“This is For My Baby” Sandra Diaz-Twine on Coming Out of Retirement for Australian Survivor

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“I meant it when I said I was retired!” Sandra Diaz-Twine, two-time Survivor winner exclaimed over Zoom while chatting to POPSUGAR Australia.

So what was it that brought the Queen of Survivor out of retirement to come down under and pick up her buff once again?

“The fact that it was a Blood vs Water, that I could take my daughter Nina out there,” Sandra replied. “I didn’t feel the need to go out there anymore. I’ve played two more times [since winning] and didn’t win, and you know, it’s not easy for me, I’m getting older.”

It was Nina’s desire to join the game and begin her own Survivor legacy that appealed to Sandra. 

“Nina tried out for  Survivor: David vs Goliath and got really far into the casting process,” Sandra shared. “I thought that they would cast her but then she didn’t get picked. It kind of hurt her a little bit. When the opportunity for Blood vs Water came up, I was like ‘oh my God, this is for my baby’.”

Asked if Nina is nervous about having some pretty big boots to fill, coming in as the daughter of the first two-time winner of Survivor, and one of only two people to ever win the game twice, Sandra said no.

“I know that she’s ready,” she said, adding that Nina was determined to go in and play her own game.

“Every episode of Survivor that I watch, I’m always talking junk, like ‘oh, they should’ve done this!’, she was like ‘Mum, you’re messing with my head, I know how to do it, I wanna do it my way. I can’t listen to you!’” she laughed. “She had to do it her way, and I had to sit back and say ‘you play your game, and I’ll play mine, and I’m not gonna worry about you’. Although I can’t help but worry about her, she’s my daughter.”

Once the pair were out there playing, however, Sandra said that it was “by far the most brutal” of all the seasons she’s played, and she’s played four times before now.

“The heat over there was so intense,” she said. “I could feel my arms burning, I could feel like, a sizzling of my skin.”

It wasn’t just the heat she had to contend with, though, but the freezing cold nights as well. Originally from Connecticut, now residing in North Carolina, Sandra is no stranger to the cold but said that they “were the most brutal, cold nights” she’d ever experienced.

“You don’t have blankets, you don’t have all those layers that you need when you’re going out into the cold weather,” she said. “The ground just takes the heat right out. My nose would feel so cold, my feet would be so cold, and I would sleep with my two pairs of socks on, my shoes stayed on my feet, and I would still wake up just shivering

“It was just so intense. I think the weather, the extreme environment there was even worse than the challenges, and the challenges were no joke.”

Sandra, who originally started watching Australian Survivor back in 2018, when her arch-nemesis and fellow Heroes vs Villains castaway Russel Hantz appeared on Champions vs Contenders (where he was voted out second), said that she rewatched some of the past seasons while in quarantine.

Asked if she has any favourite players, Sandra said she was a big fan of King George from Bankstown. Perhaps royalty is drawn to royalty?!

“Every season I have a favourite player, and even in American Survivor I gravitate toward the players who make it deep into the game; it’s hard to remember every single player,” she explained.

Naming the People’s Champion Luke Toki and Brains vs Brawn winner Hayley Leake as some of her faves, Sandra also said that she was happy when Looking for Alibrandi actress Pia Miranda won.

“I really enjoyed the entire Brains vs Brawn season, I was like ‘oh my God, King George, King George, King George!’” she exclaimed.

Regardless of who wins the game in the end, though, Sandra said that if they won, they “did exactly what they need to, to get the votes and get that cheque”. 

“Everyone plays it their own way, every season is different, no two players are alike,” she said. “Even me, playing time and time again. For the most part, I can’t play the exact same game, because it’s different people, different places, different advantages, there’s so many different variables that you can’t play the exact same game.”

As for her strategy going into Australian Survivor, Sandra, who is best known for her social and strategic game, said that she had to shake things up in order to compete with the Aussies and our large-scale challenges.

“I think the social aspect of Survivor is very important, but when it comes to Australian Survivor, it is the physical,” she said, adding, “If you can’t contribute to your tribe, you’re in trouble, and I was like ‘oh my God, I’m gonna be in trouble’. 

She continued: “There’s such an emphasis on win, win, win and be strong, strong, strong, and that’s everything I’m not when it comes to challenges, so I was like ‘oh my God’.” 

Sandra laughed. “I was like: ‘Where’s the Sandra sit-out bench!’ There’s none of that!”

After seeing the way that George’s physical game (or lack thereof: he chose to sit out an immunity challenge), hurt his ability to win over the Brains vs Brawn jury, Sandra knew that she’d have to step it up.

“When my daughter and I were watching the previous seasons, she was like ‘Mum. Going to the gym once a day is not gonna be enough. You’re gonna have to go two times at least’,” Sandra laughed.

From there, she said that she had to start “getting mentally prepared” to really compete in the physical challenges.

“I was like ‘I don’t want them to vote me out just because of that. I want them to really get to know me and give me an opportunity’,” she explained.

As for King George, Sandra said to not count him out for a win in the future.

“I’ve been looking at his Instagram, he’s been in the gym! So if he goes back, you’ll see a different George, that’s for damn sure!”

Australian Survivor: Blood vs Water premieres on January 31 at 7.30pm on Channel 10 and 10play.

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