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Survivor 39 twist rumor: two returning winners

Survivor 39 twist rumor: two returning winners
Survivor host and showrunner Jeff Probst. (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment)

The reliable Survivor spoiler site Inside Survivor has posted a report about a potential twist for season 39, which is currently filming, and it involves two previous Survivor winners returning to the show—although not, apparently, to play the game.

Although details are scarce, the report says Sandra Diaz-Twine and Rob Mariano will return as non-playing mentors or advisers to the contestants.

Inside Survivor’s Martin Holmes reports:

“While details remain scarce at the moment, it’s believed that Rob and Sandra will be acting as “advisers” rather than active players in the game. The Survivor veterans are there to offer advice and guidance to the crop of new castaways competing on the season currently filming in Fiji.

… It’s currently unclear exactly how this concept will work or to what extent Rob and Sandra’s role is in the season. However, we don’t believe either returning player will be living at camp with the new castaways, at least not on a permanent basis. That would suggest the past champions are being kept separate from the cast and will only appear when called upon to give advice (perhaps as part of a reward or some sort of Exile twist).”

Sandra Diaz-Twine, Survivor Game Changers, Dirty Deed Sandra Diaz-Twine
Sandra’s look to camera was one of the highlights of Survivor Game Changers episode four, “Dirty Deed,” and illustrates my response to this twist. (Image from Survivor)

This is the second rumor Inside Survivor has posted this month about the 2019-2020 seasons of Survivor, and both involve winners of the CBS show returning. Previously, Martin Holmes reported that Survivor season 40 would be the long-awaited winners season.

But how would having two of the most high-profile winners of all time on season 39 affect their ability to participate in season 40, which films immediately afterwards, starting sometime in late May or early June?

I cannot imagine an epic all-winners season without them. Sandra is the show’s only two-time winner, and Rob played three times before he won Survivor: Redemption Island, thanks to new players who essentially bowed down to his celebrity and handed him $1 million.

Their presence on this new season—with a cast of new players, apparently—could be a kind of season-long version of the reward Debbie won on Survivor: Game Changers, when she spent time on a boat talking with previous winner John Cochran.

As I wrote then, this reward “was an eye-rolling waste of time, with Cochran making wild assumptions about other players based on Debbie’s limited information,” because she “did not take advantage of being able to talk to someone outside the game about the game.”

It’s very possible the Edge of Extinction will also return, because Survivor typically doesn’t introduce these kinds of major format changes and then immediately abandon them.

My favorite theory about this—and it’s totally crazy but also surprisingly plausible—is from True Dork Times’ Jeff Pitman: “Is it possible they’re unofficially auditioning to be the new host(s)?”

Now that would be an unexpected twist.

Is Survivor moving in the right direction here?

Survivor Edge of Extinction pizza reward, episode 10
This pile of wet, limp pizza from a Survivor Edge of Extinction reward seems like a better idea than the Survivor 39 twist. (Image from Survivor via CBS)

Sandra and Rob are probably not going to actually play the game nor be introduced to fans so they can take over as hosts, though again, I love the latter.

What it will more likely do is give the editors and producers someone else to focus on instead of the actual cast. That’s been a major problem these past few years, with lopsided edits, though last fall was a wonderful exception and wonderful season.

CBS executives and Survivor’s producing team seem to think that more twists and more returnees makes for a better show—or at least for more viewers. But I agree with Jeff Pitman’s assessment about the show’s general trajectory:

2018 Survivor fans: Int’l Survivor shows the format works, you just need good, interesting players

Survivor [Drops DvsG]: How about fun characters who play hard, plus a ton of twists?

Fans: That’s fine, because you mostly focused on the characters

Survivor [Drops EoE]: You meant you want returnees and even more twists, right?

Fans: Um…

Survivor [Drops 39]: Oh, you meant returnees that can’t be voted out, right?


As Survivor season 39 wraps up filming in the next few weeks, we’ll know more—especially since the new season and its big twists are usually teased at the end of the finale. That’s May 15, just three weeks from tonight.

Also read: Survivor season 40 appears to be the long-awaited all-winners season

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.


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