Athleticism is a huge aspect of Survivor, and contestants often find it important to keep their tribes physically strong so that they will perform well in challenges. Tribes with former professional athletes usually keep those players in the early stages of the game with a goal to eliminate them before individual immunity challenges begin.
Over Survivor‘s more than 40 seasons, professional football, basketball, baseball, hockey, and soccer players have competed as well as some Olympians.. They have ranged from being the first boot of a season to winning the game and the title of Sole Survivor, but all were targeted at one time or another for their athletic past.
Survivor: Africa winner Ethan Zohn first competed on the show at age 27. He returned a few years later for All-Stars, and came back nearly two decades later for the iconic Winners At War.
Prior to his first appearance on the show, Ethan was best known for being a professional soccer player. He was a goalkeeper for the Hawaii Tsunami and the Cape Cod Crusaders in the United States, and played for the Highlanders F.C. in Zimbabwe before he founded Grassroots Soccer.
Gary Hogeboom was best known in his Survivor career for lying about who he was — he told his tribe-mates that his name was Gary Hawkins — and maintaining that he was and always had been a landscaper. He also found the first ever hidden immunity idol and used it correctly.
Unbeknownst to his fellow castaways originally, Gary played football for Central Michigan University and then was a quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, Indianapolis Colts and the Phoenix Cardinals. The other contestants quickly figured out his identity and targeted him for being a physical and social threat.
Ashley Massaro was the second person voted out of Survivor: China, so viewers didn’t get a chance to see her Survivor story unfold on their television screens. However, she already had a large television presence as a WWE Diva.
Ashley professionally wrestled for almost four years, returning to the scene briefly in 2017. She was on the popular wrestling show Smackdown! as a commentator after winning the Raw Diva Search in 2005. She died in 2019 less than two weeks before her 40th birthday.
Crystal Cox was best known for her hilarious confessionals on Survivor: Gabon and her season-long rivalry with fellow castaway Randy Bailey. She placed sixth and ended up being a jury member.
Despite her tribe calling her out for her weak performances in challenges, Crystal was an Olympic athlete years before she competed on the show. Crystal ran track and field in the 2004 Olympics and won a gold medal, but was later stripped of it after admitting to doping.
Steve Wright was dealt the unfortunate cards of being on a tribe with notorious Survivor villain Russell Hantz as a captain on the 22nd season of Survivor. He was taken out in a Pagong-like fashion by Boston Rob and his allies, but he did make the jury.
In the 1980s, Steve played in the National Football League for several teams including the Dallas Cowboys, Indianapolis Colts and the Los Angeles Raiders. He was an offensive tackle and briefly played with future Survivor alum Gary Hogeboom when they were both on the Cowboys.
On Survivor: Redemption Island, Grant Mattos became fan-favorite Survivor player “Boston Rob” Mariano’s right-hand man before being blindsided by the legend himself.
Much like his castmate Steve Wright, Grant played professional football. He was a wide receiver and had a fou- year career where he played for San Diego Chargers, Denver Broncos, and the Tennessee Titans before retiring in 2006 due to knee injuries.
Jeff Kent was bitterly voted out of Survivor: Philippines by Lisa and Michael’s alliance just after the merge. He became the second member of the jury and ultimately voted for Denise to become the Sole Survivor.
Jeff was one of the most famous and notable professional athletes to appear on the reality show. He played second base for six teams over the course of his Major League Baseball career, playing his longest stint with one club as a San Francisco Giant.
Julia Landauer was on the “fans” tribe for the second edition of Fans vs. Favorites. Her tribe was taken down pretty quickly by the “favorites,” and she was the victim of a re-vote following a tie at a pre-merge tribal council.
Julia was only 21 years old when competed on Survivor but had already been racing stock cars for several years. Following her appearance on the reality show, she became a NASCAR driver and motivational speaker.
Brad Culpepper was a divisive character both times he appeared on Survivor. The first time, he was known as returning player Monica’s husband and the enemy of several other castaways. His second time around, he made it to the final tribal council and even racked up a few votes after having a great redemption arc.
