When Sierra Dawn-Thomas finished competing on the 30th season of "Survivor," which aired in early 2015, she thought she was done with it.
And who could blame her? She had endured 37 days of hardship and deprivation — bad weather, little food, little sleep and the stress of trying to outwit, outplay and outlast the other contestants on the CBS reality/competition show — only to be blindsided and voted out because she was considered a threat on account of being too nice.
"The first time I played, I was, like, 'Never again!' " the Utahn said. "And then two years later, I get the call and I'm, like, 'I'm ready. Let's go!' "
It turned out to be a little more complicated than that. After getting that call from the producers in early 2016, she flew to Los Angeles, went through interviews, got her vaccinations and went home — where she got another call telling her she had not been cast in "Survivor: Game Changers" (Wednesday, 7 p.m., CBS/Ch. 2). She was an alternate.
There it stood for several months. And then …
"I was actually at a rodeo," said the barrel racer, who calls Roy home. "Literally 10 seconds before going into the arena, my phone rings, I answer it and they're, like, 'Hey — you're flying out on Sunday.' And this is a Friday."
She got home late Friday night and spent Saturday trying to "get my life in order before I have to leave first thing Sunday morning. I didn't have as much notice as a lot of the people did this time around."
And this time around, it's a competition among people who have competed on "Survivor" before. Everyone has been on at least one previous season, and some are returning for a second, third, even fourth time. There are three past winners in the cast, including one two-time winner.
"Knowing the cast prior to going in, I was absolutely terrified," Dawn-Thomas said. But not hesitant.
"I like anything that challenges me. And, obviously, 'Survivor' is one of those things," she said. "I thought — you know what? I made it 37 of 39 days my first season. Why not go again and try to do a little bit better."
Even though she knows how tough it can be. And, make no mistake, the hardships in this game are real.
"It's hard to understand unless you're out there and you're experiencing it," Dawn-Thomas said. "Your mind doesn't think the way it does when you're at home when you're not as strong as you usually are. I think I can take on anybody. Any boy, any girl. Like, bring it on! And then I'm out there and I'm weak and exhausted and I get frustrated with my body more than anything."
Heading to Fiji for filming, the Utah woman was determined to "do what I have to do" to win. Maybe not be so nice. But "Survivor" — which airs it 500th episode on Wednesday — has consistently shown viewers that deprivation makes it impossible for contestants to be anything other than real.
"When you haven't been eating or drinking and you're exhausted living in these crazy conditions, you are who you are," Dawn-Thomas said.
And yet she signed up for this again?
"I know. Crazy, right?" she said with a laugh.
Filming on Season 34 of "Survivor" was completed months ago, although even the contestants won't know who won until the finale airs in May. Dawn-Thomas isn't allowed to talk about anything that happened, but she's clearly still on board. Because if she were asked to return for a third season, well …
"It feels kind of fresh for me right now, so I think I would hesitate a little. But if I truly got the call to go back again, I would probably do it," she said with a laugh.