SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

They’re baaaaaaaaack. With seven seasons and three wins between them, Sandra Diaz-Twine and Boston Rob Mariano are without a doubt on the Mount Rushmore of Survivor players. Actually, they don’t even need a Mount Rushmore seeing as how the show made them their own enormous statues to celebrate their return for season 39, Survivor: Island of the Idols (premiering Sept. 25 on CBS). Why the hell did these two legends of the game choose to come back, and this time as mentors/advisors and not players competing for the million dollars? We asked the sages that and more in the first section of our five-part interview with the dynamic duo.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So why come back and do this again, and this time in the new role of advisors and not players?

BOSTON ROB MARIANO: My buddy Jeff called and he knew. I told him time and time again that I was done, I felt like after Redemption Island, I won the show, that was my goal all along. And I just felt fulfilled and that it would have to take something unique to get me back there, and Jeff called with this idea about the Island of the Idols. He wasn’t calling it that at the time. He told me, “Come back and mentor these kids. You have a lot to give, you can teach them. Pay it forward and teach them some of the lessons of the show that you know so well after playing for so many years, so many different times.”

So his pitch was appealing to me that I would have an opportunity, and it wasn’t just a gimmick. I told him, “Look, if we’re going to do it, then we got to walk the walk, it has to be authentic. I have to be out there, have to live it. I don’t want to just show up and preach a bunch of stuff if I’m not actually doing it because nobody’s going to respect that.”

It doesn’t matter what I’ve done in the past, I have to be doing it now. So we agreed on that and then you know how Survivor is: There are no cuts of the camera or anything like that, and there are no second takes. So the opportunity to host the show on this island — this segment, this part of it — was a huge responsibility. But the fact that he was willing to turn it over to Sandra and me to do that, it showed a lot of faith and it was a pretty awesome pitch. I felt like this was a unique experience that I’d be willing to come back to the show for.

SANDRA DIAZ-TWINE: When Jeff called me, he said, “I want to bring you and Boston Rob out as mentors, exactly what Cochran did on Game Changers,” and I guess a lot of people liked it. But instead of just for one episode or for just three hours or however long Cochran was out there on that boat, he wanted to do it for the whole season, and we would live on our own Island, but we wouldn’t be playing for the money and we didn’t have to go to challenges no more.

When he said we didn’t have to go to challenges, I was like “I am so there!’ Plus, it was Boston Rob. I’ve always felt like if there was anyone that I really, really would enjoy being out there with for that amount of time and I could get along with them very well with no issues, it would be Rob. So I said yes right away. I didn’t even have to think about it.

SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols
Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

How was building the shelter and setting up camp with just the two of you?

BOSTON ROB: Listen, we both bring different skill sets to the game, as you know. I give Sandra a lot of credit. She worked with me every single day doing everything that needed to be done. I’m not going to say she didn’t complain about it, but she worked with me every single day to get done what we needed to get done.

SANDRA: He does construction, so I understood, and I said, “Rob, I don’t know anything about building, construction, hammer, nails. I’ll just be your labor. You tell me what to do and I won’t complain.” And maybe I complained once or twice out there, but it was whatever he said we were going to work on that day. Like, if he said, “Okay, Sandra, I need you to go get wood,” or “Sandra, I need you to go find planks,” or “Sandra, I need you to break this or clear this out,” whatever he told me to do, I can’t recall ever getting into a fight with him over it. It never happened. I just did it because I knew that that was the most I could help him with was the labor because I didn’t know anything else.

In the past, a lot of times I would sit there and not make fire because there was always someone else making the fire. The fire was already made. But this time around, Rob was like, “Okay, I’m going to go spear fishing. When I get back, make sure the fire is going.” So okay, that’s my mission. I’m going to go collect firewood, I’m going to go get all my materials to start making the fire, and then I’d make the fire and have it going. Now I can’t depend on someone else to come and save me.

He gave me this specific thing to do, which was make fire, “Because I’m going to go catch the fish. I’m not going to go catch the fish and make the fire too. You need to have it going.” So that was my job for the day. Make the fire, by the time he comes, it’s ready to go. So I was learning from him, but now also it’s just me and him on this island and I have to contribute. I can’t wait for someone else to make the fire.

So I was put out there or he’d say like, “Go get coconuts.” So I got to go get coconuts. I can’t depend on somebody to get the coconuts for me. I got to figure out how I’m going to knock this coconut down, or I’m going to have to go through these bushes — and I hate bugs — and anything else and that’s part of Survivor. But now I’m forced to go get a couple of coconuts for us to eat, and then I’ll have to open them. I’ve opened coconuts before, but never constantly all the time, you know?

When you first got out there on the island, was there always a feeling of like, “Why the hell am I doing this again?”

BOSTON ROB: I love it. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I don’t. Seriously, I love the adventure of it. I remember being in Marquesas way back in 2002 and Mark Burnett pitching this epic adventure to all of us. And we’re sitting around listening to this guy with this British accent, and he had us, he had all of us. And I feel that every time I get back to the island.

The show is still as it was then. There’s something primal about it, and there’s something that’s genuinely enticing about that adventure to me. Yes, of course, the starving and being separated from everybody — and obviously now with the kids — it’s harder, but that was actually a selling point too. The fact that now the kids are going to be able to see what daddy did in his element instead of just hearing about it, it’s pretty awesome.

SANDRA: After the first three days, it got easier because by then we were like, “Okay, we’re definitely going to build something good. We definitely don’t want to get wet.” Then we have this cave. So we’re under the cave whenever it did rain, because at that time, it rained every day, so you couldn’t say, “Okay, I’m not going to do anything until it stops raining, because we don’t have adequate shelter, plus it’s not going to stop raining.” So I just got used to doing things soaking wet. I just saw it as usual, like a job.

For more Survivor scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Strangers starve themselves on an island for our amusement in the hopes of winning a million dollars, as host Jeff Probst implores them to "DIG DEEP!"

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