Ranking the Former Pro Athletes of Survivor

As we said goodbye to Scot Pollard last week, it only seemed appropriate to rank the Survivor players that Scot is most like: the other professional athletes, because that was his profession.

"Play or Go Home" -- Scot Pollard during the sixth episode of SURVIVOR KAOH: RONG -- Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty. The show airs, Wednesday, March 23 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Robert Voets /CBS Entertainment ©2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights. Reserved.

There has been some controversy about who is considered a professional athlete/Survivor contestant, so I shall start off by saying who we will not include:

  • Jimmy Johnson was never a professional athlete, he was a college athlete and a coach.
  • Ethan Zohn only played minor league soccer. If you’re not on TV, you don’t count. Same goes for Tyson Apostol and cycling and Matt Bischoff with BMX. Julia Landauer only made it to the NASCAR minor leagues as well, and is driving really a sport anyway?
  • Ashley Massaro may have been on TV, and you have to be athletic to be in the WWE, but I’m more inclined to consider pro wrestlers performers than athletes. Not saying it’s not hard work, don’t @ me, wrestling fans.
  • Crystal Cox only ran in the preliminary rounds for the relay, not the final, with no evidence that she ever ran pro in Europe. Also, she was stripped of her medal anyway.
  • No, Kenny Hoang’s gaming career doesn’t make him an athlete, are you fucking kidding me? Get out of here, nerd.

With that settled, here are the men (sigh, classic Survivor, classic sports) who did make the cut.

8. John Rocker – Survivor: San Juan del Sur

john rocker baseball
I made sure to find a picture where he looks stupid. I got your back, New York.

Many people were against this casting from the beginning; John Rocker has a rather unsavory reputation and many Survivor fans didn’t want to risk things getting ugly. Sure, he didn’t end up saying anything as controversial as he did in Sports Illustrated except for, you know, threatening to knock out Natalie’s teeth… if she were a man. Some might argue he brought more entertainment in his short time on Survivor than the following entries, but he didn’t stick around long enough for a satisfying comeuppance, and he dragged a quitter along with him.

7. Steve Wright – Survivor: Redemption Island

Steve Wright football

While we appreciate the gesture of quickly dispatching Russell Hantz after his third time playing in four seasons, Steve was a big supporter of one of the more misguided thrown challenges in Survivor (I’m looking at you, Ozzy). The only other noteworthy moment of Steve’s game was the unfortunate “rice wars” incident with Phillip. Though it’s hard to blame the guy, it’s not anything that makes him seem like great casting. Unlike most of the other athletes on this list, he wasn’t even stunt casting, as evidence of not being the only other former NFL player on the season.

6. Grant Mattos – Survivor: Redemption Island

Grant Mattos football

As the other NFL player on Redemption Island, Grant was slightly more interesting than Steve due to A) lasting longer (phrasing), B) being Rob’s BFUF (best friend until the finale), and C) white boy dreads. He was one of the more major non-Rob players in the season, but unfortunately that says very little.

5. Brad Culpepper – Survivor: Blood vs. Water

brad culpepper football

Sure, he couldn’t count and was perhaps overprotective of his wife, but at least he created an alpha male alliance! I’ve been lead to understand that’s a favorite demo of the Purple Rock audience. Brad was not super appealing, but that made Caleb’s flip that much better. And remember kids, “four with nine is out, five with nine is in”.

4. Cliff Robinson – Survivor: Cagayan

Heh, Blazers.
Heh, Blazers.

The bromance between Uncle Cliffy and Woo was one for the ages, if not for the post-merge. Cliff didn’t get much to do, but he was a fun presence and had one of the better instances of being discovered by his tribemates – with Woo admitted he had a Cliff Robinson basketball card growing up. But Cliff’s true legacy was gifting us with the first instance of Woo blindside face.

3. Gary Hogeboom – Survivor: Guatemala

gary hogeboom football

Gary Hogeboom (née Hawkins) is not only the first professional athlete (in a major league, Ethan) but he was also the first to ever find and play a hidden immunity idol, however under powered it may have been.  As such, he introduced the Survivor world to the trope of professional athletes lying about their identity and being discovered (along with the trope of their identity being discovered by someone in the game). Though he was not the most dynamic individual, his insistence of being Gary Hawkins: landscaper, is enough to place him at third on our list.

2. Jeff Kent – Survivor: Philippines

jeff-kent baseball

While I may be biased because Jeff Kent spent years playing second base for my beloved Giants, I’m also biased because he spent years playing second base for my despised Dodgers. Kent is arguably the most successful athlete on this list, yet he made it through with only one person knowing his identity. She was dispatched as soon as possible and never told anyone else. Everyone remembers his final words, but Kent actually had some game in him. Unfortunately, he was too focused on voting out returning players. On the bright side, the tribal council where he was booted was the Cinderella story in our Ultimate Tribal Council tournament.

1. Scot Pollard – Survivor: Kaoh Rong

He was eccentric. There were so many looks to choose from!
He was eccentric. There were so many looks to choose from!

