Sarah Lacina on overcoming her 'resting bitch face' for Survivor: Winners at War

"Just because we connect on something doesn't mean I'm not going to write your name down," says the Game Changers champ.
By Dalton Ross
February 04, 2020 at 11:00 AM EST

Sarah came into season 40 with a conviction and a confidence she did not have walking into her first two outings. It was the aura of a person self-assured of her upper-tier status in the Survivor hierarchy. But it was also the aura of a person who felt loose and unencumbered by expectations — someone who was ready to have a little fun. We sat down with the Game Changers champ right before filming began on Winners at War to talk about how she sees the other players, and how she thinks the other players see her.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So what have you been up to since you won Game Changers, Sarah? Give us the update.
SARAH LACINA: I left Survivor: Game Changers, and two days later went back to work as a police officer. I work investigations, and still loving my job. People say, “You still go to work?” I’ll go to work until I don’t enjoy it anymore.

That’s the best answer. You’ve got to do what you love, and love what you do.
For sure. It’s like you get a break from the chores at the house to go to work. It’s almost like, when work is a vacation, that’s the best kind of job. Hang on to that one.

The question for why you came back for Game Changers, the answer was pretty easy: You had unfinished business. You went out too early and you weren’t happy about it. Now, you’re a winner. You’ve won, you’ve conquered this game in an amazing fashion. No one questions your credentials. So why are you here?
That’s a good question. I got out of Game Changers and I said, “I am done. I’m not playing anymore, I’ve had enough.” This Survivor is so much more than what is seen on TV physically, mentally, emotionally, and it’s just so taxing. To have gone through it twice and to achieve my ultimate goal to not only win but also have the title of Sole Survivor — I have that, so why would I ever want to come back? That’s why I said I would never come back. But Survivor knows how to dangle the carrot in front of you just enough and say, “Well, what if? What if this was the best of the best? What if it was going to be this epic, iconic season?”

You take a step back and you go, “Out of the hundreds of people that play this game, I’m one of the 20 you’re going to pick to get to play season 40?” How do you say no? So here I am! They knew what to do to get me and others out here, and now I’m really looking forward to it.

So you’re not here for season 39 or season 41?
Absolutely not. I would not be out here. I’m only here because it is an honor to be invited to play on season 40.

How is it different for you in that you came on Game Changers and you were not the early target, you were not the focus. The focus was on people like Sandra and Ozzy and Cirie. But you can’t hide now from what you did in Game Changers. It’s a pretty recent season so it’s on everyone’s mind, and you gave a great performance.
I’m the most recent female winner that there has been, so of all the females here, I’m the one that’s going to stand out the most. The one previous to me I don’t think stands out very much. So, yeah, I definitely think I’ve got a big target on my back, but if I’m as good as they say I am, then I’ll be all right.

You know nine of the other people. You were put before the game in Ponderosa with nine other women who also all happen to be winners. You probably have your suspicions about other people that may or may not be here, but from what you know, who do you want to work with in this group?
If we go from just Ponderosa, the vibes I’m getting from people, I’ll give you like three I do want to work with, three I don’t. Three that I do want to work with, I want to work with Danni, I want to work with — this one surprised me —Sophie, and then I’m going to go with Sandra.

I want to hear all three, so I’ll start with Danni. What about Danni in Ponderosa made you want to work with her, or just her in general?
Danni completely surprised me. Morgan from Cagayan and I, we get along really great. We were like complete opposites, and I feel like that’s Danni and I too. But she’s from the Midwest, and I’m from the Midwest, and there’s something about Midwesterners that have like a connection. I don’t know what it is, but you can just tell she’s from Kansas City and so, I just get a good vibe from Danni. I like her.

Okay, Sophie.
Sophie. The Survivor community, we don’t have to skate around it, everybody knows everyone in some way, shape, or form. A big negative that always seems to follow me around is, “Oh, Sarah is a Republican,” and there are a lot of people who are not. I know that Sophie is not, and I know she’s friends with people like Eliza, who’s not.

