The Eyes— Listening Through The Bushes

The Pearl Islands consistently stands out as one of my favorite seasons of the Survivor series. It had a dynamic group of characters, with both sides of the spectrum represented. We had the big hero in Rupert and the ultimate villain in the despicable Johnny Fairplay.

We had a great theme with the pirate thing. I loved the pirate theme they integrated into this season. It provided for some interesting twists, like the Reward Challenge looting. It also set the stage for one of the most controversial, and exciting, twist in Survivor history: the Outcasts.

Let me make this clear right now while we’re on the subject: I really do not have a major problem with the Outcast twist. Yes, it goes against the complete philosophy of the game of Survivor. Yes, it resulted in the gain of two weaker players while losing a great one in Andrew Savage. Yes, it let someone completely undeserving have a shot at the million in the Final Two. So I hate the twist in CONCEPT, but the reason I have no problem with it was because it was extremely entertaining television.

Simply put, it was a lot of fun to watch. The two outcast episodes were extremely exciting and different, and I really enjoy watching them. So while this twist is representative of poor Survivor spirit, it does make for compelling television, and so therefore I deal with it.

Besides, it does also introduce some new, unique strategy elements to analyze, but that is not what we’re here for. Maybe in a future column somewhere down the road I can take a look at the strategic elements to the game introduced by the twist.

I also loved the Pearl Islands because the merge segment of the game, like the Amazon, was full of surprises. One tribe did not dominate the other, and every week, the boot was a surprise. This season was almost impossible to predict, and while that can be frustrating when you have to write a column where you analyze and predict the player’s strategies, I would much rather be entertained and surprised as a viewer.

And, last but not least, I loved the Pearl Islands because it produced my favorite winner of the ten thus far in Sandra Diaz-Twine.

In a season full of characters from both ends of the spectrum, Sandra was definitely a character. She was hilariously fun to watch, but more importantly than that, her strategy and approach to the game was pure genius. And that strategy of which I speak can be summed up in just one little phrase Sandra coined herself: “As long as it ain’t me.”

Ladies and gentlemen, that…is….IT! If you want to do well in Survivor, all you need to do is adopt that little philosophy. If you go out to the island with the mindset that if you make friends you won’t want to vote them out, then you will lose. Don’t even go out there, you’re just wasting your time.

If you want to win the million dollars, then you HAVE to be ruthless. It’s not a concept that’s very hard to grasp, but it can be hard to execute when pesky things like paranoia come into play. But it is truly as simple as this: always think along the wavelength that you are going to do whatever you need to make it through the next vote. Make sure it is someone else who is going home.

Which means, of course, you need to jump alliances. Now, will this always work? No, of course not. Just ask Rob Cesternino. No principle or piece of advice I can give you here will be 100% foolproof. After all, there are many elements to this game, and luck is part of it. However, this one little principle works most of the time. Sandra mastered it, and she became a million dollars richer because of it.



Well, I always hate to say bad things about the players that I particularly like, but let’s face it. Sandra’s strength in this game was not the challenges. Water was a weakness for her, especially. She did not win a single challenge, but in a lot of ways, that makes her ultimate victory even more admirable. She used the perfect strategy, she was blunt with others (more on that later), and she got all the way to the million without winning a single Immunity Challenge OR seeing her name pop up on a card once before the Jury vote. Other than that, there really is nothing more to be said in this section.



The Jury session was one thing Sandra did very well. Granted, she was sitting next to Lill, who was a former Outcast and someone who did not have the respect of the overall Jury. However, Sandra was no stick in the mud, either. She was herself. She did not try to hide anything. She was the same way in the Jury that she was on the island. For most people, this may not work. But Sandra was blunt, and had a way of delivering it so it could be funny. She answered all her questions bluntly and as honestly as possible, and she even scored some points by making the Jury laugh a couple of times. They even showed Jeff Probst chuckling at one comment!



Bluntness just seems to be Sandra’s way of doing things. I can’t really recall any contestant before or after her who was as honest at Tribal Council as her. There are a couple key moments that come to mind when it comes to Sandra responses. Most of them involve Johnny Fairplay in some way because it was clear she had distaste for him. She openly talked about how she had never “seen him wash a dish or clean a fish” and how he took afternoon naps after sleeping until noon. As I said before, it is very hard to be blunt and still do as well as Sandra did, and the approach is not recommended for the average player. However, you have to admire that in her. Before I wrap this section, I want to note a slight irony. At the Tribal Council after Sandra blew the gross food challenge for Drake because Michelle did not follow through with the plan, she said that she knew she blew it and felt that she should therefore be voted off. But she did not leave that night, in fact, she did not even get a single vote. She won without having a single vote cast against her the entire time. Tina was also in that same position. She blew the gross food challenge for Ogakor, said at the next Tribal Council that it was her fault and she deserved to go, and she never even received a single vote against her. Thought I’d make a quick note of the irony there.



Here are some highlights of Sandra’s game:

~ Her catchphrase, as I said, can not be beat. “As long as it ain’t me” is the attitude you MUST have if you are going to be successful in this game, no matter how hard it may be sometimes. If you go into the game with this mindset, it will not guarantee you victory, but it will give you a higher chance of going further, especially over players who do not share your mindset. Players like Sandra and Amazon’s Cesternino mastered the craft of alliance jumping. Sandra won the million bucks, Rob made the Final Three. There is the proof right there…you are not assured victory, but your chances of going farther increase dramatically. All you need to do is keep in mind this simple little phrase: “As long as it ain’t me.”

~ Sandra may not have been a challenge superstar, but she did everything else right, including LISTENING. I absolutely love Sandra’s trick of crawling through the bushes and eavesdropping on conversations. It was so sneaky…and so incredibly brilliant. Listening and observing are two major elements to success in this game. Always do your best to know your position within the tribe. This trick allowed Sandra to alert Tijuana and Darrah to the plots of Burton and Jon, and therefore secure her future by shaking up the alliance. But even then she wasn’t afraid to turn on Tijuana later when a better opportunity arose. So while all you future Survivor players out there may not get to listen through a bush, listening is a key element to this game, and Sandra did it better than anybody.

Well, next week I will be taking a break from analyzing the winners of this game because another season of Survivor is just around the corner. Two weeks from tonight, 16 new Survivors will begin the adventure of a lifetime in the Mayan ruins of Guatemala. And, of course, you know what this means! It is time next week for preliminary cast analysis of these men and women who will become the center of our attention every week until Christmas! I can’t wait for it, and I hope you’ll join me next week to see who I think will walk away from Guatemala a million dollars richer.

“See” you next week!

Join our newsletter

never miss the latest news, reviews, live event coverage, audio podcasts, exclusive interviews and commentary for Movies, TV, Music, Sports, Comics, Video Games!