After arriving in the Brazillian highlands and gathering supplies for her stay in Tocantins, the 53-year-old bus driver from Louisville, KY was unanimously voted by her younger Jalapao tribemates to "not make the trek" with the rest of the tribe in a surprise "first impression vote" because of her older age. However, after learning in a second twist that she had not been eliminated from the competition -- and won a helicopter ride to her camp instead -- Sandy was able earn the respect of many of her tribemates and survive for 12 days before her ouster during the broadcast of last night's episode on CBS.
On Friday, Sandy talked to Reality TV World about how she felt she was able to bond with her tribemates following the "First impression vote," why she was so adament in trying to take all of Timbira's beans during the Jalapaos camp raid, and why she is much more like Sydney Wheeler than one may have thought.
Reality TV World: How much faith did you put into that pre-Tribal Council discussion with [James "JT" Thomas Jr.], [Stephen Fishbach] and [ Tamara "Taj" Johnson-George] where they said you had outperformed Sydney?
Sandy: Well you know, I was really taking it to heart when we were having the discussion in the water because Taj brought he fact up that I was a lot stronger than Sydney, which is true, and I was really hoping that JT and Stephen would jump on the bandwagon. And at the time it felt like that was really gonna be the case.
Reality TV World: You said in your exit statement that you had "stayed around a lot longer than [you] thought [you were] going to." Was that doubt [you had] because you were older than the rest of your tribe, or because of that "First Impression vote?" What was it?
Sandy: It was because of being the older lady and stuff. And I knew that after... they'd voted me out [I was like] "Oh man, what am I gonna do to change all this." And it hurt because I knew they [would vote] for the older people. But I did get a second chance to make a first impression, just with my strength in the challenges and stuff. So I was really proud of that.
Reality TV World: Actually, going back to that "First Impressions vote" at the beginning. Based on the show, you really seemed to believe that you were going to be going home -- was that really the case, or did you sense there was a second twist coming?
Sandy: Um, I knew I wasn't going home. they had convinced me throughout the day before Tribal, they said "You're not going anywhere." And in my heart I knew they were telling me the truth and that [Carolina Eastwood] had basically sealed her own fate. I was so excited, enough that I didn't take my belongings because I just knew that I wasn't going home. I was just so excited.
Reality TV World: What about just that First Impression vote itself? Did you think you were gone then or did you think something else was happening?
Sandy: Oh! I'm sorry! Yes. I thought that I was going home and I was hurt so much in my innards -- I misunderstood what you were asking.
Reality TV World: Oh that's alright, no problem...
Sandy: (continuing) But I really thought I was actually leaving, that I was out of the game itself, and oh my, it just crushed my heart. And so of course once [Survivor host Jeff Probst] asked me how I felt I said I was pissed, and I was.
But I was more hurt than I was pissed. I was really hurt thinking I was going home.
Reality TV World: After you arrived at the camp [ahead of everyone else] in that helicopter, you decided to look for the hidden Immunity Idol instead of building camp. Did you ever consider not looking for the Idol or was it a quick decision for you?
Sandy: No, I was in it to play the game, and I think what you have to do is protect number one, which is yourself, and the Idol was my protection. Building the camp was not going to impress them in any way.
It might have, but it wasn't gonna assure me a spot in the game, ok? So as far as the assurance, the Idol would have and if I had it to do over I would do the exact same thing.
Reality TV World: Okay, and that's even after seeing [Sierra Reed] having chosen [to build camp] and it seemed to win her some points with her tribe?
Reality TV World: Okay. At the Tribal Council, you said that you felt you had found your place in the tribe and had been able to erase that initial vote. Do you still feel that way, and if so what did you do to help find your place in the tribe and earn their respect?
Sandy: By being really strong in the challenges. I really put forth the best foot forward and I really participated hard and I worked hard in the challenges, so therefore it really gave them some respect for the older lady. It was like "Gosh you really are a strong person," and that's what really changed the persona about me. It was like "She's not just the 53-year-old woman. She's a woman that's in this game to play and she's strong at playing it physically."
Reality TV World: We know [Spencer Duhm] seemed to have no inkling about it, but did you know anything about the "dual tribe alliance" that was Taj -- and eventually Stephen -- were forming while you were on the show? Did anything make you suspicious?
Sandy: No, no. Not nary an inkling about that at all. None whatsoever. No.
Reality TV World: The preview for next week seemed to show Timbira figuring out what [Brendan Synnott] was doing, but did anyone on Jalapao get a little suspicious with Taj going back to Exile three times in a row?
Sandy: No, no we weren't suspicious at all. The only reason we kept sending the same person -- Brendan -- was to assure us of who would have the Idol if in fact he had found it. And as far as Taj going, it just goes that he picked her, you know the luck of the draw. We didn't ever have any bad feelings about her being there.
Reality TV World: It seemed like your tribe had a strong reaction to Taj's revelation that she was married to former NFL player Eddie George and [didn't need the prize] money, but unlike what has happened in Survivor before, most people didn't seem to see that as a good reason to vote her off immediately -- do you know why that was the case?
Sandy: This is my perception, and this is what I think. I said that by her revealing that she was married to Eddie George, a former Heisman Trophy winner, there were a lot of sports guys on [the show]. All four of these guys love sports, well Stephen didn't know too much about football but [Joe Dowdle], JT and Spencer did, and let me tell you what, I said they'll keep her in the game because of Eddie George, not because of her, and I felt in my heart that was gonna be the case.
Reality TV World: Based on the show, you seemed to be the only one that was upset with JT and Joe's decision to leave Timbira with beans. Why hadn't the entire tribe talked about what it wanted to take from them before JT and Joe went over to the other tribe?