I generally try to avoid discussing current players while writing my blogs, but Andy said I had to because “this list only has value with Scot in it. It’s an attempt to see where he rates”. And for my money, he rates at number one. Sure, he didn’t always come across great, and Gary may have finished one place higher, but he was certainly entertaining. When your boot instantly enters Survivor lore as historic, satisfying, and dramatic as hell, you get to be on top of a lot of lists.

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Emma is the token chick of the Purple Rock Podcast. She has watched the show continuously since the second episode and is pretty sure she's never seen the pilot.

Favorite seasons: Heroes vs. Villains, Micronesia, Cambodia, Cook Islands, China, Philippines

Favorite players: Courtney Yates, Parvati Shallow, John Cochran, Cirie Fields, Yul Kwon, Kim Spradlin
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51 thoughts on “Ranking the Former Pro Athletes of Survivor

  1. Brad Culpepper wuz robbed.

    (He basically had the downfall arc of Scot except he was a nicer guy and a hilariously bad player)

  2. Wait, Redemption Island had 2 professional athletes? How did I not know this? How was this not the main selling point of this season? What else did it have going for … oh, right.

  3. Also, I’m sure all your athletes in the Ethan Zohn paragraph were on TV somewhere, and were getting paid to play sports, which is kind of the definition of pro athlete.

    1. Mostly what we’re talking about here were stunt casting of athletes that had a brush with fame prior to Survivor. Ethan and Tyson weren’t cast because of their athletics. That’s just what they happened to do.

      I also challenge you to find any proof that they were ever on TV.

  4. Gary Hogeboom is my favorite, but it’s been a minute since I watched Guatemala and I’m not sure I can remember why.

    1. you mean Gary Hawkins, landscaper. Hogeboom is this NFL quarterback who definitely went to the same college, and looks similar to Gary Hawkins, but they definitely are not the same person

      1. That was by far my favourite part of that, that Survivor brought one of like the 1/3% of America that would know not only what Gary Hogeboom looks like, but also that Gary Hogeboom went to Central Michigan. And then Gary didn’t change his story and be like “No, I went to Michigan State” or something like that.

    2. He was hilarious with his Gary Hawkins stuff. Loved him calling out Judd at tribal when Judd claimed he never lied in the game and he brought up the the idol was by far not on the ground despite what Judd had claimed. Surprisingly solid player too. Guatemala is a lot better of a season than it’s reputation suggest. Not the best but pretty entertaining IMO.

  5. I love that Tyler did not make the list, despite playing for the Redskins (in the preseason only, which still would have been on tv). This is entirely fitting.

    1. I’ve been a die hard Redskins fan my entire life and even I had never heard of Tyler. He certainly seemed like a person who was on Survivor though.

      1. I’ve heard rumors he was on Survivor but have yet to see any real confirmation of that. Was he the weird guy named Vince?

  6. I kinda think Other Kelly should have been included in the “not included” list. Also, I don’t think Brad Culpepper should rank above Uncle Cliffy or anything, but he deserves our eternal gratitude for (unintentionally and indirectly) causing Colton to quit a second time.

      1. Kelly Bruno (of course, the question of why anything from Nicaragua was overlooked answers itself).

    1. I don’t remember Brad Culpepper having much to do with Colton quitting? Really I think most of the credit should go to RC’s dad for messing up the cast and forcing them to change the season format.

      As John frequently point out RC’s dad is one of the true MVPs of Survivor.

      1. Maybe I’m misremembering, but isn’t Marissa (and/or Candace?) screaming at Culpepper what triggered Colton’s meltdown?

        1. It’s the proximate cause, but I’m pretty sure at that point Colton was done and looking for any reason to quit.

          He only came back in the first place because he was promised he would be on a tribe with Caleb, and that falling through plus a tribe of (almost) all returnees not being susceptible to his scheming pretty much broke him.

          1. He basically quit because he couldn’t get his way with smarter players than the men in One World.

          2. I think that was the final straw, but I’m pretty sure getting surprised with the fact that he and Caleb wouldn’t be on the same tribe contributed.

  7. It’s disheartening to think that Pollard takes the #1 spot, but I can’t argue with the logic. Mainly though I’m just incredibly bummed out at having to be reminded how terrible Redemption Island was.

    As far as gimmicks go, I don’t think casting former pro athletes has really netted the show much. The casting department struck out every time they tried. They should punt on the idea; pick normal people and just roll with it.

    While it sounds boring, I’d like to see a list of the top ten pharmaceutical sales reps (or whatever) to have played Survivor. I bet you’d have a more interesting bunch than these losers.

    1. Nice sport term usage! I would be down with a pharmaceutical sales rep list
      Just for a quick glance at Survivor Wiki, I have found:
      Corinne (in Gabon)
      Krista Klumpp
      Natalie White
      Penny from Thailand

    2. They’ve done better overall casting actors/actresses and musicians. And I don’t mean Mactors or those using Survivor to start acting careers (like Colby or briefly Colleen), I mean ones that actually had credits and/or releases or some sort of career before. That would be an interesting list. The ones I can think of off the top of my head without going to Wiki:

      Penner (yes, he’s more known for being a writer too)
      Lisa Welchel (probably the most successful )
      Jerri Manthey

      Chase Rice
      Whitney (didn’t she come in high on a country music related television American Idol like show)

      1. Musicians also gives you Sekou and Billy from Cook Islands, who do lower the batting average somewhat.

        Yes, yes, I know lots of people think Billy was great fun.

