Among the 20 castaways competing for the one million dollars on Survivor: Island of the Idols, there is an Olympic medalist, a former NHL star, and a professional poker player. Despite the notoriety that this accomplished, diverse cast brings, until the season begins, they are merely backup dancers to headliners Sandra Diaz-Twine and Boston Rob Mariano.
The dynamic duo will be mentors on season 39, serving the role of college advisers as they guide a crop of the next generation of hopeful Survivor legends. As larger-than-life figures in their own right with three combined wins, nine total appearances and two giant statues, Sandra and Boston Rob are half of the double entendre theme; they are literal idols on a season that will feature, no doubt, an abundance of hidden immunity idols and advantages. Before we find out how their participation in the nascent apprenticeship twist unfolds, let's look back at their top 10 most iconic moments:
10. Sandra empties the sugar in Game Changers
When anyone discusses the Sandra strategy, three words immediately float to the surface: Anyone. But. Me. Successfully employed on both Pearl Islands and Heroes vs. Villains, Sandra was never the strongest physical specimen, nor was she the foremost social strategist. But, no matter what, she was always willing to cut ties with even her closest ally if it meant she would advance further in the game. Though her third try on Game Changers was short-lived, she showed flashes of that approach, none more notably than when she sowed division between J.T. Thomas and Michaela Bradshaw. Sandra knew that they were the only ones who used sugar that the tribe had won from a reward, so she ate all the sugar without telling either of them so that they would ultimately blame each other. That's exactly what happened. Thomas was voted out soon after.
9. Boston Rob throws the immunity idol clue in a volcano in Redemption Island
Redemption Island was more a coronation than a competition. On his fourth attempt at Sole Survivor, Boston Rob steamrollered his enemies and allies alike, amassing one of the most complete annihilations the show has ever seen from a winner. His most badass move took place in front of the cameras, when Rob, situated in the foreground of a volcano during a reward, said in his confessional that he didn't need the clue he just found because he already had the idol. He crowed, "It really doesn't matter what it says, because I already have the idol," and then promptly chucked the useless piece of paper into the concavity behind him.
8. Sandra spars with Tony Vlachos in Game Changers
Sandra came into Game Changers hoping to work with Tony Vlachos, expecting the pair to act as shields for each other because they were only two of three former winners on the season. That plan flew out the window when Tony started his erratic gameplay antics the second he hit the beach. After Ciera Eastin was voted out first, Sandra organized an overthrow of the Tony regime, and it led to an epic shouting match between the two Survivor behemoths at tribal council. As Tony walked up to Jeff Probst to have his torch snuffed, Sandra showed no mercy, telling him, "That's what you get, and the queen stays queen."
7. Boston Rob blindsides Hunter Ellis in Marquesas
Before Boston Rob became one of the most recognizable names in the franchise, he was just some cocksure 25-year-old with a penchant for stirring the pot. On the show's fourth season, Rob pulled together an earth-shattering blindside, voting out Hunter Ellis, the strongest physical player on the tribe, third overall. While Rob didn't make the jury on his first season, this move was significant in that it showed future Survivor players that it can not only be valuable but also flashy and exciting to favor loyalty over strength in the pre-merge phase of the game.
6. Sandra (finally) gets voted out in Game Changers
Despite falling a few votes shy of the merge in Game Changers, it was remarkable Sandra made it as far as she did in the show's 34th season. As the only two-time winner, she should have been target numero uno. Instead, she turned in a performance that legitimized her previous two victories, skirting elimination until an unfortunate swap gave her tribe no choice but to vote her out. Before extinguishing her torch, Probst said, "Sandra, for the first time in 94 days of Survivor, the tribe has spoken." Sandra retorted, "Don't do it, Jeff," before receiving a round of applause from the tribe that finally ended her reign.
5. Sandra "can get loud too, what the f*ck!"
Survivor couldn't have handpicked a better foil for Sandra in her first season than Jonny Fairplay. While the other contestants fell for his cunning and deceit, Sandra was having none of it the entire time. The two fought throughout Pearl Islands, but no altercation was as iconic as the time they were arguing over which one of them was a better swimmer. At one point, Sandra had had enough. She stood from the tent, stuck her arms out, got right in the face of Fairplay and screamed, "I can get loud too, what the f*ck!" And she stayed loud, successfully claiming her case for the million dollars while Fairplay watched on from the jury.
4. Boston Rob climbs the stairs with his family on his back during Redemption Island
So much is discussed about Boston Rob's strategic chops that it's easy to overlook his dominance in the physical portion of the game. His most iconic challenge win came in the final six of Redemption Island, when Rob, near collapse, used the final puzzle step as a crutch to lift him up the stairs, an emblematic image of his family on the back of his tank top. The game not yet over, the moment symbolized that Rob would give literally everything he had to ensure he brought home the goods for his wife and kids.
3. Boston Rob proposes to Amber Brkich at the All-Stars finale
Technically Boston Rob didn't win Survivor: All-Stars, but in every other sense, he did. The former construction worker bulldozed the field with Amber by his side, and when the jury decided he'd played too cutthroat to deserve the million, he found a way to win it another way. Before Probst read the votes during the live finale, Rob dropped to a knee and asked Amber to marry him. The two are still married to this day and have four daughters.
2. Boston Rob betrays Lex in All-Stars
When a wonky tribe swap put Amber in a precarious situation in All-Stars, Rob pulled his friend Lex van den Berghe aside after a challenge and told him, "You take care of her, I'll take care of you." Lex held up his end of the deal, convincing his tribe to take out Jerri Manthey instead of Amber. When the two tribes merged, Rob went back on his word, voting out Lex in the next tribal. Before that, the two engaged in a memorable heated exchange in which Rob told Lex, "The word I gave you was that if I could take care of you I will. I'm sorry, I cannot."
1. Sandra "doesn't know about that" in Heroes vs. Villains
In his mind, Russell Hantz was the one pulling all the strings in Heroes vs. Villains. He was so confident, in fact, that he had the audacity to tell Sandra at the final four that he'd be taking her to the end because he thought he could beat her. She shrugged off his bravado, telling him she'd be fine with the $100,000 consolation prize. To the cameras, however, she said, "Russell's keeping me around because I'll never get a single vote, but I don't know about that." Russell received no votes in final tribal council, while Sandra beat out Parvati Shallow for her second million dollars in as many tries.
Survivor: Island of the Idols premieres Wednesday, September 25th at 8 pm on CBS.