Jimmy Johnson, Survivor’s most famous contestant, talks to the media, a bad precedent

In a very atypical move yesterday, CBS held a conference call for the media with former NFL coach Jimmy Johnson, who is a cast member on Survivor Nicaragua.

On the call, the former Cowboys coach, who’s a fan of the show, revealed that he “couldn’t stand Russell” Hantz, but also respected his game play. Like so many other contestants, he cited Parvati as a role model for his game play. He also revealed that he first applied to the show six years ago, and then applied again years later, making the finals for Gabon, but was pulled for medical reasons, which he now says “saved my life.”

Johnson told reporters he was recognized, though his tribemates first thought he was a Jimmy Johnson lookalike. When they realized who he was, he said he used that as part of his strategy, telling them, “Listen, no jury is going to award me a million bucks. My goal is for one of you to win a million bucks. I’m here for the adventure.” Because of his coaching experience, his tribe wanted him to lead, but he told them, “I don’t want to be the leader. I watch Survivor enough to know that [the leader is] the first one voted off.”

While it’s great to give the media access to contestants, even members of the press who ask questions about football instead of about reality TV, this is the first time I can remember CBS holding a call for a single contestant. In the old days, the contestants used to be unavailable to the media except before the game on location, and when until they were voted off. More recently, CBS granted interview requests to local papers and such, although those didn’t seem to be widespread.

Although I’m opposed to control and in favor of transparency, this seems like a version of the former: Jimmy Johnson is definitely the show’s most famous pre-game contestant ever, and CBS wants to milk this for every ratings point it can, especially with the risky move to Wednesday nights.

It’s also, I think, a dangerous precedent. After Coach and Russell, CBS realized that big, familiar personalities were a winning formula, which is why Rob and Russell are returning next season. But relying on fame and notoriety is lazy and a disappointing direction for a show that proved 16 unknown Americans could get ratings most shows only get a quarter of today, and has consistently had some of the best reality TV casting.

Jimmy Johnson is only one cast member, of course, and previous “stunt casting” on Survivor, even model/actors like Sugar, has worked out fine because the casting hasn’t overshadowed the game. Let’s hope that’s the case this season before everything goes to hell next spring.

Review: Married at First Sight

Marriage At First Sight

In an era of Tinder and Grindr, instant acceptance or dismissal of a potential partner, or instant sex with another body, Married at First Sight offers the thrill of watching strangers deal with the very basics of relationships.

Beyond the headline-grabbing premise, the series has turned out to be a stripped-down, authentic exploration of something very interesting. Read the full review.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.