'Survivor: Game Changers' crowns Sarah Lacina winner over runner-up Brad Culpepper
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 05/25/2017
Survivor: Game Changers revealed Sarah Lacina to be the winner of its $1 million grand prize during the live portion of Wednesday night's finale broadcast on CBS from CBS Studio Center in Los Angeles, CA.
Sarah, a 32-year-old police officer from Marion, IA, was shown winning Season 34 of Survivor with six jury votes, (probably with seven because one vote was not unveiled by Survivor host Jeff Probst during the live reunion show).
Sarah defeated Brad Culpepper, a 47-year-old retired NFL player from Tampa, FL, and Troy "Troyzan" Robertson, a 55-year-old photographer from Miami, FL, in the season's final jury voting results.
"Nobody wants to go out and make their family, friends and profession look bad. And so, the first time I played [on Survivor: Cagayan -- Brawn vs. Brains vs. Beauty], that weighed heavily on me. And in order to come out and be successful, I had to let that go," Sarah said in tears after her victory was announced on the live reunion show.
"I was given the right of way by everybody and I just came out guns blazing because the gates were open for me to do whatever I had to do knowing that they know who I am. And they kind of beat me down for not being more like that the first time. So it was really nice to have their blessing to come out and play this way even though I hurt a lot of people. It's not easy to watch back. I'm very proud of the game I played, but I'm not proud of the way I treated people."
Sarah also said her game was inspired by former Survivor winner Tony Vlachos, a fellow police officer who played "masterfully" in her opinion.
If Brad had entered the Final 3 with Troyzan and Tai Trang, he would have won the game with votes from Hali Ford, Debbie, Zeke, Sierra Dawn Thomas, and Andrea Boehlke. The vote would have been five for Brad and five for Tai, but if that was the case, Troyzan would have gone to the jury and cast the final vote for the winner -- which obviously would've gone to Brad.
Tai, a 52-year-old gardener from San Francisco, CA, finished in fourth place. Aubry Bracco, a 30-year-old from Cambridge, MA, claimed fifth place. And last but not least, Cirie Fields, a 46-year-old from Norwalk, CT, placed sixth.
The finale broadcast of Survivor: Game Changers began on Night 35 after Michaela was sent packing.
Sarah was confused and didn't know whom to trust after Cirie had attempted to play her steal-a-vote advantage. Cirie was upset Sarah had voted Michaela out, but Sarah explained to the cameras she made the decision because Michaela was Cirie's right-hand man and she felt like Cirie had betrayed her.
Sarah asked whom the "rat" was that Cirie was trying to expose at Tribal Council, and Cirie opted to come clean -- announcing to the entire tribe that Tai was gunning for Sarah and so she was doing everything in her power to help Sarah.
Sarah, who had been tight allies with Tai -- and initially believed him over Cirie -- confronted Tai and demanded he tell her the truth. That's when Tai, instead of lying, admitted that he considered Sarah the biggest threat at that point. Sarah then realized Tai was trying to vote her out, which is exactly what Cirie had warned her about.
Sarah wanted nothing to do with Tai in that moment, and Tai seemed to immediately realize he had made a mistake by being so honest. Tai was caught in a web of lies.
In order to try to secure a buddy in this game with mutual trust, since Sarah was no longer an option, Tai told Brad that he had two hidden Immunity Idols in his possession. Tai said he trusted Brad going forward and wanted Brad to trust him in return. However, Tai had burned him before by voting out Sierra Dawn Thomas among other betrayals, so he wondered if he could believe what Tai was pitching him.
On Day 36, the Final 6 castaways competed in an Individual Immunity Challenge in which they had to run through a maze and ultimately solve a 41-piece compass puzzle. The winner would also receive Reward in the form of chicken parm with meat sauce garlic bread and key lime pie being delivered to camp.
Brad won Individual Immunity for the third time this season. He got to choose one person to join him for the Reward, and he picked his best buddy Troyzan, saying he hadn't enjoyed a Reward in quite a long time. Brad then got to select one other person to join him, and he chose Sarah.
No one knew about Sarah's "Legacy Advantage," so she was sitting pretty at the next Tribal Council session. Because of her falling out with Cirie and Tai, Sarah believed her only options to go to the end were with Brad and Troyzan.
When the threesome were enjoying their Reward, they discussed making Tai play one of his idols and voting out Aubry, who is a smart player and would be able to plead her case well to the jury at the Final Tribal Council.
Brad then told Tai that he needed "a leap of faith" from him since Tai had already betrayed him so many times. Brad asked -- or rather demanded -- that Tai give him one of his hidden Immunity Idols to hold in order to ensure there was trust and loyalty between them.
Brad promised Tai they would go to the Final 3 together if he held up his end of the bargain, and Tai felt he had lost control of his destiny in the game. When Tai vented to Brad about that possibility, Brad didn't deny that Tai had lost control. He made Tai feel worse about the decisions he had made.
Brad, however, had no intention of taking Tai to the Final 3. He told Troyzan they must vote him out as soon as possible.
