Over 20 seasons, more than 300 contestants have played “Survivor.” By our mathematically imprecise calculations, only 19 of them have won the million dollar top prize.
And only one of those contestants has won twice.
It’s no wonder that Sandra Diaz-Twine dubbed herself Queen of “Survivor” on Sunday (May 16) night after the “Heroes vs. Villains” jury picked her over Parvati Shallow as the show’s latest Sole Survivor. Coupled with her “Pearl Islands” win, Sandra is an unlikely, but difficult-to-dispute candidate for the title of the game’s greatest player.
HitFix caught up with Sandra to discuss why she expected Parvati to win, how losing her alliance helped her play better and which two players she’d want to play “Survivor” against in the future.
HitFix: Two-time winner. Has it sunk in yet?
Sandra Diaz-Twine: No, I still can’t believe I won. I thought Parvati had it.
HitFix: Really? Why?
SDT: Because everyone was talking about how wonderful her physical game was and how she won so many Individual Immunity challenges, especially when it was so necessary for her. I thought I had four votes and I thought she had five. It was just one vote that was separating us and I was like, “I know she has it.” I knew I had Rupert. I knew I had Courtney. I knew I had Candice. I was hoping to have Amanda, because I tried to save her. So I was just like, “Man, Parvati’s got this.” I never thought about it, all these months. I never thought about it.
SDT: Seriously. Parvati can tell you, I thought she had it.
HitFix: And how was that different from the first time you won?
SDT: The first time, it was wonderful. I really relished it. This time, it’s chaos, because we’ve still got drama. The first time you got to roam around the island, enjoy yourself, make conversation other than the game, find food together, build the shelter, make fire, sit around the fire, shoot the breeze. This time around, minute one, it was already chaos. It was all “Who’s got the numbers?” and “Who’s with what alliance?” Nobody cared about water or food or shelter. We didn’t care about nothing! All we cared about was the game and it’s because a lot of them were playing for the second or third time and they’d always lost. Me and Parvati were the only two who were winners on our tribe, so out of 10 of us, there were eight people who never made it, who never got it, who came close but never… So it was chaos.
HitFix: In the first All-Stars season, the winners were the first ones targeted and voted off. This season, it didn’t seem quite that explicitly targeted. Was it?
SDT: No, actually it was. On second one, not even minute one, on second one when we got out there, Randy came up to me and said to me, “We’ve decided Parvati goes first, cuz she’s already won.” And I’m think like, ‘Yo. Do you not realize who you’re talking to? You must not have seen my season or you wouldn’t have said that to me.” And I was like, “Randy, who is ‘We decided?’ Cuz me, my game, I need to be in the majority, so who is ‘We decided?’ who I didn’t know nothin’ about, cuz I’m not part of ‘We decided.'” So right then and there I’m like, “Oh my God. We just started and already they want Parvati gone?” So I went and told her, but by then she already knew from somebody within that clique, one of them already screwed it up and she already knew before I got to her.
HitFix: Why wasn’t that the sort of thing that led to an alliance between you and Parvati?
SDT: Because I was with Boston Rob and Courtney and she was with Russell and Danielle. But we did team up. Then we separated again. The teaming up was only short-lived. Then Russell and Boston Rob were going at it and we split again.
HitFix: Were you still watching her back at all?
SDT: I did. The one time my alliance did want her out, I did look out for her. I always figured as long as she’s in the game, I’m safe. But I didn’t have to say that to her. She had to have known what I was thinking. We’re on “Survivor.” As long as she’s in, I’m solid.
HitFix: Did you put any stock in finding yourself on the Villains tribe, in the beginning?
SDT: I was not happy at first. And then Jeff [Probst] was like, “Oh, you know. Because she has villainous traits, she’ll do what she has to do to stay in the game. She’ll stab you back or she’ll cut your throat.” And if that makes me a Villain, I was like, “OK. I respect Jeff. If he says I’m a Villain, then I’m a Villain.” But it was perfect, know what I’m saying? Because that’s what I needed to be.
HitFix: How do you think things would have played out if you’d been a Hero from the beginning?
SDT: Oh, they would’ve got me. They would’ve got me, because they were all about who’s they’re gonna eat muffins with and not making anybody mad and always saying the right thing, but I’m not like that. What I say, I say. It comes out of my mouth and I don’t think about it and I would have offended somebody.
HitFix: Tyson basically voting himself out felt like it was the turning point of the game for you. Does that sound right?
SDT: Yes. And not only that, but when I saw it on TV, I finally realized what happened. I was confused all this time. Nobody knew what. I was like, “Who here screwed it up?” Cuz I *knew* it couldn’t have been Tyson. Know what I’m saying? Who screwed it up? Who’s lying to my face and saying they’re with me, but they’re not? This cannot be!
HitFix: But as you said in your jury speech, from that point on, you found yourself scrambling and playing hard for the rest of the game. Do you think you’d have lasted as long if your alliance hadn’t been shot? Or did you play a better game under pressure?
