From the day Jimmy Johnson was announced as one of the castaways on Survivor: Nicaragua, the longtime football coach and sports commentator was seen as a target for early elimination. After all, how could the 19 others competing for $1 million not vote him off?
"I told the rest of the tribemates, '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,'" Johnson told reporters on a conference call Thursday.
"I don't know that they really trusted me on that part. They said, 'We know what kind of a competitor you are.'"
However, after watching every season of the series, it was only a matter of time before Johnson wore them down.
"A lot of them would say — when things were kind of rough and we were lying there on the bamboo at night — 'Jimmy, give us a football story,'" Johnson said. "Because of the credibility of some of the successes I've had in the past and because some of the individuals were football fans, they actually listened to me. That gave me a head start as far as building relationships."
After leading the Dallas Cowboys to two Super Bowl wins and the University of Miami Hurricanes to an NCAA championship, the Fox NFL Sunday analyst is the most famous individual yet to play the game. But that doesn't mean it was an easy road.
Johnson tried out unsuccessfully twice. Six years ago, he simply didn't make the cut; three years back, he was rejected because of two blocked arteries in his heart. He had surgery a week after finding out.
"Last Thanksgiving, we were going around the room saying what you're thankful for and it got to my wife, Rhonda, and Rhonda said, 'First of all, I want to be thankful for Survivor because that allowed Jimmy to still be here,'" Johnson remembered. "[The show] probably saved my life."
Despite his healthy new lifestyle, at 67 Johnson is this season's oldest player. But from Day One, it was always his celebrity, not his age, which he said made him an early target.
"[My tribemates] wanted me to be the leader and I told them right upfront, I don't want to be the leader," Johnson said. "I watch Survivor enough to know the guy that's the leader ... he's the first guy voted off."
Johnson may have worried about how his career might affect his Survivor chances, but was he ever concerned about how his appearance on Survivor may affect his career? No.
"I don't think Survivor is going to change that image," he said.
And that's even when it comes to his famous coif.
"I have no idea what it looked like because I didn't have a mirror, I didn't have a comb. I never combed it the whole time," Johnson said. "A big part of the show I'm standing around in my underwear so I really wasn't concerned with what I looked like."
Survivor: Nicaragua premieres Wednesday at 8/7c on CBS.