Tai then cried to Aubry about how Brad was bullying him over the idol. During their conversation, Cirie joined in and tried to make peace with Tai. Cirie promised Tai she wouldn't screw him over again and they needed to work together to take out Troyzan and Sarah -- one of Brad's three.
Tai didn't want to follow Brad's demands, but he also didn't trust Cirie. Tai had an emotional breakdown 10 minutes before Tribal Council, and Aubry couldn't believe that her game was in Tai's hands again after their experience together on Survivor: Kaoh Rong.
At Tribal Council that night, Sarah told Jeff it felt like five people against Tai. While everyone was lying to each other, Sarah said Tai was getting all the heat because he wasn't taking responsibility for his actions.
Before Jeff read the votes, Tai decided to play one of his hidden Immunity Idols for himself, as well as his second idol for Aubry, who was absolutely thrilled. Sarah then played her secret "Legacy Advantage," which served as immunity for her, and then Troyzan shockingly played his hidden Immunity Idol.
Because of this shocking turn of events, Cirie was the only person who could receive votes, so no matter what happened, she'd be the castaway going home. Jeff announced it was a historic Tribal Council with the most idols ever played, the most people declared safe, and because of the fact no one actually voted for Cirie, the person eliminated.
Cirie was voted out simply because there was no other choice, so there was no reason to re-vote. She became the 15th person voted out of Survivor: Game Changers and the eighth member of this season's jury.
"This has been one of the most grand experiences of my life. It changed me. I would have never done any of this stuff if I didn't get off that couch 11 years ago," Cirie told Jeff before her torch was snuffed.
"I never would have met so many different people. I never would have had so many amazing experiences. It is bitter sweet, but I'm going out in grand style because it's never happened before. It makes this experience even more grand for me."
Tai, Cirie and Aubry had all voted for Sarah, while Sarah and Troyzan voted for Tai. Brad had voted for Aubry.
On Day 37, the remaining five castaways gathered for another Individual Immunity Challenge in which they had to each move three small balls through a series of metal obstacles with a paddle.
No surprise here -- Brad won his fourth Individual Immunity Challenge of the season and guaranteed himself a spot in the Final 4. Knowing she was on the chopping block, Aubry was ready to fight and make a pitch to stay, because Brad, Troyzan and Sarah had already decided Aubry must go.
Once everyone returned to camp after the challenge, Aubry spoke to Sarah and Tai about how they would only have a 50 percent chance to make it to the end if they voted her out, reason being Brad was going to take Troyzan with him to the Final 3 no matter what.
Aubry explained that if the pair took out Troyzan with her, however, there would be two open spots with Brad in the Final 3. Brad would have no obvious choice of castaway to take with him. Sarah once again found herself in the middle, in a swing-vote position.
Sarah thought it was vital to work with Tai on this, so she reminded him privately about how she had his back throughout the entire game. Tai then told Sarah that Aubry needed to go because she was a great player and he couldn't beat her in the end. Brad also told Tai that he would control who goes to the Final 3 and Tai would go with him as long as he voted as instructed going forward.
Tai and Brad wanted the same thing, Aubry gone, but Tai hated how Brad spoke to him. Tai thought Brad had no respect for him, so he appeared to change his mind at the last minute, telling Sarah to flip on Brad and vote out his buddy Troyzan.
At Tribal Council that night, Aubry admitted she was on the chopping block. She also revealed her thoughts on everyone voting for Troyzan as to make Brad's potential Final 3 decision more difficult.
Jeff eventually read the votes, and three castaways had voted for Aubry while only one person voted for Troyzan. It was the first time Troyzan had received a vote.
"I decided to not be cagey and go for broke at Tribal, but Survivor has taught me that you can't control everything, and I gave it my best shot and I took everything that I could from the experience," Aubry said in tears in her final words. "I'm so excited to be on the jury. I'm so freaking excited to watch these psychopaths."
On Day 38, the four remaining castaways met Jeff again for the final Individual Immunity Challenge of the season, which required each player to race through an obstacle course and down a waterslide and then solve a lighthouse puzzle. The winner would guarantee him or herself a spot at the Final 3 Tribal Council session, while the next person voted out would be the 17th eliminated castaway and the final person of Season 34's jury.
Tai was the only person with a shot to catch up to Brad in the challenge, but Brad pulled out another win -- his fifth Individual Immunity win overall. Because Tai has betrayed him many times throughout the game and done him wrong the most, Brad told the cameras Tai was going home next and Sarah would join himself and Troyzan in the Final 3.
Brad thought he could beat every single person left in the game, so he wasn't really concerned about the decision he was about to make. Not only did he win five challenges and carry allies to the end, but he also has experience as a trial attorney and thought he could plead his case wonderfully to the jury.
Tai figured Brad would vote him out because of his many betrayals, so he talked to Sarah about forcing a 2-2 tie in which Sarah and Troyzan would compete against each other in a fire-making challenge at Tribal.
