Jimmy Johnson becomes a 'Survivor'

Former OSU football coach's adventure on the reality show begins Wednesday night.
BY MEL BRACHT, Staff Writer, mbracht@opubco.com Modified: September 14, 2010 at 9:26 pm •  Published: September 14, 2010
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For the first time ever, Fox NFL analyst Jimmy Johnson will appear on TV with his hair messed up.

As a competitor on "Survivor: Nicaragua," which premieres at 7 p.m. Wednesday on CBS, Johnson's normally immaculate hairstyle was the least of his concerns.

"When you're worrying about getting something to eat or boiling some water and getting some water and you're just physically exhausted, the last thought on your mind is how you look," Johnson, 67, said in a recent conference call. "In fact, a big part of the show I was standing around in my underwear, so I wasn't really concerned about what I looked like."

Growing up in Port Arthur, Texas, Johnson had dreamed of taking a trip to the rugged Amazon. He said his hectic football coaching career, which included stops as a head coach at Oklahoma State and Miami in college and the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins in the NFL, kept that from happening.

An avid fan of "Survivor," he hoped his favorite TV show would provide the adventure he had missed out on. A Florida Keys resident, he already loved the beach life, including fishing and scuba diving.

Johnson's trek to "Survivor" took him several years. He first applied six years ago, and three years ago he nearly sewed up a berth until he was disqualified because of a heart condition. A physician for the show discovered one of Johnson's arteries was 100 percent blocked and another was 70 percent blocked.

"A week later, I had a stent put in and went on a strict diet," Johnson said. "I lost 30 pounds and my cholesterol went from 220 to under 100. I got healthy. In fact, 'Survivor' may have actually made me a survivor. It probably saved my life."

Johnson persuaded his wife, Rhonda, to let him try for the third time — promising her he would be in top condition — and he finally made the cut.

When he showed up in Nicaragua for the filming, he said his fellow competitors were stunned he was on the show. "Surely that's not Jimmy Johnson," he said, "that's a look-alike."

A psychology major at the University of Arkansas, Johnson reassured his tribemates that he wasn't really trying to win the game.