Arts & Culture

Two Iowa women to take another shot at 'Survivor'

Denise Stapley and Sarah Lacina return to television competition

#x201c;Survivor: Winners at War#x201d; premieres at 7 p.m. Wednesday (2/12) on CBS-TV. The cast of 20 former winners fea
“Survivor: Winners at War” premieres at 7 p.m. Wednesday (2/12) on CBS-TV. The cast of 20 former winners features Denise Stapley of Marion and Sarah Lacina of Cedar Rapids, competing for the title of Sole Survivor and $2 million, in episodes filmed May 22 to June 29 on Mamanuca Islands, Fiji. This marks the Emmy Award-winning reality show’s 40th season. (Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment ©2019 CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)
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Denise Stapley of Marion gave an instant “yes” to the proposal. Sarah Lacina of Cedar Rapids needed some coaxing from her husband, but eventually said “yes.”

Both are returning to a primitive paradise to compete in “Survivor: Winners at War,” premiering at 7 p.m. Wednesday on CBS-TV and CBS All Access. They are among 20 former “Survivor” winners, known as Sole Survivors, vying for a $2 million prize in a game of stamina and strategy on Mamanuca Islands, Fiji.

Another competitor with Eastern Iowa ties is Danni Boatwright, who is married to Casey Wiegmann, former NFL center, Aplington-Parkersburg alum and University of Iowa Hawkeye football player. Boatwright, a former Kansas City radio personality, actress, model and beauty queen, won “Survivor: Guatemala” in 2005.

It’s Lacina’s second trip to the Fiji islands, after winning “Survivor: Game Changers” there in 2017, and her third go-round. In the 2013 “Survivor” challenge in Palaui Island, Philippines, she was voted off the island.

“After ‘Game Changers,’ I had hung up my hat with ‘Survivor.’ Once you’ve won a season, what more is there to do?” asked Lacina, 35, a Cedar Rapids police detective. “I had always said I would never play again, and then, of course, CBS called and kind of alluded to the fact that it’s going to be a pretty epic season, without disclosing that it’s going to be all winners.”

She discussed it with her husband and he “talked me into going back out there.”

Stapley, 48, a mental health counselor and certified sex therapist, gave an “instant yes” in March when she got the phone call inviting her back to the competition. Her husband and 16-year-old daughter were thrilled, too.

“There was pure excitement,” she said, noting that her daughter was 8 years old during Stapley’s first winning run, “which was a lifetime ago, literally.”

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“It’s an adventure for them, as much as it is for me, in a slightly different way,” she said. “Mine is sleep deprivation and starvation — the little things like food and a bed and shelter, but they ... were 100 percent onboard.”

Lacina’s son was 16 months old during her previous winning season and now he’s 5 1/2. Episodes were recorded May 22 to June 29 last year, and she said he “did all right” in her absence. Making a calendar so he could cross off days until Mom came home helped.

Neither contestant much changed her workout routine to prep for the return to survival mode. Lacina and her husband already had created a Cross-Fit type gym in their garage. She did concentrate more on balance in her prep work, since she said the balancing challenges on the show require a lot of endurance. Stapley kept up her running and swimming, but added kickboxing, and since her family adopted a dog, also added “a ton” of walking to the mix.

Both women’s job skills carry over into the competition, as well.

Observing, reading and interacting with people are part of Stapley’s work as a therapist.

“But then, you get out there, and the elements have their own impact on how well you can do that,” she said. “I end up defaulting again to just what’s comfortable for me. That’s a part of what’s comfortable for me in therapy, also. If I can’t figure something out, I’ll just slow down, I’ll pay attention, I’ll observe and then I’ll try and step in when I can. It’s pretty similar with the game — finding people that I can connect with and using those skills.”

Interviewing people is part of Lacina’s work in investigating crimes.

“I have to get to the bottom of what the truth is,” she said. “That’s set up perfectly for ‘Survivor.’ That’s what ‘Survivor’ is — a social experiment getting to the bottom of the truth and deciding what’s best for you.”

The shows has evolved with a quickened pace, Stapley said, and the ante is upped when everyone on the show is a previous winner.

“There’s no weak links, there’s no goat. Every season you can find somebody that drives you crazy, that’s super-annoying, that doesn’t know how to play or isn’t strategic,” she said.

“This season, you’ve got 20 winners. ... Several of the players have been out there multiple times, so there’s something to prove in that. There’s definitely blood in the water. People are out for blood, they’re coming there to play hard,” she said.

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

To Watch

• What: “Survivor: Winners at War”

• Featuring: Denise Stapley of Marion and Sarah Lacina of Cedar Rapids

• Season premiere: 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday (2/12)

• Where: CBS-TV and CBS All Access

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