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Jimmy Johnson on life on 'Survivor: Nicaragua:' no hair, no sleep, and no clothes

September 9, 2010 |  1:44 pm

Get ready to see football coaching superstar Jimmy Johnson in his underwear.

Johnson, 67, says he spent a lot of time on "Survivor: Nicaragua" in his undies because he got tired of being in his wet, smelly clothes.

He also got tired of being tired. He never slept!

But it doesn't seem like his tough surroundings got the better of him. In a one-hour conference call with reporters Thursday, Johnson was cracking jokes about his time in the Central American jungle and said he now loves the show more than he did before.

That's a lot of love because Johnson says he's been obsessed with "Survivor" since it premiered in 2000 and had twice tried to be a contestant. The first time, six years ago, he was declined in the early stages. Three years ago, he tried again, and made it through all of the hurdles until a physical showed he had one blocked artery and another artery that was 70% blocked.

The show "probably saved my life," he said.

Once he regained his health and got into excellent shape, shedding 30 pounds, Johnson applied again. This time, there was no stopping him from going on the outdoors adventure he had dreamed of since he was a boy.

The oldest contestant of the season quickly learned that it's much easier to play "Survivor" sitting on his couch. In the jungle, on many days, he consumed less than 100 calories.

"Because of the length of the show, you really can’t see every single minute," he said. "You can’t see the pouring down rain for five straight hours in the middle of the night. And you don’t have a watch. You don’t know what time it is. You’re cold and shivering and it’s raining, and you haven’t had a minute of sleep the entire night and you’re thinking, ‘I just wonder what time it is, when’s the sun going to come up?’  And you’re just standing by the fire trying to stay warm. You don’t see a lot of that on the show.

"First of all, you watch it on television and everything is absolutely beautiful," he said. " And it was beautiful, as far as scenery. But you don’t see every minute of what you’re going through because they’re trying to cover both tribes and all the different individuals. It just doesn’t hit you the way it does out there—how difficult it is. And I thought not having food was one of the more difficult things. But I actually dealt with that Ok. The no sleep was what really got to me. That was hard because you don’t have any energy, you don’t have any food in your body, and you’re not getting any sleep. And you’re boiling your water, so you’re a little bit dehydrated because you’re not getting enough water. So you don’t have any energy. I thought there would be a lot of dead time. But there wasn’t any dead time. There was always something to do to build the shelter, to build the fire, to get firewood, to try to catch fish, to try to get any kind of food. So I was a lot busier than what I thought I would be and worked harder but had less energy."

This season, the producers divided the team into young versus old--those over 40 got to hang out in the Espada Tribe with Johnson. Those under 30 were on the LaFlor Tribe, including a 25-year-old Miami Dolphins cheerleader.

"Initially, I was upset. I wanted those young bucks to carry me," Johnson said, laughing. 

99280_D00893 Johnson used his psychology background and leadership skills to convince his tribe that he was not a threat because he didn't believe a jury would ever award him the $1 million because he's a celebrity. Although he couldn't discuss if that worked out for him, his mood during the call indicated that the coach might be around for a while.

"They wanted me to be the leader," he said. "I told them right upfront, listen I don’t want to be the leader. I’ve watched Survivor enough to know that the guy the guy out front, he’s the first one voted off. And they kept on and they said, listen, you gotta be the voice at least. And I said, OK, I will listen to the suggestions and I will help you make a final decision. But I’m not the boss and I’m not the leader.

Ok, but what about The Hair? Trailers for the new season show Johnson's mane was severely trimmed.
"I did have my hair as short as it’s been," he said. "Some people say, I like your hair short like that.' I didn't have a mirror, a comb. When you’re worried about getting something to eat, and just physically exhausted, the last thought in your mind is how you look."

Although Johnson said he had the time of his life, he would not compete on "Survivor" again because "I pushed it to the limit."

"It’s everything that I thought it was and more," he said. It’s as difficult as I thought it was going to be and more. And it’s as beautiful as I thought it was and more."

"Survivor" premieres on Wednesday, its new night, at 8 p.m.

--Maria Elena Fernandez

Photos: Jimmy Johnson on The Espada Tribe on "Survivor." Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS


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