Sandy: Well we didn't get a chance to really discuss it. We knew we wanted them to get the beans because we knew they had 'em. But even if I suggested it they wouldn't have done it because their theory was "Well when there's a merge we want to make sure we have food and all that." But my theory on it is if you have another battle or war to fight with people and they've got 50 guns, why are you gonna leave them 10 guns to shoot back at you. I thought that they should've taken all the ammunition, but that's just the 30-year-difference between my mind thoughts and theirs.
Reality TV World: Okay because my next question was going to be did you understand what their reasoning where they didn't want, if [the tribes] got reshuffled that they would get...
Sandy: It was because they thought about, which may be batter on their part, they're thinking about the future. I'm thinking about the game at the time. And that might be a downfall for me but I'm thinking about what keeps me in the game right now, and it woulda really brought down Timbira fast had they took all of their food. I mean, it would've brought them down fast because those elements are brutal, and with no food you get no nourishment and it would've been excellent [for our tribe]. But they chose to leave 'em some beans and I didn't understand it and I still don't.
Reality TV World: How did you guys decide who was going to go on the raid?
Sandy: We decided JP and Joe because they held the most weight and that's how it came, "We'll just let you two guys go."
I would've loved to have gone.
Reality TV World: When we talked to Carolina, she said that JT was basically running your tribe the first few days. Was that still the case when you got voted off on Day 12?
Sandy: I'm not gonna say that he was running the tribe as much as he was just... there isn't anything JT can't do. He can build, he has a fence company. He built the shelter, with the help of everybody else, but he was like the fabricator.
JT is great, he can fish. He's a man of many talents and so everybody saw that in him and was like "We need to keep him around because he keeps us going and he's good at what he does."
So I don't know that I would say much that he's the leader of the tribe as much as an insight saying "This guy's good. He keeps things going well."
Reality TV World: Were you aware of any alliances in your tribe by the time you got voted off?
Sandy: Yeah. Sydney and Joe were aligned pretty good, and then JT and Stephen was the thickest because opposites attract. Because there's JT, a farm boy, and Steven's a city boy from New York and that was the most prevalent alliance that I saw.
They were literally together... they were almost like Siamese twins, so Stephen did real well picking JT.
Reality TV World: Did you think you had any alliances?
Sandy: I had an alliance with Taj and I'm glad that she told me she would never write my name down, [and] she didn't, so that I was impressed with, that she held true to her word.
And I really felt that I was in there with JT and Stephen but they ended up going with the beauty over the strength.
Reality TV World: Yeah, and actually, regarding Sydney, it seemed like you didn't really like her trying to build alliances by flirting with all the guys too much. Could you comment about that a little?
Sandy: Well Sydney, she had the beauty and the brawn and the brain and the body and everything to do what she did. If I had the same I woulda done the same. I woulda probably been worse, I woulda been all up in it and I woulda been in way worse than her. She used it well, and she made the quote "I wear the boxer shorts because I had jeans." But she had the boxer shorts over her bathing suit. It's like "Well. you can run around in your bathing suit." Yeah, she played it well, she's playing that body, and then those looks, well. But she can.
Reality TV World: Were you surprised when Taj came out and said she didn't really care about her flirting with the guys?
Sandy: No, no, it didn't surprise me because Taj pretty much knew her own strength. Whether she was aware of it or not, I [saw] it a mile away, whenever she disclosed the fact that she's married to Eddie George and I thought "Well these guys will not get rid of her because of who she's married to. So pretty much, no, that didn't surprise me.
Reality TV World: Before the Tribal Council vote, you said that the vote's results would likely leave "a person or two upset pending the outcome." Were you talking about Joe and JT or someone else?
Sandy: Well I was talking about myself and Sydney because we were the two on the chopping block. That's the two I was really speaking of.
Reality TV World: What surprised you the most about the competition?
Sandy: Well, the fact, I guess, that I was on a tribe with (Pauses) Everybody on my tribe was younger than my two daughters -- I've got a 33 and a 36-year-old. And it's hard, I was on the outside of the circle for most of the time because i couldn't relate to their movies and their talking and all the music they listen to and so forth...
That was hard for me, very, very hard. So if I could've buddied up in there and said "Oh my God, what about this new song that came out or whatever." Well, we didn't have anything in common. So that was really hard.
Reality TV World: Is there anything that wasn't shown on the show that you wished had made it in?
Sandy: Yeah there's two things. One, I cleaned the fish, I filleted the fish that we actually caught, and I had to do it by the fire because [it was in the evening] and we catch it in the afternoon and so it was dark by the time they would make it back to the camp site and I filleted all the fish and I really wish they woulda shown that last night.
And then the other thing was [on yesterday's show], at 7AM in the morning before the [Reward Challenge] and I actually told them, I said "I had a dream last night that we had this challenge, it was really brutal, and they sent two members of our tribe got to raid the other team."
Yeah, I did that [in the morning] before we even actually went and participated in the really rough challenge where two of our guys went and raided [the other tribe]. I just wish they woulda showed that because it was a dream that came true. (Laughs)
Reality TV World: Who would you like to see win the season? In your exit statement you seemed to be pulling for one of your tribemates.
Sandy: Oh, Stephen, Definitely. I think that in the game of Survivor it's about somebody that's in a game in an element that's totally out of their realm, and Stephen is number one on my list. That's who I'm pulling for, lock, stock and barrel. And I think that he and JT will do a wonderful job together, in all honesty, and I really hope that they look at the whole picture and say okay, "JP's a cattle rancher and he's used to the majority of the elements that are here in Brazil, so Stephen really should win the million dollars."
Reality TV World: How were you cast for the show?
Sandy: I flew out to Seattle last year in May for an open audition and casting call, and from there it was like a snowball effect.