Sandra has been on our screens since 2003, making up iconic catchphrases, fighting with some of the series’ most well-known characters, winning the game multiple times and just generally defining the medium. Her famous “anyone but me” strategy is long-debated, and her wins and game acumen sometimes derided by fans of her big-names rivals.
However, Sandra’s strengths are clear if you care to look – her awareness (for game, Jury and self) is second to none and she’s adaptable, dynamic and savvy. Her game has evolved, as well, through her seasons as needed, pointing to the intentionality of these skills in an even broader context.
If you haven’t seen any of the five seasons Sandra was on (first of all, how dare you?), we have you covered – with a chronological (and unfortunately necessarily spoiler-laden) rundown of her time on the show. By the end you’ll understand why “Queen Stays Queen, Adios”.
Sandra hit the beach in Pearl Islands, the show’s seventh season, and was immediately forced to beg, barter and steal (fittingly the premiere episode title) in the local markets of Panama, with her Spanish-speaking skills proving vital and her talent as a confessionalist immediately evident. An epic Pirate-themed battle between the Drake and Morgan tribes in the pre-merge, and a shock outcast twist of returning players who were supposed to have walked the plank, made for a messy merge for Sandra to duck and weave her way through.
Sandra’s first outing showcased so many of the traits we know and love – she spied in bushes and used that intel to change minds, she argued relentlessly with noted heel Johnny Fairplay, famously telling him that she could “get loud too”, and the legend goes that she never believed Fairplay’s grandma really died.
She lost allies along the way, but she rallied, sought revenge and jumped through the season’s voting bloc structure (decades before ‘voting blocs’ even became a thing) to get to the end. Late game power moves, like the girls teaming up to topple Fairplay and Burton, gently convincing Lil to take her to the end and an accidental-fish-dumping-turned-denial remain legendary.
Sandra came back as one of four winners in the season largely considered the best of all time, with the longest layoff of the whole cast. Forced to play from the bottom for a lot of the season – her tight group with Boston Rob was dismantled in the pre-merge and she went toe to toe with power player Russell through the rest of the game – Sandra’s scrappy ingenuity shone on her second winning game.
Hero (or Villain) moves include her all-out lie to Russell that Coach was coming for him (he wasn’t), sparing her and ally Courtney for the round and taking her through to merge, and the great awareness to know that Russell’s claims of beating her at the end (he wouldn’t) were unfounded to say the least. It’s fitting that her two most renowned sayings from the season – “I’ll lie, I don’t care, but I’ll make up a good lie” and “I don’t know about that” to Russell’s final tribal council bravado – perfectly illustrate these two moves. Also, she burned Russell’s hat.
In the end, the Jury rewarded quasi-Hero Sandra for her relationships, connections across the aisle and at least trying to do something about The Russell Problem™, an approach that’s aged remarkably well. Russell likely still doesn’t understand why this was enough to win but using being underestimated to her advantage was kind of the whole point.
Sandra came in to the 34th season with a legend status on an uneven returnee cast, which resulted in a pre-merge massacre of many of the big-name players, but Sandra’s most aggressive game ever took a different tack. Sparked with the world’s most painful almost alliance to short-lived rivalry with fellow winner Tony Vlachos, Sandra’s new signoff (the aforementioned “Queen Stays Queen, Adios”) narrated her savage gameplay, as she sent home her enemies and led this time from the front of the pack.
Once sheepishly laying blame over misplaced fish, Sandra 13 years on now gleefully gulped down sugar to start an all-out war between JT and Michaela, glancing at the camera as they argued behind her in an example of serious narrative evolution. It was a second swap tribe that immediately sent her home, as the last winner standing on the season, and about two weeks later than anyone thought she would go.
Teaming up with Boston Rob as secret mentors, Sandra’s fourth foray into Survivor wasn’t as a contestant, but as a teacher of sneaking, a giver of quizzes and a hider in a tiny box at Tribal Council. There was a giant statue of her head. This really happened.
Of course, the then only two-time winner had to come back for the all-winner season and, if you ask us, she should have been given two lives in the game. With an ever-present target on her back, Sandra actually teamed up with her former foes in Sarah and Tony, keeping her reasonably well insulated early. Sparring with Boston Rob due to an off-camera lie or miscommunication (you decide), but without access to him on her beach, Sandra took aim at his wife Amber, and then friend Tyson, because you don’t mess with the Queen.
It was another swap that saw Sandra’s demise as she sold Denise, soon to be nicknamed the Queen Slayer (you see where this is going), her Idol, allowing Denise to play both that idol and her own secret one to idol out the Queen off one vote, without even paying full price. I know there are a lot of unfortunate parts in that but, let’s be honest, she was playing with house money.
Sandra then became the only player that season to controversially and immediately leave the Edge of Extinction in an epically self-aware move that earned her somehow even more of my respect and a solo sojourn to scout Australia.
If you’re keeping count at home that’s two wins and two untimely exits, right after a swap, at day 16. I’m hoping Sandra’s journey this season follows more of the former, and she’s already impressing with her seed planting, awareness and expertise, but whatever place she comes, we’re undoubtedly lucky to have the Queen in Australia. Long may she reign.