Arts & Culture

C.R.'s Lacina adds to Iowa's "Survivor" legacy

Lacina joins jury, will ultimately help decide winner

Sarah Lacina of Cedar Rapids won
Sarah Lacina of Cedar Rapids won “Survivor: Game Changers” on Mamanuca Islands, Fiji, in 2017, after being voted off the island in a 2013 “Survivor” challenge in the Philippines. She is returning to Fiji to compete against other winners from the past two decades on “Survivor : Winners at War,” premiering Wednesday on CBS-TV. (Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment ©2019 CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

Note: This article was originally published on April 9, 2014, the week after Cedar Rapids police officer Sarah Lacina was voted off in the sixth episode of “Survivor: Cagayan,” the CBS reality stalwart’s 28th season.

Lacina later returned for the show’s all-star 34th season, “Survivor: Game Changers,” in 2017. In her second effort, Lacina famously said, “Last time I played like a cop. This time, I’m playing like a criminal.” The plan worked as the Cedar Rapids police officer took home the $1 million prize, defeating retired NFL player Brad Culpepper and fashion photographer Troy “Troyzan” Robertson in a 7-3-0 vote.

Lacina returns for her third shot on the “Survivor” stage Feb. 13 in the show’s 40th season, “Survivor: Winners at War,” (7 p.m., KGAN), along with Marion sex therapist Denise Stapley, who emerged victorious in the show’s 25th season, “Survivor: Philippines,” in 2012.


Say what you want about Sarah Lacina's showing on "Survivor: Cagayan," at least she went out with a bang.

With her game now complete after seeing her torch get snuffed on the April 2 episode, the 29-year-old Cedar Rapids police officer now joins the ranks of an ever-growing list of Iowa alumni from the long-running CBS reality game, whose games all seem to end in one of two ways: Either sitting at the end with a shot at the $1 million prize or going out in spectacular fashion. Cedar Rapids can now claim one of each, with sex therapist Denise Stapley claiming the title of Sole Survivor with her victory in "Survivor: Philippines" in 2012. Lacina, on the other hand, exited the game following one of the most memorable, explosive tribal councils in the show's 28-season history.


This tweet makes absolutely zero sense to someone who doesn't speak fluent Survivor, but rest assured, it sums up the epic nature of the event perfectly: It succinctly describes four of the wildest, most unpredictable, nail-biting tribal councils in the first 27 seasons of the show.

Someone producing a hidden immunity idol in front of the group at tribal council, without declaring whether or it would actually get used.

Not one but two hidden immunity idols being played in a single tribal council.

Two people trading idols, only to see them go to waste as a third target shockingly materializes.

Someone flipping on a seemingly foolproof alliance, avoiding a Mexican standoff.

On April 2, Lacina's final episode, all four of them were repeated to some extent - in a single tribal council - before host Jeff Probst sent Lacina packing. That, "Survivor" fans, is a memorable exit.

With her ouster, Lacina became the first member of the jury, whose eight members will ultimately decide who will take home the $1 million grand prize and coveted title of Sole Survivor. The finale will air on KGAN on May 21.

Let's take another look at Lacina's game, as well as those of her Iowan predecessors:



Rory Freeman, "Survivor: Vanuatu - Islands of Fire" (Fall 2004)

An S8 housing case worker from Des Moines, Freeman was gruff, surly and opinionated. But he was also a hard worker and strong in challenges - traits that helped him survive a tribal swap where he was trapped against a powerful all-female alliance during the show's "Battle of the Sexes" ninth season. Telling the ladies that if he didn't have a shot at tribal council, they would have to build their own shelter and fires and find their own food, the ladies instead ate one of their own and allowed him to make it to the merge - where Freeman immediately jumped back to his original alliance of men. However, the men were betrayed by their own female defectors from the swap, surprising Rory as the final player voted out before the jury phase, kicking off the defining storyline of the season.

Twila Tanner, "Survivor: Vanuatu - Islands of Fire" (Fall 2004)

A native of Osceola, the hard-edged, tomboyish highway repair worker from Marshall, Mo., was one of the betrayers who rejoined the women at the merge and ousted Freeman. The ladies systematically took out the men one by one until only one remained - Ohio highway construction worker Chris Daugherty. However, Tanner and her closest ally - Oklahoma rancher Scout Cloud Lee - realized they were at the bottom of the ladies' pecking order; they then grabbed Daugherty and a fellow outsider - Syracuse pre-law student Eliza Orlins - and turned the tables on the female alliance's three kingpins. Tanner rode into the finals with Daugherty, but the women never forgave her for betraying them (she notoriously promised her loyalty to the women's alliance by swearing on her son's life, only to later break that promise). Alas, Daugherty was able to close out his remarkable comeback by defeating the final six women, winning the title of Sole Survivor in a 5-2 vote.

