Will the Queen stay Queen? That’s the (two) million dollar question for Sandra Diaz-Twine, Survivor‘s only two-time champion, as she enters Season 40’s highly anticipated all-winners edition.
Survivor: Winners at War will pit her against some of the show’s most seasoned strategists — including Boston Rob Mariano, Sarah Lacina, Parvati Shallow, Kim Spradlin-Wolfe and more — as 20 past winners fight to the finish for a grand $2 million check and the title of Sole Survivor.
Known for her dominating performances in Pearl Islands and Heroes vs. Villains, and her “anyone but me” tactics, Diaz-Twine doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to her social game. “When I hate on somebody, it’s because they were talking s–t about me first,” she tells TVLine ahead of the show’s premiere (airing Wednesday at 8/7c on CBS).
Below, Diaz-Twine talks about the “brutal” all-winners season, her Survivor legacy and which castaway was first on her hit list.
TVLINE | Jeff Probst calls you up and asks you to play again. Is it an automatic “yes”?
When he called me for Island of the Idols, I said, “Whatever it is, Jeff, I’m there.” For this one, he mentioned it while we were out there, maybe 7-10 days before it finished, and right off the bat I said yes. Anytime Jeff calls me, I never even ask [what it is], I just say yes.
TVLINE | What was going through your mind when Probst dropped that $2 million twist?
Before he even announced it, I made a comment like, “Jeff, it better be $2 million!” I was the only one to say it out loud! We were there for $1 million, but it was like, oh my god, $2 million? Seventeen people will get voted off, and you don’t want to be one of those 17. You’re going to do whatever it takes to get to the end. Automatically, a switch went off and all bets were off. This was going to be brutal.
TVLINE | How does a player with as high of a profile as yours work her way in among a group of winners?
I had the biggest target on my back, and not only that, but a lot of them hadn’t seen the finale [of Season 39], so they didn’t know that me and Boston Rob were out there only as mentors. The rumor on the internet was that Rob and Sandra made it to Day 36, that we had gone to the end together as an alliance. My chances of getting far in the game were slim, but I was willing to take that risk because I know the kind of player I am.
TVLINE | What happens with old rivalries, like yours with Tony? Did those rivalries immediately flare up?
No. Tony and I were friends for 23 days in Vietnam because we traveled everywhere together. We got pretty close. But you can’t forget the fact that he came after me and I took him out, so he has to be wary of me. Even with Sarah, they actually threw the challenge to get rid of me, and Sarah was part of that. I want to get to the end, but when do I strike? When do I go after Sarah or Tony? That’s always always circulating in your brain.
TVLINE | Is anyone a bigger target than you?
No, because I’m the only two-time winner, and there’s no way in hell they’re going to want me to be a three-time winner. I knew they were going to come after me. Even when I played in Heroes vs. Villains, all the winners went one after the other, so I just needed to be the last winner voted out. In this one, I was like, “I’m going to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” We knew what we were getting into, but I wasn’t scared!
TVLINE | Who was high on your hit list?
When I first saw Amber, I didn’t even know who it was. I had never met Amber, never spoken two words to her. Boston Rob told me time and time again [that] Amber was over Survivor after she won, but I thought, “If Amber’s here, is Rob here? If Rob’s here, they have two chances of taking home $2 million.” They have better odds than anyone else and right there, she became Enemy Number 1. Then, I asked her something and she gave me a short answer and after that, I was just like f–k it. I was done. Boom. That quick. When you’re out there, you know who wants to play with you and who doesn’t.
TVLINE | How do you feel about there possibly being another two-time winner? Do you feel pressure to retain your status as the Queen of Survivor?
Yeah, but that’s by default, because the season is set up for someone to be a second- or third-time winner. I did this 10 years ago, 20 seasons ago, so even if there was to be another female winner, she still can’t touch me cuz I did this s–t a long time ago. Someone will have to win, but I became the queen because I won a second time and I won consecutively. I don’t hate on anybody, but at the end of the day, I will always be the true queen and the only queen in my eyes and the eyes of the fans.
TVLINE | How do you feel about the amount of advantages in the game lately?
I don’t understand why we have so many idols. After you find an idol, that should be it. I hate the idol nullifier. When I played my first time, there was no such thing as idols. You made sure you went to tribal council with your torch lit and you left with your torch lit. You didn’t spend the whole day looking for idols because that’s your only saving grace. You figured it out. My mouth is my saving grace, the relationships and bonds I build are my saving grace. Not digging and climbing trees and looking under rocks, none of that.
TVLINE | What does your Survivor legacy mean to you?
I never expected to still be a part of Survivor 17 years later. When you play, you think you’re only going to play one time and that’s it. You’re lucky if you get brought back a second time. When people say “The Queen of Survivor,” they know it’s Sandra. Who would’ve ever thought? Just because I won two times doesn’t make me the best player ever in Survivor history, but I’m up there. At the end of the day, when I go to events and everyone’s like “Oh my god, Sandra!” I love it. I engage with the fans, and I like to be approachable. I appreciate Survivor.
TVLINE | How do the newer players differ from the OGs?
This new generation of players is so much savvier. They don’t skip a beat. You have to find the level playing field where you can keep up, move forward, and adjust when adjustments need to be made. You can’t just play the old way, where you build an alliance with a core group of people and hope it takes you to the end, because that doesn’t work anymore. All-winners was very hard. And imagine, I’m 45! It doesn’t get easier for me playing with these young kids, man! But I’m glad I got the opportunity.
TVLINE | Please give us a tease for what’s about to go down!
It’s gonna be crazy! The all-winners season is everything the fans want and more. It’s like no other. These winners are pulling out tricks one after the other. You can’t even keep track. My head was spinning.
Which Survivor champ are you rooting for in “Winners at War”?