49ers

Former NFLer Danny McCray joins long list of athletes on Survivor

49ers
Danny McCray
Danny McCray will look to become the fourth former professional athlete to win Survivor.
USA Today

After a strenuous and exhausting career in professional sports, some athletes might retreat to a tropical paradise to relax. Others find themselves on an island fighting for their survival and a million dollars.

Former athletes have a storied history on “Survivor.” For 40 seasons, they have gone from teams to tribes and traded away their medals and trophies for immunity idols while attempting to outwit, outlast and outplay the competition for the title of “Sole Survivor.”

Season 41 promises to be a “monster” after a 16-month hiatus, and a former NFL player will be one of the competitors facing it. Former Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears safety Danny McCray is one of the 18 castaways in what promises to be a brand new game.

Former athletes have seen all levels of success on “Survivor,” from one last-place finisher to three Sole Survivors. Here are all of the professional athletes to appear on “Survivor” listed by their first appearance on the show:

 

Ethan Zohn -- Survivor: Africa, Survivor: All-Stars, Survivor: Winners at War

The first professional athlete to appear on “Survivor” came out on top.

Ethan Zohn was a goalkeeper for the Hawaii Tsunami and Cape Cod Crusaders in the United Soccer Leagues and also played professionally in Zimbabwe. He brought his love of soccer to Kenya for “Survivor,” taking a hacky sack with him as his "luxury item" for the show.

After being named the third ever Sole Survivor, Zohn used part of his winnings to start Grassroot Soccer, which uses the game to help kids in developing countries.

Zohn later appeared on “Survivor: All-Stars” and “Survivor: Winners at War,” the latter of which came nearly a decade after he won a battle with CD20-positive Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Gary Hogeboom -- Survivor: Guatemala

Gary Hogeboom spent 11 seasons in the NFL as a quarterback for the Cowboys, Indianapolis Colts and Phoenix Cardinals. With 16 years between his retirement and "Survivor: Guatemala," he hoped to keep his football past under wraps.

His cover as landscaper "Gary Hawkins" was quickly in danger as opposing tribe member Danni Boatwright, a sports radio host in Kansas City, brought up Hogeboom's quarterbacking career during a challenge. Hogeboom continued to deny that he had been a football player and fought to stay in the game, even finding and using the first hidden immunity idol in “Survivor” history to stay alive.

Hogeboom's quest ended on Day 30 and Boatwright went on to win the season.

Aras Baskauskas -- Survivor: Panama

Aras Baskauskas brought an athletic background to "Survivor: Panama," but it was his exceptional social game that elevated him to become the Sole Survivor.

Baskauskas played college hoops at UC Irvine and briefly played professionally in Lithuania. Despite his basketball skills, there was another top dog when it came to “Survivor” challenges: Terry Deitz. The two went head to head throughout the season, but Deitz won the first five individual immunity challenges. Fellow contestant Danielle DiLorenzo won the final immunity challenge and decided to vote out Deitz over Baskauskas.

Baskauskas won the jury vote over DiLorenzo 5-2 to become the Sole Survivor. Baskauskas returned to the show seven years later for "Survivor: Blood vs. Water" along with his brother, Vytas, and was the 10th player voted out.

J.P. Calderon -- Survivor: Cook Islands

J.P. Calderon played volleyball at Long Beach State University before going on to coach at the school and for the Junior Olympics. He began a pro volleyball career shortly before he appeared on "Survivor: Cook Islands."

 

His time in the game lasted just 11 days as he was the fourth player voted out.

Ashley Massaro -- Survivor: China

Ashley Massaro made history as the first female athlete to be cast on "Survivor." She had previous reality TV success, as she earned a contract with World Wrestling Entertainment as a contestant on “RAW Diva Search” in 2005. Her "Survivor: China" stint ended swiftly, though, as she was the second player voted out.

The season also featured a future “American Ninja Warrior” competitor in Michael “Frosti” Zernow and professional poker player Jean-Robert Bellande.

Crystal Cox -- Survivor: Gabon

You would have a tough time believing Crystal Cox was a former Olympian based on her showing on "Survivor: Gabon."

