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Watch for big moves from Utahn Sierra Dawn Thomas, who is back for 2nd chance on 'Survivor: Game Changers'

Utahn Sierra Dawn Thomas had about 48 hours notice before she needed to leave to compete on “Survivor: Game Changers,” which premieres Wednesday, March 8.

“I was actually at a rodeo,” said Thomas, 29, who is a competitive barrel racer based in Roy. “There was not much time to prepare to get things in line at home. But I made it work.”

Earlier in the year, she was told she was a candidate for the show, she was interviewed and she got all of her shots. She was later told she wasn’t going to be on the season, but that changed when she got the call days before they were flying out.

“I’m super competitive and I was super fortunate in my first season to make it 37 of 39 days and I thought ‘I can do even better,’” she said in an interview with the Deseret News. “I was willing and ready to give it my best.”

The 20 castaways on this season of “Survivor” are all returning players, including a few who have won the game, played more than once or have been fan favorites.

“My definition (of game changer) is people who are willing to make a move to try to change the game,” host Jeff Probst said in a video about the upcoming season on cbs.com.

Thomas was previously on “Survivor: Worlds Apart,” which was set in Nicaragua and aired in the spring of 2015. It featured the castaways divided into three tribes — white collar, blue collar and no collar. She was fifth overall and part of the jury that determined which of the top three castaways received the $1 million prize.

“I learned that the social part of the game is very important, which I feel I’m good at,” Thomas said of her previous time in the game. “But I also learned the first time around that I’m going to have to do something more. If I am going to have the opportunity to win, I’m going to have to make some big moves and do some things that might make me uncomfortable.”

In “Survivor,” the castaways are sent to a primitive environment, this time in Fiji, divided into tribes and compete for immunity or rewards in challenges. If a tribe goes to tribal council, they must vote off one of their tribemates. Partway through the 39 days on the island, the tribes merge and it becomes an individual game. Also, several voted-off castaways become part of the jury to determine which of the final three receives the $1 million.

In “Survivor: Game Changers,” the 34th season of the show, the 10 castaways are divided into two tribes, and Thomas is on the Nuku tribe with James “J.T.” Thomas, who won season 18 “Survivor: Tocantins” and Oscar “Ozzy” Lusth, who was the runner-up on season 13 “Survivor: Cook Islands” and has been on the jury in seasons 16 and 23.

A game like “Survivor” can teach a person quite a bit about themselves, Sierra Dawn Thomas said.

“I’ve been super strong and I can do almost anything,” she said. “Being away from support system, which is my family, I realized that I can do things on my own. I learned I don’t have to be ‘sweet Sierra.’”

Thomas, who competes in rodeo and sells horses, has completed a bachelor’s degree from Weber State University in criminal justice and is working on completing her firefighter certification.

“Rodeo is always going to be my No. 1 thing,” said Thomas, who tries to watch “Survivor” while she’s on the road.

Thomas is planning a premiere party at Maxwell’s East Coast Eatery, 357 Main in Salt Lake City, starting at 6 p.m., and she’s invited several “Survivor” alumni to come. She is also asking for donations of what people would miss the most if they were on “Survivor,” such as a toothbrush, toothpaste, other toiletries or canned goods, which will be donated to the local homeless shelter.

Thomas said she still remembers what it felt like to brush her teeth after 37 days.

“It feels like you have fuzzy slippers on your teeth,” she said.

“Survivor: Game Changers” premieres Wednesday, March 8, at 7 p.m. MST on CBS.