When his wife Monica first appeared on One World, people recognized her as being married to former NFL player Brad Culpepper. Brad was a defensive tackle for nearly 10 years, playing for teams such as the Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Chicago Bears.
Cliff Robinson had a legendary Survivor bromance with martial arts instructor Woo Hwang before being blindsided at the first tribal council his tribe attended in season 28.
Cliff and Woo bonded over their love for sports and competing, something Cliff knew well as he played professional basketball for 18 seasons. He played for five different teams over the course of his career and was named an NBA All-Star in 1994. Cliff sadly died in 2020 after battling lymphoma. He was 53.
John Rocker was a bit of a hothead when he appeared on the 29th season of Survivor with then-girlfriend Julie McGee, so it was no surprise when he was eliminated third from the game. Julie later quit Survivor because she felt that John’s reputation was hurting her game.
John’s tribemates recognized him as being a relief pitcher in the MLB for several years. He played for teams such as the Braves, Indians, Rangers and Devil Rays during his professional career.
Tyler Frederickson was placed on the “white collar” tribe for Survivor: Worlds Apart, falling victim to an idol play by eventual winner Mike Holloway sometime after the merge.
Before he was on the island, Tyler was a placekicker on eight different NFL teams. Unlike other pro football players who appeared on the show, Tyler never started in a regular season game and was primarily a practice squad member on the teams he was signed to.
Scot Pollard was famously blindsided out of Survivor: Kaoh Rong after Tai Trang refused to join forces with him to activate their shared super-idol at tribal council.
Scot played in the NBA for 11 years, first with for the Detroit Pistons before going on to play for Sacramento, Indiana, Cleveland and Boston. He retired in 2008 after winning a championship.
Alan Ball placed 15th on the 35th season of Survivor. He was voted out on day 11 when a tribe swap didn’t go in his favor after originally being placed on the “heroes” tribe.
Prior to his Survivor appearance, Alan was a football cornerback for several teams including the Cowboys, Texans, Jaguars, Bears and Cardinals. He was released in 2016 following a foot injury the previous season.
Katrina Radkte was unlucky during her time on Survivor, as she was the first person voted out of the 35th season. As far as professional athletes go, she had the worst placement of any to appear on the reality series.
Despite this, Katrina had an impressive professional swimming career. She was on the U.S. team for the 1988 Olympics and won two gold metals in the 1985 and 1987 Pan Pacific Championships.
John Hennigan was a member of the great season 37 alliance the “Brochachos,” in which he and fellow “Goliath” tribe member Dan aligned with “David” tribe member and all-around likable Survivor castaway Christian Hubicki.
Originally born John Hennigan, John adopted the stage name John Morrison as well as the nickname “Mayor of Slamtown” in the professional wrestling scene. He has won multiple WWE championships over the course of his two-decades-long career.
Bi Nguyen’s time on Survivor was cut short due to a knee injury early on that led her to withdraw from the game in order to protect her career.
Bi was an MMA fighter when she competed on the show, something she continued to pursue after leaving the game. Her knee injury took months to heal, causing her to lose her first post-Survivor match. She goes by the wrestling name Killer Bee.
Elizabeth Biesel was the third Olympian to compete on Survivor, and she did well in challenges due to her swimming excellence.
Though she didn’t strike gold on the show, Elizabeth has racked up plenty of medals during the course of her career. She went to the Olympics in 2008, 2012 and 2016, specializing in the individual swimming medleys and backstroke.
Tom Laidlaw competed on the 39th season of Survivor as a member of the Lairo tribe. He created strong connections with his tribemates early on, but he was voted out following a trip swap.
Tom was best known for his professional hockey career spanning 12 years. He played as a defenseman for the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Raiders before going on to be a motivational speaker.
Danny McCray is the latest pro athlete to compete on Survivor, making his appearance on the Survivor 41, which host Jeff Probst declared as being a new era of the reality series.
While Danny’s fate on the show has yet to be determined, he has appeared on television screens before. He was a safety in the NFL for six years, playing for teams such as the Dallas Cowboys and the Chicago Bears after graduating from Louisiana State University.
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