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Sports are so ingrained in our culture that they often bleed into other sectors. We’ve seen it firsthand with athletes who become commentators or ambassadors for sports betting apps. But a lesser-known cultural crossover is the phenomenon of sports personalities and athletes who appeared on reality TV shows.

There’s a wealth of riches when it comes to reality TV competitions featuring well-known sports personalities, and today we take a look at five of the most prominent names.

Jimmy Johnson, Survivor

“Survivor” season 21 is famous among fans of the show for myriad reasons. The starting tribes were divided by age: older players and younger players. Country singer Chase Rice made it to the final tribal council. The season also featured the Medallion of Power, a terrible twist that dies halfway through the season’s production as producers realized how broken it was. 

For sports fans, “Survivor: Nicaragua” had an extra bonus: Jimmy Johnson, NFL Hall-of-Famer and former coach of the Dallas Cowboys. He also won two college national championships: one as a player with the University of Arkansas and one as a coach for the University of Miami. 

Jimmy’s tribe balked at his presence at first, wary of a celebrity. But Jimmy tried to stick around by ensuring them he was there for the experience and wouldn’t expect to win the million if he made it to the final tribal council. 

In the end, Jimmy Johnson’s time was cut short on day 8, when rival Marty leveraged a hidden immunity idol to oust the NFL coach. Still, Johnson credits Survivor with saving his life when a medical check revealed clogged arteries. 

“Survivor” is no stranger to athletes. Numerous other athletes have made appearances on the show, including:

  • Brad Culpepper (NFL)
  • Danny McCray (NFL)
  • Crystal Cox (Olympian)
  • Cliff Robinson (NBA)
  • Noelle Lambert (Paralympian)
  • Bi Ngyuen (MMA)

Jon Dorenbos, America’s Got Talent

Former NFL long snapper Jon Dorenbos graced the stage of “America’s Got Talent” season 11 and “AGT: The Champions”. In the former, he finished in third place. In the latter, he was eliminated in the preliminaries but returned to compete in the finals as a wild card. 

Dorenbos showed off his talent for magic, which he took up after a harrowing family experience growing up. His father was convicted of killing his mom when Dorenbos was 12 years old. He began performing for teammates during his career, then eventually brought his stylings to the “AGT” stage with great success. 

Dorenbos played for the New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills, and Tennessee Titans over the course of his NFL career, which began in 2003. 

Ryan Lochte, The Traitors

12-time Olympic medalist swimmer Ryan Lochte appeared on Peacock’s “The Traitors,” much to my surprise. The streaming show plays like popular social deduction games “Mafia” or “Werewolf”, in which a small number of players have the power to eliminate others while trying to avoid detection. 

“The Traitors” pulls people from various reality shows — “The Bachelor,” “Big Brother,”Survivor,” “Below Deck,” “Real Housewives,” and others — to compete alongside civilians. And then there’s Ryan Lochte, who falls firmly into the “celebrity” category but is just plain fun to watch. He brings a bro-ey energy to “The Traitors” and provides no shortage of funny confessionals. 

I recommend “The Traitors” to any fan of reality competitions; Ryan Lochte is just an added bonus. 

Jonathan “Bates” Battaglia and Anthony Battaglia, The Amazing Race

Like its network sibling “Survivor,” “The Amazing Race” has played host to plenty of famous faces, many of them from the sporting world. 

One such team is the pairing of brothers Jonathan “Bates” Battaglia and Anthony Battaglia, both professional hockey players. 

Jonathan played for the Carolina Hurricanes, Colorado Avalanche, Washington Capitals, and Toronto Maple Leafs. Anthony played for the Huntsville Havoc of the Southern Professional Hockey League. 

One funny tidbit: in their player profiles, “Bates” says the one pet peeve about his brother/teammate is “He’s lazy,” while Anthony’s answer to the same question is “He’s always putting me down.”

Despite any tension arising from those answers, the Battaglias ended up taking home the million, winning “The Amazing Race 22″

Crissa Jackson, The Circle

Netflix’s “The Circle” sequesters players in cutely decorated apartments, allowing them to communicate only through the eponymous social media network. Players then rank each other and the top-ranked players are dubbed influencers, who must choose which person to “block” aka eliminate from the Circle. The catch is that players can play as themselves or try to pass themselves off as someone else (as a catfish). 

Crissa Jackson, a Harlem Globetrotter, brought her talents to “The Circle” in season 4, playing as herself. She played an OK game, eventually getting blocked in episode 7. 

“The Circle” has featured other famous folks throughout its run, including Mel B. and Emma Bunton of the Spice Girls. 

About the Author
Cole Rush

Cole Rush

Writer and Contributor
Cole Rush is an industry writer and contributor at Gaming Today. He is a Chicago-based writer in the gambling and media spaces. His work has been showcased in various gaming industry magazines and online columns. Rush also covers pop culture and books for Reactor Mag (formerly and, a sci-fi and fantasy book review site. He has more than eight years of experience writing about gambling and entertainment.

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