Playing With Game Changers

Courtney Yates Talks Sandra Diaz-Twine

Courtney Yates talks about her former tribemate Sandra Diaz-Twine and her chances on Survivor: Game Changers.

Sandra Diaz-Twine is the only person in Survivor history to play twice and win twice. After taking home the million in Pearl Islands, she returned in Heroes vs. Villains, as a member of the Villains tribe. It’s here where she formed a strong friendship with Courtney Yates. The two women, perceived as the weakest members of the tribe, often found themselves sharing the sit-out bench together, but this just gave them more time to bond and crack jokes. They had a similar sense of humor plus a shared hatred of Russell Hantz. Sandra and Courtney were in the majority, until Tyson Apostol screwed up the split vote, allowing Russell’s idol play on Parvati Shallow to change the game. Coach Wade and Jerri Manthey soon flipped, eliminating Boston Rob, and leaving “rice and beans” on the outs. Sandra was able to come up with a lie, convincing Russell that Coach was coming after him, and it spared her and Courtney for an extra three days. But when the Villains lost again, there was nowhere to hide, and Sandra had to vote out her closest ally. In the end, Courtney voted for Sandra to win the game.

Inside Survivor reached out to Courtney to get her thoughts on Sandra’s return to Survivor: Game Changers.

Disclaimer: This interview was conducted in June 2016 while Survivor: Game Changers was still filming in Fiji.

1) Hey Courtney, thanks for doing this. You were the “beans” to Sandra’s “rice” in Heroes vs. Villains, what was your opinion of Sandra going into that season? And what was it about her that made you get along so well?

During the casting process for Survivor: China, they showed me the Pearl Islands season making Sandra one of the few Survivors I actually knew from “TV,” so I admit there was a little bit of star-struck “OMG Sandra!!!!” initially. Then on location in the pre-game “gag order” time, we happened to be sitting back to back away from the pre-game babysitters, and I hear her iconic voice, “Courtney I wish you well. Are you wearing red?” And I was like “SHE KNOWS MY NAME!” *dying* That was such a slick way to connect. I was sold on her from that moment.

As far as getting along so well, she is smart and funny which gets you everywhere with me – those are my all time favorite qualities in people.

2) Sandra has had some hilarious confrontations with fellow players on her previous seasons. But people always seem to respect her for voicing her opinions. How does she get away with that where most other players wouldn’t? 

She gets away with everything because of her personal charisma and sense of humor. Being funny buys a ton of wiggle room with people in life and in the game of Survivor. She also has this amazing ability to wait for the right moment – where another person might be acting on emotion she’s pretty calculated in her confrontations.

3) Sandra’s strategy is commonly referred to as the “as long as it ain’t me” strategy. Is that how you perceive her game? Or is there more to it? How much game did Sandra talk with you?

Sandra looks at Survivor like a job; she goes to work. I think that is incredibly effective because she lets people say and do things without letting it touch her personally and she takes a big pause before reacting to anything. Adding on, in spite of her emotional distance with the game strategy, she makes genuine connections with people effortlessly. She’s super likable and can laugh at herself – qualities that absolutely enhance her game. In Heroes vs. Villains, we were a strategic pair for sure, but as you can imagine we spent a serious amount of time making fun of ourselves, each other and of course other people because we are Courtney and Sandra and that is what we do.

4) You and Sandra were both perceived as weak in challenges. How did you both navigate that perception? Season 34 has a lot of “challenge alpha types,” if Sandra’s tribe loses early is she at risk?

I think the bigger risk for Sandra is that she is literally undefeated in the game of Survivor, that will be a bigger issue for her than anything else! Oh did she fall off a balance beam a decade ago? Who cares?! She played twice and won twice against a variety of threatening people. How many “alphas” really win anyway? They usually end up warming the bench in the 7th place neighborhood.

5) How do you think she will change her game going into her third season? If you were her, how would you play it?

Sandra’s biggest asset is her ability to read situations and adapt instantly. If I were her, I would keep this as a strategy because it’s incredibly effective. She’s the Bruce Lee “be like water” Survivor player; she becomes what is required for that situation. Keep that Sandra!

6) Sandra always has an arch-nemesis in her seasons (Jonny Fairplay in Pearl Islands and Russell Hantz in Heroes vs. Villains). Who on this cast is going to play that role? Who is her biggest threat? 

Oh, I hope she has one! My guess is whoever is the worst; could be anyone. As a viewer and fan, I definitely hope she has one though. Burn all the hats!

7) On the flip side, who on this cast should she align with? Will she find her new “beans”?

Wow, hurting my feelings! I’m beans; there will be no new me. I do hope though that she makes strong connections with loyal people who help her in the game and make her laugh to pass the time. An influential friend in the jury is also always a good look!

8) Does being the only two-time winner make Sandra the biggest target? Or do you think that will subside once the game actually starts?

Could go either way. The two-time winner makes her an easy pick off; everyone can agree that they haven’t won twice, right? Great, bye Sandra! However, I would never, ever count her out. She could play it like she’ll never win a third million from a jury so everyone should keep her as an easy person to beat in the finals. However, she’s a two-time winner for a reason and if anyone could be a three-time winner my money is on Sandra – every time.

9) Putting you on the spot here, how far do you think Sandra will make it? And secondly, who is your overall pick to win?

See above. Obviously, I pick my girl to take it.

10) Lastly, before we let you go, what is new in the world of Courtney? When I interviewed Coach, he said, “The Dragonz are waiting for CBS to release the rights to produce an album and have a live concert in Times Square.” Should we expect The Dragonz comeback tour soon?

Haha! Well, clearly The Dragonz legacy continues to be a major creative influence! In the meantime, though, I focus pretty seriously on my work as a healer, combining hands-on bodywork with therapeutic movement to cultivate comfort, efficiency, and awareness in the human body. I’m a licensed massage therapist, practicing and teaching the Strenta Method of Medical Massage as well as ANYA Method Yoga and Pilates in beautiful NYC. Follow me on Twitter @CourtneyHYates and Instagram @Courtneyyates for events and updates!


Thanks again to Courtney for taking part. For more on Sandra, you can check out her cast retrospective and official cast bio. Stay tuned to Inside Survivor for more Playing With Game Changers interviews. Survivor: Game Changers premieres March 8, 2017, on CBS.

Written by

Martin Holmes

Martin is a freelance writer from England. He’s represented by Berlin Associates for comedy writing and writes about TV and entertainment, currently for TV Insider and Vulture, previously Digital Spy, ET Canada, and Yahoo. A finalist for the Shortlist Sitcom Search in 2012 for “Siblings,” Martin received his BA in English with Creative Writing from The University of Hull. Martin is the owner and editor-in-chief of Insider Survivor.

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