    3. “The casting department struck out every time they tried.”
      I don’t know if you are saying this just for pun’s sake, but I could hardly disagree more! The top 5 of this list were all either very entertaining or were playing pretty well. And 2 of the other 3 were from Redemption Island, so they don’t really count…

  8. John Rocker was terrible in a lot of predictable ways, but I still give him points for trying. He hunted for idols, he tried to make allies, it was just that he John Rocker’ed all of those things up.

    Steve Wright runs out of gas like 20 days in and Grant Mattos does literally nothing. I’m inclined to rank him above them.

    1. I will give you all that. Had it not been a BvW season, Rocker could have goated himself far. Of course, he was part of one of the biggest disaster tribes ever, Coyopa.

      Slightly off topic: Am I the only one who wants to see a list of the underrated disaster tribes? Coyopa has to be high on that list.

        1. Thank you! We always talk about Matsing, Ulong, Luzon, and the second Fans tribe, but there are other terrible tribes out there that don’t get that recognition like the first Fans tribe, Fang, post-swap La Mina, etc.

          1. Post-swap La Mina doesn’t really belong on the list. I think Morgan is possibly my favourite underrated disaster tribe.

            Zhan Hu is the ultimate underrated disaster tribe, by the way. They were horrible at everything.

          2. I put La Mina on here for the boredom factor. However, in another season, they would be the dominant tribe. Morgan and Zhan Hu are great underrated disaster tribes! I was trying to think early season disaster tribes and the only one that was popping in my mind was Maraamu, but I think it is a Tier 2 disaster tribe. I recently rewatched the first two episodes of China and oh my goodness Zhan Hu is terrible at everything, including not overthrowing Crazy Dave earlier. I think though a lot of that was Production putting the three strongest guys in the season on Fei Long and having strong but lazy woman on Zhan Hu where they could be easy targets for an early elimination.

          3. I think Maaramu isn’t as much of a disaster, just because they were pretty close in all of their losses and had a very functional camp life, even though they lost all 3 immunity challenges.

            Zhan Hu had the three strongest men? They had James for sure, and Aaron I guess but after that who? You’d think Frosti, Dave and Erik would all be better at most challenges than Todd and Jean Robert, unless you had to be really light or really heavy.

    2. John Rocker gets negative points for dragging Julie McGee on to Survivor. So we got a boring quitter AND a bigoted asshole!

      1. Bringing Julie into the game was the worst part of the Rocker decision and the reason they shouldn’t have done it, but I’m not going to deduct points from him because his girlfriend was also a less than optimal player. I judge John Rocker on how he played the game and only that.

        1. I agree if ranking them as players, but then I think Scot doesn’t get close to number one as a player, what with his “I shall intentionally and publicly alienate all the potential jurors out of petulant spite” strategy.

          When ranked for their overall effect as contestants on the quality of the game and TV show we watch? I think its fair to ding Rocker for Julie’s meh-ness.

  9. Also how did you not use that one picture of Brad Culpepper with the ridiculous braids in his hair.

    1. Because I used it before. For the below, because I wanted pictures of them in their uniforms.

  10. I understand the decision to only include players rather than “sports personalities”, but a word for David Sampson, Florida Marlins executive, and basically the worst. A man so pompously overconfident and obnoxious that a tribe decided to blindside him instead of Garrett.

    I started watching Survivor at the beginning of Cagayan specifically to revel in schadenfreude when David Sampson inevitably failed miserably. David Sampson did not disappoint, and to a large extent that’s why I obsess far too much about Survivor nowadays.

    Yes, I’m a Survivor fan actually brought into the show by sports stunt casting.

    1. when David Sampson was cast me and Emma (both huge baseball fans) tried to tell John that he would be the fucking worst and was guaranteed to either go first or destroy his entire tribe (somehow he did both). John didn’t listen to us in the pre-season preview for Cagayan and we made sure to lord it over him after he inevitably self-destructed immediately

      1. The best part is that John is from Florida! I mean, I know he doesn’t like baseball, but you’d think he would have been aware of the whole defrauding Miami thing.

        1. Seriously! His tax dollars are being wasted!

          Wait… does John ever actually pay any taxes?

    1. Agreed. Scot actively sabotaged his chances of winning with the sabotage stuff. I know how far you go isn’t everything but Gary also went further. Gary was 12th out and Scot was 9th out. Gary was out on day 30 and Scot was out day 27. Gary was out in episode 11 and Scot was out episode 10. Not to mention Gary would have a better chance at winning if he got to the end than Scot would have if he got to the end. Gary was a surprisingly solid player who was just an obvious threat on the wrong side of a botched Pagonging.

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