Before Survivor: Cagayan premiered in February, host Jeff Probst told PEOPLE about the show’s two police officers, Tony Vlachos and Sarah Lacina. “It’s a real cat and mouse situation,” he said, without ever specifying which was which.
As it turned out, Vlachos emerged as the cat. With the help of Kass McQuillan, an attorney from California, Vlachos blindsided Lacina on Day 19. The result was one of the most entertaining and jaw-dropping tribal councils in the show’s 28-season history. Contestants talked openly about their votes. Two immunity idols were played. Tears were shed. But in the end, a shocked Lacina watched as Jeff Probst snuffed her torch.
Lacina, 29, tells PEOPLE about her experience on the show – and whose betrayal hurt her the most.
You were the victim of one of the craziest tribal councils in 28 seasons of the show. What happened that we didn’t get to see?
Before Tribal Council, the six of us made a pact that anyone who flipped would immediately lose all five of the others’ jury votes. You need some of those votes to win. We were basically saying that if you betrayed the six-person alliance, there would be no way you could win the game.
So when I was voted out, I was truly surprised. I really had no idea that I was going home. None. I knew that Kass and I didn’t get along, but I didn’t think that would come between her and a million dollars.
So in your opinion, she ruined her game?
We had a six-person alliance and she was at the top of it. She traded it for the bottom of another alliance and betrayed five people who have to vote for a winner. This was not the time to flip. If she had stayed with us, we would have gone to the end. Now, we’ll see how this works out for her.
You were adamant about voting out one of the guys; how did the vote change to Jefra?
When we were standing in the water, it was a 3-3 split. So we discussed our options. We decided as a group that we would vote out Tony, and that Jefra would be the backup plan. That way, at Tribal Council, we could say “the other one” without exposing who we were voting for.
And it seemed like everything was going according to plan.
Tony played his idol for LJ. LJ played his idol for Tony. And all the time, we’re all cocky, thinking that we had this game. We had flushed out two idols and gotten rid of someone from the other tribe. It would be a clear path to the final six. I couldn’t believe that anyone would give that up. We just needed to get through that one vote, and then we would have the power.
Now the other tribe has the power. Does that mean someone else won’t flip? I don’t know. But she really sabotaged a lot of people’s games with one move.
A lot was made of your relationship with Tony; you seemed to immediately trust him because he’s a cop. Was that how it was, or was that just creative editing?
No, that’s exactly how I was out there. I really felt that the cop alliance would work. I know how I feel about being a cop; I assumed he would feel the same way about it. But he didn’t.
I wasn’t willing to do the things that he was willing to do. I wanted to be a loyal player, one who goes out there and plays a fun, smart and loyal game. Unfortunately, that wasn’t necessarily a winning combo.
Swearing on your badge means different things to different cops; it was different for Tony than it was for me. He made choices that he has to live with, not me.
We’re seeing a clearer picture of Tony’s game because we see his confessionals. Have they surprised you?
Yes. I was very surprised at what he said behind my back. I spoke to him later and he was like, ‘It’s all in the game. Don’t take it personally.’ But it is what it is. He does things differently than I do, and that’s on him. I shouldn’t have trusted him.
Did that extend to his whole tribe?
There were hard feelings that I didn’t flip with them. They weren’t very nice to me that last day when they found out I wouldn’t vote with them. I don’t totally blame them, because their life in the game was in jeopardy. Somehow, the blame got put on me. If they went home, it would have been my fault, even though five other people voted for them.
I know that a lot of it came from Tony; he thought I’d flip back, but he had made it clear that they were the final five. If I had flipped, I’d be number 6 in a five person alliance.
So are you angry at that whole tribe?
No. I’m definitely not mad at Trish. Trish is a great person and a great player. I get along with her very well. I didn’t realize until the last few episodes how good of a game she’s playing. Out there on the island, it didn’t appear that she was playing as good of a game. But she’s doing really well.
When you were voted out, you had a great attitude. But in the online videos, you seemed to get angrier the next day. What was that about?
Immediately, I was in shock. I was trying to work out in my mind what had happened, and I was thinking, “Well, kudos to them.” Then I had a whole night to sleep on it. And I kept coming back to Kass. “This is idiotic,” I thought. “You just screwed over four people because you didn’t like me.”
We all are different and we have things that we’re willing to do, and that was the route she wanted to take. And the more I thought about it, the more I felt betrayed and the more it sunk in. By the next day, I thought, “I’m out of the game. I have to sit here for three weeks and watch the other people play the game.” That’s not a fun place to be, and yeah, I was angry.
So if you got the call again to play the game, would you do it?
Of course I would. I have been a fan of the show for years. It was really hard, but it was an experience I’ll never forget.