Third time ended up not being the charm for Sandra Diaz-Twine on Survivor.
The two-time champion was voted out on Wednesday's episode of Game Changers, but says the only surprise was that she managed to last that long into the season. "Although I did get voted off, which I totally expected to happen eventually, I still feel like I played a successful game," Sandra tells TVGuide.com.
Read our full interview with Sandra to find out why the idea of an all-winners season concerns her, the details of her rivalry with Tony, and why she believes Game Changers is the best season she's played.
You've never had your torch snuffed before. Heading into Tribal Council, did you expect to go home, and were you surprised you hadn't been voted out before now?
Sandra: I was surprised, considering I had gone to so many Tribal Councils. But I was aligned with the right amount of people and the right people for my game. But I knew that if Tai wasn't the target, that it would be me. Sarah had mentioned to me that she couldn't believe I had gone to so many Tribal Councils and that I was still in the game. So, that to me was an indicator that, hey, it's time to pack my bags, because these five are just going to tear me apart.
The minute I picked that wrong buff [at the swap], I just couldn't swallow. It was just, like, a lump. Like, oh my god, of all the things that could have gone wrong, this is it. Exile Island would have been wonderful for me ... because that's one Tribal Council I wouldn't have to have gone to. Even being back on the Mana tribe with Troyzan and Hali and Michaela and Aubry, those were four against the other three. So, anything would have been good except for where I ended up. I felt like how Caleb felt or how Troyzan felt, being one person going somewhere else, or J.T. being outnumbered five to one.
Did you think, going into the season, that you had a shot at winning?
Sandra: I knew that there was no way I was going to win, but with the right people I could potentially sit there on Day 39. But I was always prepared to go home. Me and my husband talked about it for nights. He was like, "Baby, they're going to try to do to you what you would do to them in a heartbeat, without thinking twice." So, essentially it was, get rid of me, because I won't have any issues getting rid of you, point blank. Somebody's got to go home. There's going to always be 19 upset people and only one winner. But I don't think I could have done anything else. It was just totally out of my hands.
So, do you have any regrets about the way you played this time?
Sandra: There's nothing I wish I could have done differently. Because there was nothing really that I feel that I did wrong in my game. I was never going after Tony. I didn't even know J.T. was coming after me until after I saw it on TV. It wasn't like I didn't want to go with the winners to the end, because I would have totally been on board with it. I watch this game season after season, and you always learn and take things away from each episode. But I don't think I would have done anything different ... I made sure no one was coming after me Tribal Council after Tribal Council. I hated that I went to four out of five tribal councils and finally at the sixth Tribal Council, they got me. But at the end of the day, all that stuff is out of my control. So, I don't think there's anything I would have changed about how I played the game.
What happened at Tribal Council? Was there really as much confusion as we saw, or was that just skillful editing to keep the audience in suspense?
Sandra: I had had a 1:1 conversation with Ozzy, separate from everyone else. I said, "Ozzy, listen. Malcolm was my No. 1 guy and Malcolm is gone, and I want to offer you what I had offered Malcolm, which was, I was protect you, but you have to protect me first. You have to help me get to the merge, and then when you need me — which you will, because they will come after you — I'll be there to protect you." So, I had this conversation with Ozzy. He was all about it, to my face he was. And then for Tai to say, "Listen, I want to get rid of Ozzy," it was exactly what I was telling Ozzy. Tai, here he is just saying it out loud. But here's the thing. Tai kept grabbing onto his pocket, like he had a big rock or maybe an idol. And after watching that episode, he had two idols just sitting there. So, maybe it was the idol he was holding onto, but when they sent me packing and I was doing my interviews, I was saying, "I don't know what happened. Ozzy told me I was good." I think Ozzy was scared. If Tai had an idol in his pocket and played it, and Tai was really targeting Ozzy after all, Ozzy would have went home. So, that was where all the confusion was, and until I saw it on TV yesterday — yeah, I knew they were coming after me, but I didn't know that it was like that. I just thought they threw out a name or whatever. But for them to be, from the minute I got on that tribe, calculating my demise, they were just scared of me. And it was awesome to see, actually.
For a while, it really seemed like you had successfully shifted the focus to Tai.
Sandra: Well I'm sure a couple of them, after watching that, would have been like, crap, why didn't we? [Laughs] But oh, well. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.
You've played and won twice now. Aside from the obvious big difference, what else was different about this season for you? Do you have a favorite season that you've played?
Sandra: I was always happy about how Pearl Islandswent down, and then I loved Heroes vs Villains. And of course, those two were the top two seasons ever. I loved my win in Pearl Islands more than I loved my win in Heroes vs. Villains because that was my original season and I did it. But Game Changers, let me tell you, I want to say that I honestly believe that this season will top all the other seasons. I think it's just one Tribal Council after the other where Jeff [Probst] should be saying, "a Tribal you wouldn't want to miss," "a Tribal you'd better not miss," "a Tribal Council you won't want to miss." This season is awesome. Yes, a lot of good players went out early, but the caliber of players that we still have in this game are still going to blow your mind. These people have a lot of game left in them. They're out here for a reason. There's some good players out there, very calculating. You've still got Culpepper out there. You've still got Sarah out there. You still have Zeke out there, Aubry. Troyzan. All these people have something to offer Game Changers.
