10 cop skills used by “Survivor” champ Officer Tony Vlachos to become a two-time winner

To achieve his goal of victory with honor, Tony used his experience as a cop to great effect


The 40th season of "Survivor: Winners at War” pitted former champions against each other. Two police officers – Tony Vlachos of the Jersey City Police Department and Sarah Lacina of the Cedar Rapids Police Department – were among former winners competing for a $2M prize. 

From day one, Tony and Sarah teamed with Marine combat veteran Ben Dribergen to form a rock-solid alliance called “Cops R Us.” All three shared early on that they felt conflicted about the way they had to play to win the cut-throat game during their winning seasons. They all agreed they wanted to win, but in a manner that would make their families proud.

To achieve his goal of victory with honor, Tony employed identifiable cop skills with great effect. The skills on display were:

Challenge after challenge Tony found himself behind, but he performed under pressure with patience and calmness enabling him to win four immunity challenges. (Photo/TNS)
Challenge after challenge Tony found himself behind, but he performed under pressure with patience and calmness enabling him to win four immunity challenges. (Photo/TNS)

1. Depend on your partner

Time and time again, Ben, Tony and Sarah placed their faith in each other and like good beat partners, they proved to always have each other’s back.

2. Stay cool under pressure

Challenge after challenge Tony found himself behind, but he performed under pressure with patience and calmness enabling him to win four immunity challenges, one short of the "Survivor" record.

3. Be willing to work nights

After every vote when an idol was played (the idol provides immunity from being voted off the island) another is hidden. Aggressive players get up at dawn to look for the hidden idol. Tony, however, went out at night as everyone slept.

4. Improvise, adapt and overcome

On these night missions, Tony had no flashlight so he gathered up embers along with a burning log to light up the jungle while conducting a “grid search.” He was able to find one idol, without a clue, in the dark on that Pacific Island and return to camp unnoticed. Wow!

5, Identify indicators of deception

When critical votes were imminent Tony would ask his fellow competitors what the plan was. When they lied, Tony correctly detected the lie by recognizing indicators of deception like the hesitancy in the answer, a stutter, or sudden change of direction of the eyes.

6. have a well-constructed stakeout to gather intelligence

Tony was able to confirm his suspicions after detecting deception and hit his rivals back first, because, during the early days of the competition Tony built a hide about 20 feet up in a tree. His “spy’s nest” overlooked the well, which was a regular scheming point. He would hold tight in that tree for as long as an hour to overhear his opponents' plans.

7. be Mentally and Physically Fit

Tony and Sarah were in top physical condition and this resulted in a high level of performance in the grueling physical and mental challenges.

8. “Cops R Us” Honor at all cost

One of the most touching moments in "Survivor" history occurred after Sarah discovered the time had come when one of their alliance would have to be voted out. As she discussed this with Marine combat veteran Ben, who had decided to play a game that would put loyalty and honor on a higher level than the money, Ben told Sarah to write his name down to vote him off the island. He told her it would improve her chances of winning with the jury. He declared he would not write the name down of anyone in his alliance. Ben figuratively threw himself on the grenade for the other members of his team. The emotion shared by these two friends at that moment was very real and moving to watch.

9. Practice Makes Prepared

Ultimately Sarah and Tony found themselves competing against each other in a “fire challenge” to make it into the final three. Both had practiced extensively the art of making fire. For this challenge, they were given the same amount of fire-starting materials. The goal was to start a fire and get it burning high enough to burn through a rope that would cause the raising of a flag. Because both had trained for this challenge it became so close a competition it was as Wellington said after the Battle of Waterloo, this was one of “the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.”

Both Tony and Sarah stayed calm and expertly nursed their fire until their flames were lapping high at the ropes simultaneously. However, Tony’s rope snapped and his flag popped up moments before Sarah’s.

In exhaustion the two police officers hugged, clearly parting the game friends for life.

10. Testify in front of the jury to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Tony was one of the final three and had to answer questions about his game-play before the jury of his peers, who were all defeated contestants. Now they had the responsibility of voting for the finalist who was worthy of the title of Champion of Champions.

During the testimony, Tony secured the victory by testifying to how much he respected them all and how this inspired him to venture out at night to find idols. He described how he thwarted plans against him by hiding in the tree above the well to spy on them while they plotted. His light-hearted, yet honest description of his game won him not only the laughter of the jury but also their respect. This was especially born out by the fact that for the first time in "Survivor" history, the jury gave the final three a standing ovation after the testimony.

“Cops R Us” Member wins!

After the votes were counted, Officer Tony Vlachos of the Jersey City Police Department was declared the Champion of Champions of season 40.

Congratulations, Tony, from all of us at Policeone. You not only won $2M, but you also represented our profession positively and honorably. We are proud to call you one of our own!

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