‘The Challenge: USA’ Winners Danny & Sarah on That ‘Tough’ Final & Everyone Else Quitting
And then there were two.
The Challenge: USA started its final with 10 players, but then Ben Driebergen was medically disqualified, and by the end, there were only two players at the top of the mountain. And that was because everyone else quit: Enzo Palumbo in the first leg, swimming (taking his partner Desi Williams with him); Angela Rummans, after thinking she could just take last place in the all-night checkpoint; and Tyson Apostol, Justine Ndiba, Dom Abbate, and Cayla Platt during the final leg, at sudoku. Danny McCray reached the finish line first, followed by Sarah Lacina, who had been so far behind she thought she was going to come in last. Thankfully, she refused to quit.
Here, McCray (who took home $245,500) and Lacina (who won $254,500) take us inside that final and look ahead to the world championship.
You were the only ones to finish the final. Talk about that last leg, because Danny, you were ahead of everyone and then Sarah, you thought you were coming in last.
McCray: The last leg was great because it was individual. That trek was tough. The terrain was tough. Going from a warmer degree all the way up to snowing and almost blizzards and sleet and icy water, it was an experience, but it was very fun to do. Definitely glad that they had sudoku at the end because it allowed me to pass Tyson and get the win.
Lacina: I love to compete, whether I win or lose. Obviously, I want to win. I beat myself up when I don’t do well. Going into that [leg], Danny and I both had 17 points. For me, it was as long as you don’t finish in last place, you’re gonna win. I don’t have to be first, just don’t be last. Once everybody left, it was really, really demoralizing for me. And then, I find out that I had won and not even to find out on that top of the mountain … But I would say the money is great, but the lesson that I get to walk away with is even better. Because it’s like, what reasons did I have to continue? I’m assuming I’m not gonna win. Everybody would have to quit in order for me to win, but just to be there alone for an hour, two hours and have to fight through that and know that I can get through that and continue and nothing is gonna stop me no matter if I get up to the top and get a high five or $250,000… It’s just something that I’ll never forget and I’m forever grateful to have.
Was that last leg the most brutal part of the final for both of you?
McCray: No, that was probably the third hardest. I think the overnight for me was tough just because it’s tough on your back. It’s all night. You’re starting to cramp because you’ve been working all day and not eating and the onions and garlic, for as easy as it may have looked to some of the viewers, was brutal. It was absolutely horrible.
Lacina: I would say for me mentally that last leg was the hardest. Physically, definitely, the overnight leg was, but yeah, that last leg was 90 percent mental. And what are you willing to push through and pass and go through?
Do you think it’s that mental aspect that led to so many people quitting on that last leg?
Lacina: 100 percent. People are getting to that sudoku — the reason I still think I’m last is because everybody has quit before I even get there. So I’m assuming that everybody’s finished because if I just weathered the storm for two hours by myself, surely everybody else can do it. But they were already gone. They weren’t there, they had already quit. So I don’t know if they were there for a half an hour and quit or whatever, but I think if you’re willing to endure that — I’ve watched The Challenge before. As long as you don’t quit, at some point — they weren’t gonna let that go on for two days — you were going to time out. That’s not a secret. But are you willing to redo your whole puzzle again? Are you willing to stay out there for another hour? That’s what it boils down to.
McCray: It was super surprising. I think mentally what happens is you assume that there’s gonna be one winner. Then you see that winner take off and realize that you have another 45 minutes probably to redo this puzzle. And then you say, alright, was it worth it for how much money I have on my bank account? When those doubts start to creep into your mind, you start making more excuses for, yeah, I may as well get out of here. And once that first one gets in, it’s hard for you to continue to keep going. So like Sarah said, that’s why you have to always have a deeper reason to keep on going. It’s not about the $5-6,000 I have in my account. It’s about my wife at home, my daughter at home, my mom, who do I want to inspire? And as long as you have one of those things, I think you’re able to push through, of course, unless there’s like some type of health or safety issue.