Jeff said you didn't even hesitate when you were asked to return. Is that true, even though you had to have known there would be this huge target on your back?
Sandra: When Lynne [Spillman, casting director] called me, I actually missed her call and I texted her back and I said "Whatever it is, the answer is yes." When Lynne calls you, it's only because they want you back on Survivor, you know? ... She calls me back and she's like, "Listen, we've got a couple of scenarios in the works but we wanted to know if you were available to play again," and I was like, "Oh, yeah." For them to be calling me, it didn't matter if it was all winners or half and half because I've already been there, done that, where it was just a couple of winners and I still managed to get to the end. So, to me, it doesn't scare me. ... I did say yes right away. I didn't even think twice about it.
What I would hesitate about now would be an all-winners [season], because I don't want any female coming after my crown! I don't want an all-winners season. But would I do it? Right after I got voted off I was like, man, I'm not going to do this again. I'm getting older. It's getting harder for me to put one step in front of the other. But a month after, then you're like, man, I can't wait for them to call me again, because I'm definitely going to go out there.
You said you weren't going after Tony but you guys did seem to have a bit of a rivalry and it seemed like you were really eager to get him out.
Sandra: No, that's not how it happened. Tony's name did not come out until after we lost the snake challenge. When Tony approached me for this alliance of five people, he said "Me, you, Aubry, Caleb and Malcolm, but I haven't talked to Caleb and I haven't talked to Malcolm yet." So, I tell Malcolm because Malcolm is my No. 1. Although Aubry's his No. 1, which I didn't know, Malcolm to me is my No. 1. So I say, "Malcolm, Tony's going to invite you into this five-person alliance now that Ciera's gone to take out the other four players left in the game." So what happens? A day later, Tony's had the opportunity to go both with Caleb alone and with Malcolm alone, and he still has not offered them this five-person alliance that he talked to me about. So, now I'm getting fishy and suspicious. Like, why has he had so many opportunities, when they went fishing or when... hasn't he said anything to them about this five-person alliance he's inviting me to?
So, then we lose the snake challenge and [Tony] grabs me and he says, "We've got to get rid of Jeff and we've got to get rid of Troyzan. They're both over 50 years old. Troyzan fell off the balance beam two times and Jeff couldn't hold up the head of the snake." So I go to Troyzan and I go to Jeff together and I said, "Listen, this is what he told me. These were his exact words. I want you both to grab him separately and find out where his head is at." He tells them both that they've got to get rid of me because I'm worthless. ... These are my guys, you know what I'm saying? ... So that's when he appears to go and try to get Malcolm and Caleb with Aubry against me. In the clip, you see that I said to Hali, "Hali, did Tony invite you into this five-person alliance?" Because now I'm thinking, if he hasn't said nothing to me about it again and he hasn't talked to Malcolm and Caleb, who is he talking to? Did he finally get the five people that he wanted? Tony in his interview said that he had this five-person alliance, but to this day, Caleb and Malcolm had told me he never approached them in an alliance with me, only an alliance against me towards the end. So, I never went after Tony until Tony threw the first rock.
And the same with J.T. Until I saw on TV J.T. saying, "We've got to get rid of Sandra," I never plotted against J.T. When we got to that island, to the new tribe, I said, "J.T., it might look bleak. It looks like it's five against one, but you don't have anything to worry about because we've been trying to get Aubry out since Day 1." So he turns around as always, JT the snitch, and he goes and tells Aubry what I'm saying. "Sandra wants you out. Me and you need to stick together." It always shows Malcolm like, "Yeah, she's got to go." Malcolm was always like, "Sandra, you're not going anywhere, but if anyone says anything to me, I can't bring up any suspicions. I have to say, 'Yes, I agree,' like I'm on board. 'Yes, she has to go.'" But I was never after JT. This is the second time he came after me. He did it on Heroes and Villains. I forgave his actions then because he did vote for me for the million dollars. Then we get out on Game Changers here, he comes after me again. So, it was never my intention to take out these two players, but they threw the first stone.
I think it was Sarah who mentioned that you have a great ability to get people on your side. What's your technique?
Sandra: Every season that I play, I've always tried to find something in common with each and every person. Especially being a military wife and moving around all over the United States and whatnot, I always try to find something in common with everybody and try to really get to know them on a personal basis aside from the game. So, in the three days that I was there, I tried. I had a conversation with Sarah. I spoke to Zeke. I spoke to Andrea. The only one really I didn't talk to much was Tai, but a lot of times I found myself saying, like, "What? Huh?" ... I really couldn't understand him. And I really didn't want to touch him because, again, he was part of the Kaoh Rong four.
But, I loved this cast like no cast ever before. I've never cared for so many people from one season like I do for these Game Changers. They all are awesome. I respect each and every one of them, aside from what happened with me and Tony and J.T. We were in Vietnam together for 23 days. We really got to know each other. ... I really care for each and every one of them, and I know that it's gonna be the top season on Survivor.
Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on CBS.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)