SDT: Oh, I think I played a better game. Not only that, but a lot wasn’t shown on TV, but I played Russell like a fiddle. I would tell him, “Look, Russell. You can’t take Jerri to the end. She does things with Rupert. They’re friends. They were on All-Stars together. Her and Colby, although they had a rocky relationship the first two times they went on ‘Survivor,’ they’re friends now. And Coach is in love her. If you vote me off, I’m gonna go with them. I’m gonna vote with her. You can’t afford to lose one more vote, or you’re not gonna win.’ I would listen to the thinks he would say, like “Oh Sandra, you’re so worthless” and I’d be like, “I know, Russell. But if you think about it, in ‘Survivor,’ nobody has ever gotten all the jury votes and if you take me to the end, you’re gonna get ’em all. You’ll set a new record.” And he ate it up, because Russell doesn’t know “Survivor.” OK? Russell got given a DVD for “Micronesia,” which was Parvati’s season, before he went to play Samoa and then he went and played Samoa and then he turned around 10 days later and played “Heroes vs. Villains” and he thought he got invited because he thought he won “Samoa.” And I’m like, “Dude, from my living room, sitting on my sofa, I knew you had lost that season. I mean, you’re dumb! How could you think you could have possibly won? Did you not listen to the jury?” And then he turns around and plays the same identical game and this is the guy who says he’s like the best strategic player ever? Get out of here! You’re delusional.
HitFix: When did you realize that he’s delusional? How quickly did you pick up on that?
SDT: Probably by Day Six. I want to say Day Six, because I was saying, “Yo, Russell, help me with this…” And he’s like, “I don’t do manual labor.” And I’m like, “What the hell does he do that he doesn’t do manual labor?” We’re on “Survivor.” I’m not gonna build a shelter for you to come lay in it every night. I don’t know what kind of game he’s playing. And for someone who’d been in Samoa, he had nothing to offer us. Where do we go for food? What do we do? What did you guys do? “I don’t know.” And I’m like, “This is fishy.” And he smelled like fish.
HitFix: Let’s talk about another turning point. How does the game go different for you if you’d convinced Candice not to flip?
SDT: Russell would have gone home. That’s all I know, because that’s all I wanted to know. I wanted to know that Russell was going home before me, because I was a winner and I knew they’d come after me eventually. Russell would have gone home and then we would have taken out the rest of the Villains. But by then, I would have worked on the Heroes to where I would have gotten them to separate and I would have gotten into the majority and again, I probably would have gone all the way to the end. But I probably wouldn’t have had all the votes because… [She pauses.] Well yes I would have, because there would have been more Villains on the jury. It’s all about who’s on the jury, really.
HitFix: That sounds like a pretty reasonable circumstance under which you win either way.
SDT: It could happen. Trust me, when I’m out there and I’m playing in the sand with a stick, I figure it out. I run the numbers.
HitFix: One thing Jeff noted on Sunday really stood out to me, that you’ve won “Survivor” twice, but you’ve never won a challenge. Did that surprise you at all?
SDT: It doesn’t surprise me and, not only that, Colby messed up my other streak. Colby cast the first vote against me, ever. And that was the day he went home. So he messed me up, or else I could have gone two seasons without my name ever being on parchment until the win. That’s a queen right there. That’s me.
HitFix: But how does the not winning of challenges fit into your strategy?
SDT: OK, so if you watch “Survivor,” and I’m a pro because I’ve watched every season, when you’re a physical player, everyone loves you. Yes, the tribe loves you, you’re winning. But the minute you’re an individual and you’re a physical threat, you’re outnumbered by everyone else. Little by little, they all go. Jeff had said that Colby had won the most Individual Immunity challenges in the male category, right? And when he won his place on “All-Stars,” they voted him out right away, because he was a physical threat, correct? So this time, when we merged, the first thing the Villains said was that JT was the strongest and that Amanda and Candice were strong. Rupert, even with his broken toe, was still placed in front of Colby as far as strength in challenges. So Colby got left at the end and that’s exactly why. They saw him as a weak player in the challenges. Trust me when I tell you that I’m almost sure that Colby did that on purpose and it proves my point. Even Rupert’s broken toe jumps in front of Colby.
HitFix: And does not over-exerting also keep you fresher for the mental aspect of the game?
SDT: I’m all about the mental game. I was just like, “Man, I hope there’s a puzzle…” but after a while, even on the last challenge, you’re like, “Hmmm… I wouldn’t want to win this, because whoever votes off that last player, the one who doesn’t make it to the end is usually pissed off.” Because you’ve gone together so far and yet you decide that because you won that you don’t want to go up against me because I’d win? Well guess what? You ain’t gonna win, cuz I’m not gonna give you my vote! Right? Am I right or am I right? Trust me, I watch “Survivor.”
HitFix: So you’re 2-for-2. Would you do this a third time?
SDT: I would.
HitFix: No worries about messing with that perfect record?
SDT: I don’t want to be the only queen out there. I want you to bring out Richard Hatch. And bring Russell while you’re at it. Let me teach him a lesson.
The full season of “Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains” Exit Interviews: