Speaking to two-time Survivor winner Sandra Diaz-Twine over Zoom one Monday morning, I tell her that I’m a huge fan and that my Survivor group chat is excited that I’m speaking to the Queen herself.
“Really?!” she says. “I figured by now people were getting tired of me because everything is like, Sandra the queen this, that, talking crap.”
“Finally they revealed the cast today, so I was like ‘thank the Lord!’” she says.
I ask her what it’s like to be one of the most beloved players in Survivor history.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” she says, adding that she “never expected” that people would respond to her as they have and be excited to meet her.
“But, everybody does not love me, and I get it,” she says. “I keep a level head, I just wanna be a regular person. A lot of people, once they meet me, they’re like ‘Sandra’s so down-to-earth, she’s so approachable’, and that’s what I want.”
Sandra is the second US Survivor contestant to appear on Australian Survivor, following Russell Hantz, who had played three times before joining Australian Survivor: Champions Vs. Contenders back in 2018. He was the first Champion voted out and has since slammed the Australian franchise on social media.
I ask if Sandra spoke to Russell before signing on to do Blood Vs. Water.
“No,” she says. “Russell is one of my true enemies in life. We do not talk. He’s always coming after me for various things. Just recently I was telling someone, I was like, ‘if Russell didn’t already hate me and Australian Survivor enough, he’s gonna hate this!’ He is gonna hate that I’m out there!”
I tell her that I think about her telling Russell “I’m against you, Russell” in Heroes Vs. Villains a lot, simply because it’s so iconic. You can watch it at the 3:55 mark in this fabulous compilation below.
She laughs. “He had known since day one that I was never his buddy, never his pal! Why even ask me that?” she says.
“My life in the game was holding on by a thread, by my fingernails,” she recalls. “I hated his guts! I couldn’t stand him, or his smell.”
Sandra — who was once told by US Survivor host Jeff Probst that she was placed on the Villains tribe because she was “the only one who would stab [her] mother in the back for a million dollars’” — says that there’s a significant difference in the way Aussies play Survivor, and it forced her to change her strategy going in.
“I felt like they were really, really nice!” she says of her Aussie tribemates. “Coming out there, everyone is so nice, but then they know who I am, and I’m like, ‘oh my God, how do I make them forget who I am!’”
“If everyone’s so nice they’re gonna come after me!” she explains. “I’m the American, I shouldn’t be on Australian Survivor! So for me, it was more of an under-the-radar kind of game.”
Sandra says that on her first season, everyone took time to get to know each other, their families, their situations, but by the time she returned for Heroes Vs. Villains in 2010, the game had changed, and it was a very different story.
“The game started minute one by the time we hit that beach,” she recalls. “By then there were several people who were playing for the third time, and they had chips on their shoulders, like ‘this might be my last opportunity to win this game’, so it was very fast-paced.”
After winning her first two seasons, Sandra was dubbed the ‘Queen of Survivor’ by the fans and stresses that she did not, in fact, give herself the title.
“I’ve been reading that the Australians are saying ‘the self-appointed Queen of Survivor’, I didn’t name myself the queen!” she says. “The fans were always saying ‘whoever wins out of Parvari [Shallow] and Sandra will be the Queen of Survivor because they’ll be the first player to win twice’.”
“I mean, yes, my sister brought a crown to the finale, she was ready, but other than that, you know, it was the fans,” she concedes with a laugh.
So what is it that keeps the queen coming back to play again? Plain and simple, she’s a fan of the show, just like the rest of us.
“I was always a fan, since the first time I played, since the first time I put in my application,” she says. “I told my husband, ‘I’m gonna go, and I’m gonna win’. And he said ‘you’re gonna be the first one voted out.’ He said, ‘you can’t survive, you won’t last three days, you hear what you wanna hear, you love to gossip, you can’t keep a secret, you’re horrible at physical things’.
“Next thing you know, he’s picking me up at the airport like ‘how’d you do?’ and I said ‘I went to the end’. So every night until that finale, he was like ‘you’re a liar, you’re lying! There’s no way you went to the end!”
After winning Pearl Islands, Sandra says she expected to be voted out early on in Heroes Vs. Villains, since previous winners are usually given the boot early on, but instead, she won, again.
Since then, she’s played twice more, and appeared as a mentor on Island of the Idols, alongside fellow Survivor legend, Boston Rob Mariano.
Despite not winning her later seasons, Sandra says she has no regrets.
“People say, ‘if she doesn’t win, she’s gonna damage her reputation’, but I love Survivor,” she says. “I could play 20 more times and lose 20 more times and still want to play the game and do the best that I can.”
In fact, after winning the game twice, Sandra says that she doesn’t go in expecting to win.
“I don’t think that they’ll allow me to get to the end and win anymore! But I give it my all,” she says.
As for whether we’ll see Sandra back on Survivor again in the future, who can say?
“I keep saying I’m retired, but I keep coming back!” she laughs. “As of right now, I’m retired again!”
For now, Sandra says that she’s ready to hang up her buff and pass the torch on to her daughter Nina.
Nina, who’s appearing on Blood Vs. Water with Sandra, auditioned for US Survivor’s David Vs. Goliath season, but wasn’t cast on the show in the end.
“I have passed the torch on, and she’s ready,” Sandra says. “She’s capable, she knows the game, I hope that American Survivor watches and says ‘damn, we messed up passing on her!’ She’s ready for whatever comes next!”
And what’s next for Sandra, if her Survivor retirement sticks this time?
“My husband has just retired from the army after 34 years,” she says. “We’re just getting back home to North Carolina, putting the house back together. We’re relaxing, chilling.”
“I’m retired, my husband is retired and we just got back from Mexico, too,” she says. “We spent 10 days in Mexico and we had a blast. We just wanna see the world, we really do!”