Lacina: I have a cousin with cerebral palsy, [who] can’t walk, he’s trying to learn to re-walk because he had another surgery done to his legs. He would give anything to walk up that mountain. So for me to sit here and say, it’s not worth it? He would do it for free. He would pay to do it. How could I succumb to that?
Speaking of the money, past Challenges have sometimes left it up to the players to split the pot. And Danny, since you arrived first and it likely would’ve fallen on you, I’m curious, would you have split the pot with Sarah?
McCray: I would’ve taken $1 more than Sarah. [Both laugh] Me and Sarah have had this conversation. I would’ve taken $1 more than Sarah and we would’ve moved onto the Challenge championship and tried to win some more money. I think that’s another part of the game that you also have to take into account. We’re moving on. We’re partners. We are representing the USA in the CBS version of The Challenge in the world championship. So it wouldn’t work out for me if I tried to do it that way.
Sarah, would you have done the same thing, maybe taken $1 more or what?
Lacina: I would’ve split it with Danny. We’d split that dollar. Like he said, there’s a bigger picture. We know that we’re playing to go on and there’s more to life than money, too. And so, personally and it being Danny, no, I wouldn’t have taken the money from him.
Speaking of that championship, what are you expecting from that and how are you preparing?
McCray: I’m expecting a lot of swimming, a lot of climbing. I believe this will probably be a little bit more extreme. So really just working on the stuff that I struggled on in this Challenge, which is swimming, some of my grip strength because climbing those buoys and that ladder really puts a little strain on your form. Working on those things, making sure that I’m prepared and ready to go with that if that opportunity arises again.
Lacina: Yeah, same. Swimming for me, balancing and I need to practice doing puzzles more just to stay sharp. And we’re doing our normal workout routines and making sure our endurance is where it needs to be. I think Danny and I are gonna be a force.
Sarah, you wanted to throw yourself in on a guys’ elimination day, which turned out to be a Hall Brawl of all things. How serious were you about throwing yourself in and how glad are you that you didn’t considering how the season ended?
McCray: Before you do that, I’m glad, Sarah, I’m glad.
Lacina: I know. Yeah. At that point, I had gotten a call from home. My husband’s telling me my son’s sick, he’s been throwing up. He’s up all night, having to clean puke up. Then we had a mass shooting at a bar in Cedar Rapids and I’m one of our homicide investigators. My boss had called him and was like, “hey, when’s Sarah coming home? We can really use her.” So for me, there was a lot of stuff going on back at home and in the house at that point. I was not enjoying my time at all. I felt like I was being a burden to my family and my coworkers. So I was at the point where I’m like if you quit — one, I won’t quit, two, you don’t get your stipend that you get. So I’m like, just throw me in. If I win, it’s a great story. If I lose, I go home. I don’t care. Just throw me in. So yeah, in the moment, 100 percent I wanted to go in, but it had nothing to do with Enzo. I definitely wouldn’t want to go against Enzo. Enzo would’ve ran through me. But this is how it all works out.
McCray: I would say that I think people think that Survivor may be harder for this instance, but it’s not. Because Survivor, when you go, you don’t see your family, you don’t talk to them so you don’t get that news. You don’t have to see their faces if they’re sad, if they’re happy. On here, you see them twice a week. And then if you get bad news, you’re not gonna talk to them again for another three days. So then you have to sit there and let that stew. So I understand definitely where you’re coming from on that one, Sarah.
Lacina: Yeah. And your kids are saying, “Mom, when are you coming home?” And it breaks your heart. And you’re not with anybody that knows you. And I’m not winning stuff. I’m just like, is this worth it? There’s more drama going on in the house and I’m going, “my home life is really suffering for this. Is this worth it to me?” Those were my thoughts at the time. I’m glad it worked out the way it did. I’m glad I didn’t go in because Enzo would’ve been embarrassed.