Susie Smith, "Survivor: Gabon - Earth's Last Eden" (Fall 2008)

The hairdresser from Charles City (she studied at North Iowa Area Community College and the Marshalltown Cosmetology School), considered annoying for her constant chattering, took advantage of a twist - a rare second pre-merge tribal swap - and wisely flipped on the power-drunk tribemates that had counted her out all game long right before the merge, creating a power shift that put her near the top of the pecking order for the remainder of the game. In post-game interviews, Smith herself has admitted that she rode the coattails of stronger players all the way to the final tribal council. However, her tribemates noticed . and she lost to lovable Maine physics teacher Bob Crowley by a narrow 4-3 vote.

Steve Wright, "Survivor: Redemption Island" (Spring 2011)

OK, Wright isn't an native Iowan (the retired 10-year NFL veteran was born in St. Louis and went to high school in Minnesota), but he played his college football in the late 1970s at the University of Northern Iowa. Plus, his gameplay was relatively insignificant during the season - ousted on Day 31, merely a speedbump during "Boston Rob" Mariano's dictator-like march to the title. However, Wright was involved in one of the season's biggest controversies; when he called out an African-American tribemate - the memorably eccentric former federal agent Phillip Sheppard - on his bizarre, confrontational behavior, he was haphazardly (and arguably unfairly) accused of racism. Host Jeff Probst handled the touchy situation so deftly at tribal council that he was awarded his fourth Primetime Emmy Award as reality host for the episode.

Denise Stapley, "Survivor: Philippines" (Fall 2012)

The sex therapist from Cedar Rapids joined an elite group of Survivor players during her journey to the crown: players who managed to play with every single member of their season, even all the pre-merge boots from the tribal phase of the game. As a member of Matsing, her tribe - one of the worst in the show's history - lost four straight Immunity Challenges to start the season, but she survived with her strongest ally, 25-year-old Ivy League graduate Malcolm Freberg, until the two were divided among the two remaining tribes. Stapley then went to the Kalabaw Tribe, which was still fully intact when she joined. She then made it safely through two more tribal councils (as well as the med-evac of another teammate) by keeping her head down, her mouth shut and just working hard around camp before the tribes merged, where she rejoined Freberg and the Tandang tribe, still undefeated and six-strong at the time (by accomplishing this, she joined a trio of players who pulled off a similar feat in the fourth season, "Survivor: Marquesas" - a group that included the season's winner, Vecepia Towery, as well as fan favorite Mariano, who would go on to be the show's only four-time player, a two-time finalist and one-time Sole Survivor). After the merge, Stapley and Freberg found strong allies in veteran player Michael Skupin and former child star Lisa Whelchel (better known as Blair Warner on "The Facts of Life") and navigated their way to the Final Four. Hoping to ride into the finals with her game-long ally, Stapley was forced to change course when Freberg didn't declare his allegiance back to her. She made the right call, voting out Freberg and going into the final tribal council with Skupin and Whelchel, where she cruised to a dominant 6-1-1 victory.

Sarah Lacina, "Survivor: Cagayan -- Brawn vs. Brains vs. Beauty" (Spring 2014)

The Cedar Rapids police officer started the game off with a bang, leading a come-from-behind challenge win and forming a strong alliance within her Brawn Tribe. Despite fellow cop Tony Vlachos taking advantage of her blue-blooded loyalty early on under false pretenses, Lacina was able to regroup admirably after a pre-merge swap left her all alone within a new tribe filled with an equal number of former Brains and former Beauty. The new tribe gelled well and vowed to stay together at the merge, but Lacina found herself torn, especially after her loyalty was questioned by tribemate and former Brain member Kass McQuillen. Sensing that she was now in a position of power as a swing vote, Lacina first overplayed her hand by insisting on calling the shots with her own tribe on who would be voted out, then refusing to give Vlachos a straight answer about rejoining the former Brawn members now on the other side, instead saying she wouldn't decide until tribal council. Lacina would eventually fall in line with the rest of her new alliance, who stealthy targeted former Kentucky pageant queen Jefra Bland after the biggest targets - Vlachos and Boston horse trainer L.J. McKanas - each produced hidden immunity idols and played them on each other. But rather than determining the course the postmerge game, Lacina instead joined an infamous group in Survivor lore - players like Christy Smith and Dolly Neely, who either publicly or privately declared themselves the swing vote, only to be unceremoniously voted out themselves instead - following a dizzying tribal council where McQuillen flipped her vote to the other side in a shocking blindside.

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