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'Survivor' character visits Smiley
0307 Long survivor guy
Lea “Sarge” Masters tells Mrs. Goodson’s third-grade class about his adventure on “Survivor.” - photo by Photo by Mike Riddle
Former “Survivor” cast member Lea “Sarge” Masters visited Smiley Elementary School last week to promote reading and share stories about his adventure on the hit television series.
Masters, who retired from the Army in 2008, now lives in the Long County area. School officials asked him to visit with students and read to them to promote literacy and celebrate the 87th birthday of children’s author Dr. Theodor Seuss.  
After spending time in Mrs. Goodson’s and Mrs. Landon’s classes, Masters spoke with a few faculty members, fielded questions and took photos with “Survivor” fans.
“I’m currently finishing school to be a teacher,” Masters said. “I really want to teach kids in the area of seventh and eighth grade, so when I was asked to come out today, I didn’t hesitate. I think it’s great that the school is celebrating Dr. Seuss’ birthday and I will do all I can to help promote the importance of reading.”
The former drill instructor’s visit to SES is no surprise to anyone who knows him. Masters said he spends about 200 to 500 hours a year volunteering with different organizations that support children. He donates his time to several charities and he’s planning to work with the Kosair Charities Shriners in Louisville, Ky., on June 25-27, and the Make a Wish Foundation in Celebration, Fla., on July 24-26.
Masters said he decided to retire to the area after he developed several close friendships with Long County residents during the 12 years he was assigned to Fort Stewart. He retired as a sergeant first class after serving in Kuwaiti, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.  
Of his television stint, Masters said he wasn’t a fan of “Survivor” when he submitted his application for consideration. He said his family pushed him into it.
“I didn’t even watch ‘Survivor,’ Masters said. “I was a DI (drill instructor) when the show first came on and I was away from my family a lot. They got hooked on it and my son Kris kept saying, ‘Dad, you need to put in for it. You would be perfect for the show.’ So I did and the rest is history.”
Though “Sarge,” as he was called by his co-stars, didn’t win the show’s $1 million prize, he did last for 26 of the 39 days and was named to the jury that did select grand prize winner Chris Daugherty.
Masters said he recently attended the 10th anniversary party of “Survivor” and he treasures the friendships he made on the show.
“I still keep in touch with several of the guys from the show — Chris (Daugherty), Chad (Crittenden), Twila (Tanner), several of them. We talk quite a bit and see each other when we can,” he said.
“Sarge” also talked about one of his former co-stars who is now on the “Heroes vs. Villains” series.
“Russell (Hantz), he’s the man. He’s a player. He loves ‘Survivor’ and he believes that he is the best player to ever play the game,” Masters said.
He said being selected for “Survivor” made him appreciate people more. “Being on ‘Survivor,’ I developed some great friendships. I also gained a greater respect for people with different types of personalities. Being in the military for as long as I was, I had the military mindset. Being on ‘Survivor’ opened me up to seeing other people’s views more,” Masters said.
The former cast member was asked if he would ever consider playing again, should the opportunity arise.
“Well, I was approached in 2007 about playing in the ‘Fans vs. Favorites’ series, but I was in Iraq at the time so I couldn’t do it,” Masters said. “But yeah, I would, if it was feasible.”
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