Cox won a gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics after running in the preliminary round of the women's 4x400m relay. That title was later stripped from her and she was suspended for four years after she admitted to doping.

Her time in Gabon was rocky. She lost 12 of 14 tribal challenges, but she exhibited a solid social game and was part of a strong alliance that helped her reach the final six. 

Tyson Apostol -- Survivor: Tocantins, Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains, Survivor: Blood vs. Water, Survivor: Winners at War

Tyson Apostol is one of the most beloved players in the history of "Survivor," but he also has an unorthodox sports career.

He swam at BYU and was a professional cyclist in Austria before making his first "Survivor" appearance in 2009. Apostol has taken another sport by storm, as he is now the self-proclaimed "No. 1 pickleball personality in the world."

As far as "Survivor," Apostol made four appearances: Tocantins, Heroes vs. Villains, Blood vs. Water and Winners at War. He was crowned sole survivor in his third go-around.

"Survivor: Tocantins" also featured a cameo from a four-time NFL Pro Bowler. Eddie George made an appearance during the loved ones visit to join his wife, Tamera “Taj” Johnson-George,, the eventual fourth-place finisher.

Jimmy Johnson -- Survivor: Nicaragua

How bout them tribals?

Jimmy Johnson only saw two of them, as he was the third person eliminated from "Survivor: Nicaragua." As the oldest contestant during his season, the former Cowboys and University of Miami head coach's fame turned into his downfall as he was unanimously voted out on Day 8.

 

Steve Wright and Grant Mattos -- Survivor: Redemption Island

"Survivor: Redemption Island" featured a pair of NFL players from different eras.

Steve Wright was an offensive lineman for the Cowboys, Colts and Oakland Raiders during his 10-year career before retiring in 1992. Grant Mattos, on the other hand, played just six games for the San Diego Chargers in 2003, amassing two tackles.

Mattos' "Survivor" tenure lasted longer than Wright's, though. Wright was eliminated following a duel on Redemption Island on Day 31 before Mattos met the same fate on Day 36.

Jeff Kent -- Survivor: Philippines

With a National League MVP Award, five All-Star nods and four Silver Slugger Awards, former MLB second baseman Jeff Kent brought a competitive edge to "Survivor: Philippines." He immediately tried to target the returning players in the game and was in a good position up to the merge.

Kent's time on the island ended on Day 22 when he was the eighth player voted out. He did not go out quietly, though, giving an infamous confessional after his elimination where he stated the show's $1 million prize was "six hundred grand by the time Obama takes it."

Julia Landauer -- Survivor: Caramoan

Julia Landauer landed on the Fans tribe during the show's second edition of "Fans vs. Favorites." She made it through the early stage of the game unscathed before being voted out after drawing ire from some of the “Favorites” players.

Her stock car racing career has been much more prosperous. She became the first female champion in the Skip Barber Racing Series at just 14 years old and finished fifth in the EuroNASCAR 2 standings in 2020.

Brad Culpepper -- Survivor: Blood vs. Water, Survivor: Game Changers

Brad Culpepper was nearly unrecognizable on his two "Survivor" appearances compared to his NFL career. After playing nine NFL seasons as a defensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Bears, Culpepper lost 80 pounds before appearing on the show.

He joined his wife, returning player Monica, for his first season, "Blood vs. Water." Brad finished in 15th place while Monica made it all 39 days and finished second.

 

Brad returned for "Survivor: Game Changers" seven seasons later and nearly became the Sole Survivor. He was a physical beast, becoming just the sixth player ever to win five individual immunity challenges in a single season. Like Monica, he ultimately came in second place, falling seven votes to three at the final tribal council to winner Sarah Lacina.

Cliff Robinson -- Survivor: Cagayan

Cliff Robinson had it made to begin "Survivor: Cagayan."

After an illustrious 18-year NBA career with the Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns, Detroit Pistons, Golden State Warriors and New Jersey Nets, Robinson was aptly placed on the dominant "Brawn" tribe. Of the six members on the tribe, there was an eventual two-time winner (Tony Vlachos), one-time winner (Lacina) and runner-up (Yung "Woo" Hwang). Robinson even got to use his basketball skills in a challenge. (Also included in the season was former Miami Marlins president David Samson, who was the first player voted out.)

