There is a long list of athletes who have appeared on reality shows, or even been given disastrous shows of their own (not referring to anyone whose initials are T.O., but...). However, this article focuses specifically on athletes who have made appearances as, essentially, regular contestants on competition reality TV shows. Full disclosure – I will not be discussing any appearances on Dancing With The Stars, because there are so many athletes, many fairly high profile, who have appeared on that show that it really merits its own list. Additionally, on Dancing With The Stars, athletes seem to have a certain advantage, in that they’re accustomed to grueling training. Dancers are athletes as well, so they have a certain common mentality that allows athletes to thrive on this show (unless, of course, they possess two left feet and absolutely no rhythm, but that’s a different matter entirely).
A more interesting dynamic emerges when athletes – whether well-known or comparatively low profile – appear on competition reality TV shows. On these types of shows, physical strength is often perceived as threatening because of the advantage it gives a contestant in challenges.There is also a certain social dynamic in these types of shows. While sometimes one's status as a former or current professional athlete may help them if a fellow contestant is a fan, it can also hurt them if a fellow contestant believes they have an unfair advantage or resents their fame.
There is also the often discussed issue of an athlete’s finances. While many tout that they go on shows such as Survivor and The Amazing Race for the experience, at the end of the day, basically every contestant has their eye on the prize that accompanies winning the show. When choosing between an individual with a regular, ordinary job and an athlete, many feel that the athlete doesn't deserve to win solely because they've already made a lot of money in their life.
The athletes who go on these shows definitely vary in their rankings – athletes are, after all, people, and their performance on competition shows depends on both their individual strengths and their ability to interact with their fellow contestants. The following list focuses on athletes who have appeared on Survivor and The Amazing Race, because both of these shows have interwoven physical and social components that allow for the greatest variation. On reality shows that are entirely about the social, the athlete’s physicality is never really seen as a threat, so it doesn't affect their outcome in the game to quite the same extent.
10 Jeff Kent
9 Jimmy Johnson
8 Brad Culpepper
7 Cliff Robinson
Cliff Robinson, a former NBA player, was on the current season of Survivor: Cagayan. Robinson has had a long career in the NBA and made the NBA Playoffs in 17 of his 18 seasons in the league. He was drafted in the 2nd round of the 1989 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers, with whom he played for 8 seasons. He also played for the Phoenix Suns, the Detroit Pistons, the Golden State Warriors, and the New Jersey Nets before retiring in 2007.
6 Gary Hogeboom
Gary Hogeboom, a contestant on Survivor: Guatemala, is perhaps better known in sports fan circles as a former NFL back-up quarterback. Hogeboom, drafted in the 5th round of the 1980 NFL Draft, played for about a decade with the Dallas Cowboys, Indianapolis Colts, Phoenix Cardinals and Washington Redskins.
5 Tommy Czeschin and Andy Finch
4 Marcus Pollard
3 Tyson Apostol
2 Jonathan “Bates” Battaglia and Anthony Battaglia
1 Ethan Zohn
Ethan Zohn played soccer professionally for the Hawaii Tsunami and Cape Cod Crusaders and, in 2010, was ranked 14th in the USL Second Division’s Top 15 of the Decade. His first appearance on a competition reality TV show was on Survivor: Africa, when he managed to snag the first place title and accompanying $1,000,000. His status as a soccer player didn't particularly affect his interactions with other contestants – while a professional player, he wasn't quite on the level of a Beckham or Balotelli. However, his physical condition definitely helped him in competitions. With part of his survivor winnings, he stayed true to his athletic roots and founded an organization called Grassroot Soccer, which uses his favorite sport to involve individuals and raise both money and awareness for HIV/AIDS. Zohn appeared once more on the show’s All-Stars season; however, his status as a winner affected his chances and he only managed an eleventh place finish. Not content to limiting his competitive nature to one show, he returned to reality TV after a battle with cancer as a contestant on The Amazing Race with girlfriend Jenna Morasca, also a Survivor winner. They team finished in tenth place.
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