a social game that seems casual, but really I think it takes a lot of legwork on her part. She is quietly making everyone like her and not suspect her while low key sabotaging other people.
Todd: Mmhmm. Sandra is so good that in her third season (the only one she does not dominate), people have to keep actively reminding themselves how threatening she is. On the episode in which she is voted out (for the first time), players keep thinking, Maybe we should keep Sandra around? Even so, she is the final winner voted out, beating out both JT and Tony, who are both ranked pretty highly in the pantheon of Survivor winners themselves. Not only does she last longer than them, she manages to orchestrate both of their votes, meaning that Sandra is basically in control of the game until the Game Changers have to endure a 2nd swap that ends up killing Sandra’s game before the merge.
I will admit that it was surprising to me, on re-watching Sandra’s earlier seasons, how lowkey she plays throughout the game while still managing to win, and I think it says a lot about how good she is at building relationships with people and making them feel valued by her on a personal level that she manages to win twice. (It also doesn’t hurt that everyone in HvV hated Parvati.)
One of the things that we constantly found entertaining was how Sandra would speak her mind. Her line to Russell in HvV, “I’m against you, Russell” is an all-timer. Mary, do you have a favorite Sandra line or moment that stands out? (Besides the ones we have already mentioned.)
Mary: So many Sandra lines are iconic, but I particularly love the cockiness she comes in with in Game Changers. She immediately has a catch phrase, and says “The Queen stays Queen. Adios.” at EVERY TRIBAL. She doesn’t ultimately win the season, but she’s still my queen.
I appreciate Sandra because she’s what I like to think I’d be like on Survivor. I know I’d be no good at physical challenges, and Sandra’s not either. Actually, she’s trash at challenges. She rarely gets very far, but she’s a beast at social game. I can’t state enough that her social game doesn’t even seem like a game. The cast constantly has to remind themselves, as you said, that she’s won two times and is a threat. She just seems very nice and real and honest--and I think is until you start crossing her (a la Russell Hantz) or being annoying (a la Johnny Fairplay). Even in those moments, she’s just telling it like it is, not really being mean. Who wouldn’t want to scream “I can get loud, too!” when someone’s yelling at you?!
Todd: Which is why so many people love, Sandra, I think. She says what everyone at home is screaming at their television, and then she gets rewarded for her honesty. At one point in Game Changers she equates Survivor to her job, saying that while her husband works for the military, she comes out to Survivor and gets a check, and the level of confidence that she displays throughout the season would be galling if it came from anyone else (I’m looking at you, Hatch), but it is exciting when it comes from Sandra. It is rare that someone’s bluster is backed up by their results, and so when that happens, especially in an environment as seemingly random and luck-driven as Survivor, it is worthy of applause.
Mary: I also want to note, before we move on to Rob, that Sandra has a tender side, too. In Heroes Vs Villains, Sandra used the paint the group was given to make their sign to decorate her t-shirt for her family, sending out messages to her husband (who’s in the military and was, I think, deployed at the time) and her kids. I think a lot of people--including whoever was deciding who was a villain for that season--like to think Sandra’s heartless, but small things like the way she talks about her family show that she’s probably very nice in real life. Contrast that with someone like Russell Hantz (who it should be clear I dislike a lot) who had a wife and kids the entire time he was on the show, but never mentioned. Even when he was snuggling up with much younger female contestants. *insert eyeroll here*
Todd: Yeah, I think you are spot-on, Mary. I remember thinking at the time that many of the people on the Villains tribe were mis-judged, and none more than Sandra. Even when she has her “villainous” moments (like finishing off the sugar in Game Changers) it is clear that she does so out to get herself further in the game, and not out of a sense of malice.
On the other end of the spectrum from Sandra is “Boston” Rob, who basically played Survivor until he won. While Sandra’s game is entirely social, much of what Rob brings to the table is physical, whether building a shelter or excelling in challenges. I know we did not watch his 1st season, Marquesas, but what is your general impression of Rob, and what are you looking forward to from these two idols for Season 39?
Mary: Rob also seems like a good dude, for the most part, even though he also gets cast as a villain. You know that I have a tender spot in my heart for nice Survivor players (like Bob!). Rob might be better in physical challenges and around camp, but he also runs a tight social game. He uses alliances particularly well, I think, getting people to trust him and then deciding when to get rid of them for his own benefit. But the thing is, it doesn’t really seem...personal? I mean, if it was me getting voted out by Rob, I’d just have to respect it! In Redemption Island Rob basically had a cult going around him, a slew of contestants that did everything he told them to without question. And he picked them off one by one until he won. And honestly? That’s just impressive.
I also thoroughly enjoy Rob waxing poetic about alliances and showmances when he himself met his wife, the mother of his four children, on Survivor. Every time he said something about relationships being trouble, we’d turn to look at each other and say, TELL US MORE ROB. TELL US MORE ABOUT HOW THE RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR LITERAL WIFE HAPPENED.
Todd: Yes! It was very funny going back to watch some of All-Stars and having both Amber and Rob pretend like they were only interested in each other for the game. We were all so young and naive back then!
Mary: I’m looking forward to seeing the overall structure of Season 39. I’m not sure what capacity Sandra and Rob will be mentoring the contestants, but I highly suspect that at some point they’ll get in the game themselves! At least, that’s my biggest hope. If they do end up playing alongside their mentees, I think it could be really interesting because to win they’d almost have to switch up their typical gameplay. That could make for an interesting season! I’m truly hyped for Season 39, even though the most hype is being thrown at Season 40, the all-winners season--which Rob and Sandra will be back for! I’m excited to see Rob and Amber go head to head.
Todd: This theory is a good one, and I am similarly interested in seeing how both Rob and Sandra act as mentors for the next season. Does that mean there will be no tribe swaps? Or will only certain players get to interact with Rob and Sandra? Will they have an Odd Couple vibe or just be like old pals back together for a high school reunion? Only time will tell.
Mary: I’d honestly love it if there were tribe swaps and Rob and Sandra got the chance to say, no no, what the other Idol told you is crap! I’m wondering if it might be something like Exile Island, where the contestants will get to go commune with the mentors and then get back in the game.
Todd: I’d say that’s a pretty good bet. The question then will be if everyone knows about that or if only those who go to the island know. It might behoove someone to make like Sugar from Gabon and keep going back to the Island of the Idols to get more one-on-one time with Sandra (or Rob). Either way, it should be an interesting twist!
That’s it for now. Our next Survivor content will probably be first reactions to the cast, but until then, always remember: The Queen Stays Queen. Adios!