Robinson's game quickly went out in flames on Day 14 as Vlachos orchestrated his elimination.

Robinson died at 53 years old in August of 2020.

John Rocker -- Survivor: San Juan del Sur

It didn't take long for John Rocker's infamous past to catch up to him on "Survivor: San Juan del Sur."

 

Between discriminatory comments and admitted steroid use during his MLB career, the former relief pitcher started out the game with his girlfriend, Julie McGee, and quickly made enemies. Eventual winner Natalie Anderson called Rocker out during a challenge because of his past comments and Rocker was voted out on Day 8 with an unused hidden immunity idol in his possession.

Tyler Fredrickson -- Survivor: Worlds Apart

College football fans might remember Tyler Fredrickson as a Cal kicker who drilled a game-winning field goal in triple-overtime against No. 3 USC in 2003. NFL fans might remember Fredrickson as a kicker for Washington and Oakland who never made it into a regular season game. Fans of the Arena Football League MIGHT remember him as a kicker for the Los Angeles Avengers.

Fans of "Survivor," however, will remember him as an under-the-radar player from the show's 30th season.

Fredrickson was in the majority alliance through most of the game, but his group turned on him as the game wound down and he was blindsided on Day 32.

Scot Pollard -- Survivor: Kaoh Rong

Scot Pollard's elimination was one of the most iconic "Survivor" moments of the last 10 seasons.

The former Detroit Pistons, Sacramento Kings, Indiana Pacers, Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics center asserted himself as a strategic threat on "Survivor: Kaoh Rong." As the numbers grew against him and his top ally, Kyle Jason, the two began sabotaging the camp. Pollard's exit came when Tai Trang backed out of a deal to save him with a super idol, which could have kept him alive even after votes were read.

 

At 6-foot-11, Pollard is the second-tallest contestant ever on "Survivor." The top distinction goes to 7-foot Michell Olson, who competed on the show's second season.

Chris Hammons -- Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X

Chris Hammons never reached the NFL, but the college tight end was a captain for the 2000 Oklahoma squad that won a national championship over Florida State.

On "Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X," the former Sooners tight end leveraged that title into an alliance with Zeke Smith, who was raised in Oklahoma City. Smith eventually blindsided Hammons after the merge on Day 28 since Hammons had emerged a physical and social threat.

Katrina Radke -- Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers

Katrina Radke made the wrong kind of history on "Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers."

The former U.S. Olympic swimmer is the only former pro athlete to be voted out first in a "Survivor" season. Radke was part of the “Heroes” tribe that lost the first immunity challenge and she was unanimously voted out of the game.

Alan Ball -- Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers

One of the castaways who sent Radke home was McCray’s teammate in Dallas.

Alan Ball played nine NFL seasons as a defensive back for the Cowboys, Texans, Jaguars and Bears and collected six career interceptions. He made some notable moves during his brief stint on the island before being voted out on Day 11.

John Hennigan -- Survivor: David vs. Goliath

The Mayor of Slamtown was in Fiji for "Survivor: David vs. Goliath."

Pro wrestler John Hennigan -- also known as Johnny Nitro, John Morrison, Johnny Mundo, Johnny Impact, the Shaman of Sexy and The Wednesday Night Delight -- was placed on the “Goliath” tribe and comfortably made it to the merge. While his physical skills were apparent, he also exhibited a solid social game by landing in the majority alliance.

Hennigan's "Survivor" journey came to an end during a tribal council where two hidden immunity idols were used. He finished in 12th place.

 

Elizabeth Beisel and Tom Laidlaw -- Survivor: Island of the Idols

The most recent "Survivor" season solely made up of new contestants featured two former pro athletes.

Elizabeth Beisel, a two-time Olympic medalist, swam in three Summer Games before competing in "Survivor: Island of the Idols." Meanwhile, Tom Laidlaw played 11 years in the NHL for the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings.

Laidlaw was on the outs from the beginning, but he stayed in the game for 14 days before being voted out.

Beisel, like Hennigan, was voted out in part because of a hidden immunity idol being played at tribal council. She made it 30 days into the game and finished in ninth place.