Sarah had to choose whether to work with Tai again -- and potentially take out Troyzan -- or simply trust that Brad and Troyzan would take her to the end. Sarah knew she was risking her fate in the game either way, and she said her choice was all about whom she could beat in the end.
With that said, Brad, Troyzan and Sarah all voted out Tai.
"Would I like to be in the Final 3 and possibly win? I mean, I do a lot. I made a couple of big moves socially. People liked me. This is a really tough game but I bounce back and just grow stronger," Tai said following his ouster.
The following day, on Day 39, Sarah, Brad and Troyzan enjoyed a final feast before the Final Tribal Council session. Sarah was prepared to be honest with the jury in the hope of winning the game, but both Brad and Troyzan were already confident they would win the game.
At the Final Tribal Council, the last three castaways standings were confronted by the jury -- Hali, Ozzy, Debbie, Zeke, Sierra, Andrea, Michaela, Cirie, Aubry and finally Tai.
Given this is a Game Changers season in which there were a lot of "firsts" such as Sarah played the steal-a-vote advantage correctly, Jeff declared the final tribal was going to be about the game's three important aspects: Outwit, outplay and outlast.
Jeff explained that in order to "outwit," one must have social game, emotional intelligences and alliances. To "outplay," a castaway must appropriately respond to conditions put on him or her by the game, including twists and swaps. And to "outlast," a player must put people on the jury who still respect his or her ability to outwit and outplay his or her two opponents in the Final 3.
Zeke complimented Sarah on outwitting others by building amazing relationships. He said he gave Sarah his jacket, which she wore after putting him on the jury, and Sierra gave her the "Legacy Advantage" without knowing Sarah was controlling the game as well as her elimination fate. Zeke said he was Sarah's "champion" and he wished her the best.
Andrea told Sarah that she had some brilliant game moves and convinced everyone that she was their best friend, however, she felt "kind of gross." Andrea cried, asking Sarah if she knew the effect she'd have on people's feelings and emotions with her aggressive gameplay. Andrea wanted to feel good about whom she was voting for at the end of the day.
Sarah explained her personal relationships were "100 percent real" from the bottom of her heart, but Ozzy wondered whether they could trust what she was saying, even now. Ozzy said there is a way to win the game without going as low as she went. Ozzy said it's extremely hard to win Individual Immunity Challenges one after the next to stick around, and so he was Brad's "champion."
Cirie pointed out that Sierra was the brains of Brad and Troyzan's operation, but Brad explained that after a swap, he maintained friendships on the two tribes, prompting J.T. Thomas to reveal that Sierra was his tribe's vote target. Brad was then able to switch the vote to Malcolm, eliminating a huge threat in the game who could've taken them all out.
Michaela asked Brad how much he knew about her considering this game is all about social relationships. Andrea said Brad was lacking in that category.
Sarah, however, was so good at putting on appearances that she was everybody's best friend. Andrea asked Sarah how she achieved that, and Sarah explained that as a police officer, she often plays roles -- such as a drug dealer or a prostitute -- and she's able to separate who she really is from the situation.
Sarah was therefore able to lie and backstab with no problem. With that said, Debbie announced, "I have zero respect for you and your gameplay."
Michaela replied to Debbie's comment, saying that Sarah sent her packing but she didn't take it personally. Michaela said she understood why Sarah took her out -- because she was the only person who could beat Brad. Upon hearing that statement, Brad had a confused and shocked look on his face.
Troyzan told the jury he established a personal relationship with each person. Ozzy told Troyzan there's a difference between being a passenger and a driver. Troyzan said he made suggestions but didn't make direct voting decisions once he was inside his alliance. He said he was more sneaky about the strategy. Aubry pointed out that it sounded like Sandra Diaz-Twine with less of the sass.
Sierra said Troyzan was a part of the votes; he just did it in a more subtle way.
Andrea acknowledged that Brad never tried to get close to people on the bottom, like Michaela and Tai. Brad said he was like "oil and water" with Michaela, but Tai called Brad out for speaking to him in a controlling, condescending manner. Brad's social game was clearly in question.
Debbie noted that Brad isn't a warm and cuddly person but that she loved him anyway. Zeke then argued that Sarah was driving this ship all along. Zeke said Sarah always knew how to vote because she was always directing the vote.
Ozzy said the "outplay" portion of the game went to Brad because he provided for the tribe and won challenges he needed to. Ozzy said Brad was in control of his own destiny in this game and he played to win from the start.
Sarah argued that Brad is a professional athlete and she could only rely on the tools she had in the "outplay" department. Sarah therefore found a way to make Sierra "will" her advantage to her, and she also paid attention to detail, like when she found Michael's secret advantage at a Reward Challenge -- and then turned around and used it against her, which Michaela called "brilliant."
After Brad and Sarah each gave one last argument for why they should win the game, Troyzan just thanked the jury for being a part of his dream and his amazing journey on the show. Troyzan realized he wasn't going to win, but he was so happy just to have had the chance to play again.