Sierra Dawn Thomas travels 60,000 miles a year crisscrossing the U.S. and Canada as a professional barrel racer.
“My everyday life isn’t the average; I live on the road,” the 27-year-old Thomas said during a telephone interview as she sat in her truck in Wyoming where she was going to be competing.
She drives a truck with a horse trailer, doesn’t always have power or running water and sometimes lives off of gas station food. “I’m in the dirt all the time,” she added.
Thomas, who calls Roy home, is one of the 18 castaways on this season of “Survivor" — the 30th season — that premieres Wednesday, Feb. 25.
“Why the heck not? Why not go for it?” she said of applying to the show.
In addition to not always having modern-day luxuries, she played four sports growing up — basketball, track, softball and ran cross country — and says she is competitive along with being social and outgoing. All of those things, she said, will help her as she goes to outwit, outplay and outlast the other castaways.
“I thought that I personally have what it takes to do a thing like that,” Thomas said of competing on “Survivor.”
In the TV reality show of “Survivor,” contestants are sent to a primitive place and divided into groups, or tribes. Along with surviving with a few essentials, like a machete, a pot and rice and beans, and what fish they can catch, the tribes will compete in challenges, generally involving obstacles, races and puzzles, and the winners get rewards or immunity, depending on the type of challenge. The losing tribe goes to tribal council where a tribe member is voted off. Partway through the season, the tribes will merge, and the competition becomes individual challenges, and the voted-off castaways become part of a jury who will determine which one of the final three will win $1 million.
Thomas remembers when “Survivor” first aired 15 years ago and she would watch it with her family growing up. With her schedule competing in rodeos across the U.S. and Canada, she’s missed some seasons here and there, but she’s managed to get caught up on the last four or five seasons.
“I love the show,” Thomas said. “I love how it’s conniving, and you vote off people, then in the end, those people have to vote for you.”
The lying and deceiving will likely be one of the hardest parts of the game, she said.
“You can prepare yourself for what you think it’s going be like, but it’s so much more than that once you’re there,” Thomas said. “I want to be true to who I am and go in as a strong competitor.”
In past seasons, tribes have included different variations — seemingly randomly assigned, divided by gender or race, fans of the game versus returning players, returning players versus a loved one, and in one season, the tribes were separated by brawn, beauty and brains.
This season, the tribes are divided into groups of six based on occupation — White Collar, Blue Collar and No Collar.
Thomas is in the Blue Collar Tribe, and she says that she squarely fits into that category.
“I feel I am blue-collar to the core. I work hard all day, every day,” said Thomas, who is also pursing a degree in criminal justice from Weber State University.
“I am a hard worker. We have a ranch. I take care of animals. I wake up really early and go to bed really late. I do the labor part of things," she said. "I felt like that fit me perfectly.”
Barrel racing is a timed event, and there are several barrels the horses and riders have to go around in a clover leaf pattern. “The fastest horse wins,” she said.
Her father races horses, so she’s grown up around races.
“I’ve been riding since before I could walk,” she said. “I’ve been competing since I was about 6 years old. So I honestly don’t know any different.”
She was named the 2004 National High School Rodeo Association National Champion Barrel Racer and All-Around Cowgirl. In 2006, she was part of the top national women’s team and the fourth-ranked barrel racer at the national championships.
“It’s not glamorous,” Thomas said of traveling. “It’s very tiring, but it’s very exciting, and I love every aspect of it.”
She’s planning to be back in Roy for a community premiere party on Wednesday. Otherwise, she’s planning to find a place with television on Wednesday nights to watch the episodes.
“Survivor” airs Wednesdays at 7 p.m. on CBS.
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