This is the fourth in a series of interviews with Survivor Heroes vs. Villains cast members.
Although Sandra Diaz-Twine hasn’t been on Survivor since she won six years ago, she was invited back to both of the prior all-star seasons. “Twice before they cut me off the list,” she told me, noting that for all-stars, “I had parasites so I couldn’t go back,” and for Micronesia, “the day before I was flying out, they scratched me off the list.” That has affected her demeanor going into season 20. “I’ve been really relaxed about the whole thing,” she said.
But that doesn’t mean she’s not confident, and Sandra was already playing and thinking even as she sat down for our interview. “Just now in the hallway, did you see that board?” she asked. “There’s 19 people on that board; I’m like, that doesn’t make sense.” She’d read the list that was being used to keep track of which contestant had spoken to each media outlet, and had already realized that either one cast member would be sent home early, or “there’s more people out there somewhere” (that would be Russell Hantz, who wasn’t present in L.A. for the media interviews).
I remember liking Sandra as a player and a character, but it’s been so long I forgot exactly why, at least until she started talking and her hysterically biting personality and non-nonsense attitude became evident. For example, she rejected a standard game-play argument (“just because they’re strong don’t mean shit”), and talking about various players, said that they may have learned from their mistakes. “I hope [James] ain’t such a dummy that he’s going to be carrying Parvati across the sand” again, she said.
Sandra is not worried about being targeted because she’s a winner. “No. They went the first time around, I know. But at the same time, there’s some people here that others might hate. There’s people here who back-stabbed them. So I think everybody’s going to be on pins and needles; not just me because I won.” Specifically, she said, “Randy, they hated him; Coach, they don’t give a shit about him, either.” And she said, “JT just finished winning so he should have the bulk of his money still.”
Despite winning $1 million, Sandra works Monday through Friday as a drive-through teller at a bank and has what she describes as a normal life; on weekends, it’s “cut the grass, clean the house, go grocery shopping.” Winning simply “made it easier, because I don’t worry about finances. I’m still the same penny-pincher I was before,” Sandra said. While she’s away, her sister is taking care of her kids because “my husband’s in Afghanistan again for the third time.” And she joked, “my kids, I don’t think they love me any more,” adding that “they don’t even care” that she’s back on the show.
Survivor has changed since Sandra played it, she thinks. “When they first started out, those people suffered out there. Now it’s all these trips. I’m not knocking them, but I never got to go on shit,” she said. “They’re not out there really suffering for real. … I’m sure they don’t want people starving out there, looking like, what’s her name, Courtney. She looked like skin and bones. Everybody’s like, girl’s gotta be bulimic or anorexic, one of those two. She is skin and bones. Guess she can’t help that.”
Although Sandra told me she has no pre-season alliances (“The only one I really know is Rupert,” she said, noting that she has only met three others, and hasn’t even seen Rupert in years.) and was careful to point that well-defined strategies don’t work, she plans to play basically the same game she did during Survivor Pearl Islands,” and that involves manipulating others into having conflict and then voting with them as they get rid of each other. “The same thing I did before, it’ll work, because they’re dummies,” she said. (She describes that in detail below.)
Sandra knows who the “dummies” are “because I’ve watched all of the Survivors, you want to take a little from here, a little from there. And then watching these players play, you know what their weaknesses are, what they’re afraid of, who they’re afraid of, who betrayed them before that’s now trying to be their buddy.” Even though she’s been watching, Sandra also researched everyone who she thought would be on the show to remind herself of alliances and other things that might be helpful; she said she’d forgotten, for example, that this will be Cirie’s third time on the show.
Of those like Cirie who are back again, she said, “Why are you so wonderful that you’re coming to play a third time?” Sandra also mocked the lifers, saying that non-winners are “the others, they’re just the rest. We’ve got better things to do. The other ones, they’re the ones chasing fame and chasing the Los Angeles dream. You hear them all the time, I’m moving over there with blah blah, living in an apartment with people from Road Rules. You know, that’s not realistic.”
Listen to Sandra describe her winning strategy and explain why the same thing will work again, and tell a story about what happened when one of her customers got mad: