Sarah Lacina is now $1 million richer. The 33-year-old police officer was crowned the champion of Survivor: Game Changers, making her the 14th woman to win the game. During SheKnows‘ one-on-one red carpet interview with Lacina at the finale, she revealed what she’s spending the money on and explained why she had little faith that the jury had voted for her to win. Plus, Lacina dished some behind-the-scenes info on what happened in Fiji the moment after the final vote was held.
SheKnows: The final Tribal Council was filmed months ago. Waiting all this time, did you know you had won the game?
Sarah Lacina: No. I didn’t. Everybody was like, “How did you not know?” You guys see how good of a game I played, but what you don’t feel is the emotion that the players had to vote for me to win. I saw that firsthand, so I wasn’t confident. I played a great game, but people are really hurt by the way they feel I betrayed them. Luckily, it was a returning player season, and they rewarded game play. If it was a newbie season, I’m not so confident I’d walk away with a win. I didn’t win unanimously. I may have played the best game, but I still didn’t win unanimously.
SK: What was the anticipation like, waiting to hear you had won? It looked like you were going to throw up.
SL: That’s exactly how I felt. I was asking for water before going on stage because I couldn’t even talk about it. I had to keep clearing my throat because I was almost gonna throw up.
SK: When you ran out to the audience after being declared the winner, what was the first thing you said to your loved ones?
SL: I don’t think I really said much, but Wyatt [Sarah’s partner] said, “You did it. You can relax now.” We’ve stressed about this for nine months now. He was wondering how sure I was I had possibly won. One day I was like, “Oh, I won.” The next day it would be like, “Nope. I didn’t win.”
SK: What are you going to do with the $1 million?
SL: Just boring stuff. We’re probably gonna build a home and put money away for retirement. I know it’s super boring because people want to hear that you’re going to Vegas to double down or something like that. I’m going back to work on Monday, so there’s no time off.
SK: Was your plan all along to go to the end with Troyzan and Brad?
SL: At the final six, I had solidified that’s where I needed to go because I was analyzing how I could best win. Brad and Troy would have to fight for the same votes because they are friends with the same people. I think the mistake people make is they solidify things too much. You have to be willing to adapt constantly. You may make a final three deal with somebody on day one, but you have to be willing to go against that. If you’re not, then you’re going to make mistakes and help someone else out instead of yourself. I didn’t have an absolute, locked-in final three until the top six.
SK: So, what happened after that final Tribal Council wrapped? Any behind-the-scenes intel you can give us?
SL: In Cagayan, Jeff [Probst] walked off with the votes and we didn’t see him. Everybody took their mics off and that was a wrap. This season, we did something really cool. We took our mics off and the whole crew with the cast had a party with champagne and pizzas. Just eating and talking to people. It was just really awesome to get to talk to everybody and celebrate.
SK: With a season known as Game Changers, what one move do you think signifies your biggest game-changing play?
SL: Getting the Legacy Advantage from Sierra, because as you saw, my name had come up three times. Had I not gotten the Legacy Advantage, I would’ve gone home that night.
More: Sierra Is Still Kicking Herself for That Game-Ending Survivor Mistake
SK: Before this season started, you mentioned that Tony Vlachos was like a mentor to you. Tell us what your conversations were like before the game began.
SL: Tony is so high-strung that he would call me every day. Tony would never say, “Let’s have a pre-game alliance.” He would say, “This is our real life, and I’m not gonna tell you something now because I might not stick to it in the game. I’m gonna sit here and talk to you every day, but you don’t have my loyalty in the game.” That’s just Tony. It’s classic. At least I can respect that. We never got the chance to play together this season, but beforehand, we would listen to all our ideas. We didn’t even make an alliance. It was just a way to prepare yourself, like watching film in sports.
SK: Was there any hesitation to play a second time?
SL: Yes, but Wyatt is the one who convinced me to go play. He goes, “I know you can win this game. You have to go play.” My son was not even 2 at the time, and I didn’t want to leave. He said, “It will be OK. It’s 39 days. Go do it and come home with the money.” I did it, and it’s all worth it.
SK: Would you play the game again?
SL: If you ask me right now, it would be no. Living for the last nine months waiting for the finale to arrive, it’s mentally exhausting. People don’t understand the toll it takes. So, right now, I’m not ready for it. Like everybody says they won’t play again, well, we all will.