Wait, Eliza is not a Republican? Breaking news alert!
Right! I don’t know that Sophie and I will get along, but I really actually think we’re going to get along really well. I think it might surprise her at how well we’ll get along too. Then Sandra, I played with her in Game Changers, so it’s familiar. She’s the only other person out here I played with, so obviously I want to stick with what’s familiar.

Makes sense. What are the people that you’re not so high on working with?
People that I’m not looking forward to playing with: Michele. She just doesn’t seem too warm. I thought coming in, I had a better vibe from Natalie Anderson, but I’m not getting the best vibe from her now. And then probably Amber. I don’t know her, but too many unknowns, too many connections.

So you guys obviously have familiarity with people through the Survivor circle, but when you get out here, you can’t talk, you’re on lockdown, and you make these impressions that we’re talking about. Have you noticed in the past two times you’ve played, have those impressions ended up being confirmed when you get on the island or not?
That’s a really good point. I have a really bad resting bitch face. And it’s funny because I know that I have it, and the last time I played, JT had come up to me once the game started and was like, “Oh my gosh, I thought you were a huge bitch from looking at you at Ponderosa.” He goes, “I freaking love you.” And Sierra Dawn Thomas is out there. The joke was we’d all say, “It’s just my face. It’s just my face.” Like, “My face does not match what’s on the inside at all.” For me, I know that, but people that don’t know me, they don’t know that, that’s just my face. I’m actually happy. If my face doesn’t seem happy, I’m actually happy though. That’s kind of hard to overcome when you’re in a lockdown setting with people that don’t know you. So if you do have a target on your back, that just makes it even bigger.

You asked if it matches up. No, it usually doesn’t. That’s why I won’t use it against people, but that doesn’t mean they won’t use it against me. So I’m not going to judge a book by its cover. And anything I don’t do in real life and I won’t do out here is, I don’t jump on a bandwagon. If everybody could hate somebody out here because of this, that, or the other thing — if you’ve done nothing to me, I’m not going to jump on that bandwagon and hate you.

But if that person is a target, then is there a “better off them than me” sort of aspect where you say, “Well, let’s just take them out then”?
I’m saying like…

You’re just saying in life in general?
If everybody didn’t like you, Dalton…

No one likes me, so good example. Carry on.
Everybody’s like, “Gosh, Dalton, you know, great.” Well, listen, just because everybody else hates you doesn’t mean I do. All right? I’m actually really enjoying our conversation.

Well, I’m enjoying our conversation.
You see, just because everybody hates me, it doesn’t mean you don’t like me, right?

No one hates you, Sarah. I always have fun talking to you.
So now you’re lying.

No, I’m not! I’m telling the truth.
You say it’s fun talking to me but…

I’m noticing something about you now though, which is interesting. You sound so carefree now, and I wasn’t out there the first time you played, but I was out there for Game Changers. I have to imagine that you were probably nervous the first time, like any first-time player. I know the second time you felt some pressure because you wanted to correct what went wrong the first time. You seem to have a different vibe now. Do you feel a different vibe playing this game than the other two times?
Yeah, definitely. I felt like I had so much to prove when I played Game Changers that people underestimated me. I know it’s almost like I had a chip on my shoulder and I’m like, “Well, I’m going to show you guys.” Well, I’ve shown it. One of the big things I said coming out here is one thing I wanted to do is I want to have fun this time, because as much as Game Changers was fun — winning a million dollars, it’s fun — it wasn’t that fun.

That was a rough season.
I’d like to have more fun and more money. That’s what I’m going to try and do.

Can those two things go hand-in-hand?

Who’s a better winner: You or Tony?
Tony already thinks I’m a better winner than he is. He did. He said that. Ask him.

