Sandra Diaz-Twine and Boston Rob Mariano came together for Survivor's 39th season, Island of the Idols, but it seems working together was out of the question for the show's landmark 40th season, Winners at War.
The Survivor legends will compete for a $2 million prize alongside notable alums Parvati Shallow, Ethan Zohn, Tyson Apostol and even Rob's wife, Amber Mariano, on the upcoming season. As Sandra and Rob hinted to ET, a line was drawn in the sand from the outset.
"Although I have played with Rob and I have spent 39 days with him [on Island of the Idols], I don't know what it was that he told Amber about me, but she was very standoffish," Sandra revealed. "In her interview that I saw about a week ago, she was talking about all the things Rob had told her about me. So, I think he messed her up. I feel like certain people came in with certain ideas. You can tell when someone wants to play with you and someone doesn't want to play with you."
Rob told ET that after spending time with Sandra on Island of the Idols, he knew "she would be a problem" on Winners at War.
"Sandra, as great as she is at the game of Survivor, I find her very easy to read, and I got the feeling that ultimately she would not want to work with me or my wife," he shared. "Sandra has, like a lot of people who have won the show, they have a reputation and an ego that they want to protect. So, if you can't put that aside in a season like this, it actually ends up determinative going further in the game."
"I just figured with so many people, you have a certain amount of people who are of the old school variety and some of the younger kids who play the game differently," Rob continued, noting the targets on his and other old-school players' backs. "It's just natural for the younger kids to want to take out the old school guys because it puts a notch in their belts and becomes a resume builder for them. So, in order to successfully make it further in the game as an old school player, those egos have to be set aside for the betterment of the group until it's just that group left and then you can eat each other."
"I didn't think that Sandra could put her ego aside," he bluntly stated. "So, I wouldn't say I was worried about her, but I was aware of that."
Sandra, meanwhile, said she "definitely" would have worked with Rob and Amber.
"When I was in Heroes vs. Villains with Rob, I think he got voted out on Day 18, if I'm not mistaken. But for those 18 days, I was all about my alliance, which was Boston Rob and Courtney [Yates]. No one can say anything different than that. I was down for my alliance. And then being out there with him for [Island of the Idols], I don't know what gave him the impression that he and Amber could not work with me," she said.
Sandra called Rob and Amber's behavior toward her this season "hurtful." "I'm at a loss for words because it just would have been nice if he just would have trusted me, just a little bit. Like, Amber has an interview out... and for about five, six minutes, she was talking about all the things Rob told her to be wary of with me. And I'm like, 'When did I ever give Rob this impression that I was dangerous towards them?' I don't know what happened," she recalled. "I honestly don't know what happened."
Amber told ET that there wasn't anyone she was "worried" about seeing on the beach. "I mean, I'm a friendly person. I can get along with anybody. I can make friends with anybody," she reasoned. "I didn't have, like, any old beef with anybody that I was so worried that I couldn't work through."
The mom of four only mentioned Sandra in her interview with ET as a way to illustrate the stakes of this season. "I mean, who doesn't want to be the winner of the season where you compete against all of the winners? Yeah, Sandra has won twice, but she played against people who hadn't won before. So, it's like getting the ultimate trophy," Amber said. "It's the biggest Survivor trophy there is."
"It's winning the Super Bowl, it's winning the World Series," she added. "So, not only are you winning a whole boatload of money, but you're getting that title. You are the best of the best, literally."
Heightened stakes and complex relationships coming into the game turned Winners at War into a "bloodbath," Sandra said.
"[It's] epic, awesome, a lot of strategy, a lot of backstabbing. A lot of deceit, a lot of lies, absolutely zero truth is being spoken out there. And either you're playing somebody or you're getting played -- it all depends on how you look at it. And a lot of sleepless nights. Like, you couldn't even blink out there," she described. "It was tough. It wasn't easy."
The potential beef between Sandra, Rob and Amber isn't the only drama fans can expect this season. In Sandra's candid interview with ET, the only two-time Survivor winner opened up about the players she's "done" with, why she decided to come back to the show and why Winners at War will be her last season.
ET: When did you find out you were coming back? Did you know before you signed on for Island of the Idols?
Sandra Diaz-Twine: Right before we left Island of the Idols, about 10 days before, Jeff [Probst] said to me and Rob together, he was like, "Would you guys be willing to come back and play?" And of course I always hurry up and say yes. Rob said no, but then I got a phone call once I got home to make it more legit. But I think he was just testing the waters. Jeff always knows, I've never said no to Jeff, never ever ever. But he never said it was going to be all winners, he just asked if we would be willing to come back. For me, Survivor is my life. I never thought I would be 17 years deep into Survivor, five seasons later.
You've already won twice and that puts a big target on your back. Did you believe you could win again?
I was thinking the same thing I thought for Game Changers, that if I got to the end, I don't think they would give me a third million dollars, but that would definitely be a reason for someone else to keep me around to secure their victory. Like, I would happily take $100,000, versus being among the first to be voted out. So I always look at it like that. If I can't get the million, I'll be happy with $100,000 and know that I'm final three, you know?
There seems to be a divide between old school and new school players this season. Did you feel that out there on the beach?
I think everyone equally had a target on their backs, but the more notable Survivors such as Rob, myself and Parvati, I think we were the top three -- oh, and Tyson -- that people would target off the bat. And we were all villains, us four. Because of the different ways that we each won our seasons or what people perceive us to be like, I think we were the four that had the biggest targets on our back, but at the same time too, you have to fear these new school players because they're so social too. And they know each other. I had met Ethan one time at All-Stars and never saw him again. There were players I had never met, and a lot of them had already been hanging around each other. So for me, I think everyone has a target on their backs.
But because me and Rob were coming off of Island of the Idols, I thought we had the biggest targets by far. Especially with the rumor online saying that me and Rob were in an alliance for 36 days and we made it to the end together. They didn't say we were mentors, sitting on an island waiting for visitors. They just said simply that we lasted 36 days, we were in an alliance and we went to the end.
There are a lot of pre-existing relationships this season, between you and Rob on Island of the Idols, and him and Amber being married. That must have affected the game-play incredibly.
Exactly. That is in fact one of the determining factors. You have people that have played together like Parvati, Tyson, me and Rob, and then you have -- I've played with Tony [Vlachos] and Sarah [Lacina]. Tony came after me and Sarah actually voted me out [previously], so it was hard, because you're like, "OK, so how long do I either play with these people?" Somebody's gotta take somebody out first. Who is it gonna be? So, it's a lot of confusion. It really is. It's so much confusion. So, all in all, Winners at War was a big... how do I say this nicely? A big clusterf**k. It was a lot of drama. It was really, really hard. It was really difficult.
For the most part, everyone I've spoken to seems happy with the season.
Oh no, I'm happy with the season. I know it's going to be awesome. It's probably going to be the No. 1, because we were so dysfunctional and I'm just dying to see what people said behind my back. That's all, because one thing is when they're in front of you, but the minute they're off with somebody else, they're talking sh*t. So, I'm dying to see what was being said.
There's the drama with Rob, but were there players you thought would really have your back in this game?
There were people playing with me that I thought had my back. I need therapy right now. Get me the psychiatrist; I'm hurting right now.
Some of the old school players this season haven't been out there for years, but you've been on the beach recently, including on Island of the Idols. Was that an advantage to you?
When I aligned with people, I aligned with people that were both old school and new school. And I felt like being on Island of the Idols, I actually had a leg up on the competition, because I had seen what Jamal had done out there, what Dean had done out there, I was like, "Oh man, I'm ready to implement all this stuff if need be." Devon's looking for idols, there's so many things you can take from good players along the way. And you want to be able to use it if you have to. So, I personally thought that -- I consider myself an old school player, but I know that I can keep up with the new school. I have no issues.
Was it harder for other old school players to adapt to how the game is played now? Some of them hadn't even played with immunity idols.
No, I'm sure every single person out there thought they were in a nice, big, cushy alliance and nothing could go wrong, except for the blindsides, which is half the game. If you can pull out a blindside, you're doing a good job. So, I want to think everyone who thought they had built the right connections and the right alliance with the right people until it was their turn. So, I think you're going to have 19 players who really are going to need a lot of therapy this season.
There's backstabbing in most seasons, but then players eventually get over it and move on. With the stakes so high this season, has the feeling of betrayal traveled off the show?
Oh yeah, because there's definitely people that I was friends with and then once the game started, that was it. We haven't even talked to this day. And there are several Survivors that are like that. So, we know it's a game of betrayal, but for a lot of us, like me, it's really not a game. It's my life, so it's not always just a game, get over it. It's not that easy. People make it out to be so easy. Like, "Go out there, and whatever happens, happens, and then you come home." But it's not that cut and dry. It's more than just a game. That's what a lot of people don't understand. And you have a lot of fans and criticizers who think they know every damn thing and they've never stepped a foot out there and played the game. So it wasn't easy. It wasn't easy because there were a lot of winners, and a lot of us know each other. I didn't know every single winner out there, but for the ones that I did know, I had special bonds with them, and that sh*t's done. Like, done.
This 40th season of Survivor is supposed to be a celebration, but what do you think the impact of this season will be for the fans?
Oh my god, for every single person, it has to be different, because every single fan is different. Like, there's some people that like certain aspects of the game, or they cheer on just specific Survivors no matter what they do, whether they're nice or kindhearted or mean or nasty. You know, there's so many different kinds of fans all over the world, so I don't know what each specific fan is going to take from this game, but I know that we were affected by it. I just wish that I had just stuck to what I knew best, which is, as long as it's not me, I didn't give a damn who went home. And I just... I don't know. I failed myself, I feel like it.
Would you play again?
No. I'm retired, unfortunately. This is it for me.
Did you make that decision as a result of Winners at War? How did you come to that conclusion?
My age. It's just harder to put one foot in front of the other when you wake up out there miserable with back pain and 45 and you can't put one foot in front of the other, and then you have to go to these physically demanding challenges that I just -- I like the easier, raggedy challenges from back in the day. (Laughs.) These ninja warrior challenges, they're not helpful.
Survivor: Winners at Warpremieres Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.