Do you think you’re a better winner than he was?
Yes, absolutely. Listen, Tony won on an all-newbie season, I won on all-stars season. There are four all-star seasons; All-Stars, Heroes vs. Villains, Cambodia: Second Chance, and Game Changers. Only four people have won against all returning players. I’m one of them, and Tony is not. Tony, he’s a Tasmanian Devil, he’s out of control. He’ll even tell you, he says, “No, you played a great game and you won against all-stars.” I love the guy like a brother, but he just drives me nuts. He does. I feel bad for his wife.

How are you and Cirie with each other now after all that business of her trying to steal your advantage and all that stuff?
Cirie and I didn’t really talk much after the… Well, actually, the night that she tried to take that, and Michaela got voted out, it was pretty heated night back at camp. I thought we made a mess, but then when we go to Tribal Council and Cirie… By default, I still don’t write her name down. I still haven’t written Cirie’s name down to vote her out, but then the funny thing is, because Jeff doesn’t read the votes, when we go back to camp, I asked her and Aubry, I go, “So who did you guys vote for?” They both lied to me, and I knew that they voted for me. So I told Tai, I go, “Aubry told me you voted for me.” He goes, “I didn’t want to, but yeah.” And I didn’t even know that they did, I’m like, “You jerk.”

The game ended, people go their separate ways. A lot of people are out here just to play the game to win the money. They’re not out here to maintain a friendship. I still talk to a handful of people, but I don’t talk to everybody. I think Cirie and I are fine.

I want to dive a little deeper into how you think other people see you. You have your impressions of other people. How does their book on Sarah Lacina read as a player?
I think I’m trying to fool myself a little bit thinking that maybe my target is smaller than it is. We’ve talked about, I’m the most recent female winner, so I’m the freshest in everyone’s mind. Plus, they’ve seen me play a pretty flip-flop game and I’m unpredictable, and in Survivor, you don’t want unpredictability because, you never know what to trust. As much as it’s fun to watch, it’s not fun to play with. And on second thought, I don’t want to play with anyone that’s unpredictable unless it’s me. I do, I think I’ve got a big target, but I think a lot of people take the game in one big bite, and you have to take small bites and take a day at a time. The first three days, a lot can happen.

What do you think your biggest weakness is? Self-evaluate for me.
My biggest weakness is, I would say, I’m a total people person. Like, I really do like to get to know people. I’m just fascinated by other people and where they live. I’m from the mid-west, it’s pretty simple, and so a lot of people experience a lot of things that I don’t, so when I have those kinds of conversations with people, I’m genuinely interested and care to know about that. The problem is, then that’s how you become friends with too many people, and then that’s where you end up getting accused of being two-sided, when, in reality, you were just making conversation.

If you make a connection with someone, they’re hurt more when you betray them.
Right. For me, I like people, and I like to get to know them, and I like their story. It doesn’t stop me from writing their name down, it doesn’t mean I wasn’t being genuine getting to know you, but just because we connect on something, doesn’t mean I’m not going to write your name down. That’s my biggest weakness is turning off the people-person.

Is this your last time playing this game?
I said yes the last time, and I’m out here, so I can’t say that this is the last time. Here’s the thing: I probably have to play again for two reasons. One, if I win, then everybody is going to say, “Oh, now Sandra and Sarah have to tee off against each other see who’s the champ-champ.” But on that same note, how many times has Sandra beat me? People would say Sandra is the best, because she’s won twice. How many times has Sandra beat me?

How many times has anyone beat Sandra? Once. Who beat Sandra? So, who’s the best? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

Sarah Lacina math, everyone.
I manipulate my own mind into believing that I’m the best. See, you’re thinking it too, and now you’re like, “Oh…”

No, you’re selling, but you don’t know if I’m buying or not. But it is great to see you back.

For more Survivor articles, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss, and for exclusive season 40 photos and video, follow Dalton on Instagram @thedaltonross.

Related content: