Are you watching the new season of Survivor? It’s not too late to hop aboard: There’s only been one episode, and this season, as many seasons of Survivor do, includes an NFL player. This time around, it’s cornerback Alan Ball, who spent five seasons with Dallas, then one in Houston, two in Jacksonville, and one in Chicago. (He’s not yet retired, but he hasn’t played since 2015.)
In his Survivor debut, Ball pulled a tribemate aside after dark for a stern talking-to, then forced him to pull his shorts down. But let’s back up for a minute: Why should you watch Survivor?
You should watch because, as we’ve told you before, it’s really more of a sports program than a “reality show” in the usual negative, bottom-barrel connotation of that phrase. It’s about performing well in elaborate physical and mental challenges while also not alienating anyone enough to get voted off.
And you should watch because, as we’ve told you before, CBS loves to put current or former pro athletes on the show, and they always add a great element of disaster, or dishonesty, or rudeness, or all of the above. Former NFL coach Jimmy Johnson was voted out third, mostly for being old and weak; former pitcher John Rocker was voted out third, mostly for being a dick; former NBA center Cliff Robinson was voted out fifth, mostly for being a legitimate threat; former MLB All-Star Jeff Kent tore a knee ligament in his first five minutes on the island, but managed to last until the final nine; and just last season, former NFL tackle Brad Culpepper went on for the second time and made it to the end, but didn’t get the votes to win the money.
The gimmick of the current season, the show’s 35th (!!), is “Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers,” which is exactly what it sounds like: the 18 castaways are grouped based on vague, loosely-applied labels for their professions. Heroes include a Marine, a firefighter, Ball, and another athlete, 46-year-old Olympic swimmer Katrina Radke; Healers include a “wilderness therapy guide” and a urologist; Hustlers include a bellhop, a celebrity assistant, and a surf instructor (obviously).
Anyway, let’s talk about Ball. In his first one-on-one interview at Heroes camp, he tells the camera, “I played in the NFL for nine years. And after you play for a while, you can see who’s a tempo-setter. And just now, I got a sense of how people are playing the game. And I’m definitely going to play the game. Which, for me, is a full-tilt sprint out the gate.”
Sounds good enough, and he certainly looks physically like he could suit up and hit the field right now. Right away, Ball forges an alliance of four with Marine Ben, firefighter J.P., and lifeguard Ashley. Great.
But then it turns out that “full tilt” means Ball deciding that J.P. and Ashley are becoming a romantic couple after just two days on the island. So after dark, Ball pulls J.P. aside to chat, and asks him point-blank if he has found a hidden immunity idol. J.P. says no, and Ball asks him, “How far are you willing to go to prove it? Let’s go for a swim.”
J.P. insists he doesn’t have an idol, and empties his pockets. Ball isn’t convinced, says, “I know where the idol is right now,” and stares pointedly at J.P.’s crotch.
Next thing you know, Ashley has overheard and joined them, and insists they don’t have an idol. Alan still isn’t convinced. J.P. yanks his shorts down, showing his bare ass. Alan still isn’t convinced, and looks around at the sand to see if it fell out. “Dawg, where’s it at?”
Ashley would later tell the camera, correctly, “Alan created a spectacle out of nothing. In less than 12 hours, everything went from ‘solid four’ to ‘there is no trust.’” J.P. would tell the camera, “Alan’s a crazy man.”
In a later one-on-one interview, Ball would try to pass it off as a clever tactic, telling the camera, with giant eyes, “I don’t know if they have an idol. I didn’t actually see anything. I just threw it out there! I know I look like the crazy man. But now I got suspicion going. And I just put a target on their back.” (Bold strategy.)
Without giving away the first person voted off, it wasn’t Alan Ball.
If you want a subplot to follow, consider that Ball hasn’t told his tribemates yet that he’s an NFL player. This, weirdly, is a sticking point for a lot of the athletes who go on: They fear that if they reveal their identity, their tribemates won’t want them to win, since they’re already wealthy. Jeff Kent told his tribe he was a motorcycle dealer, which is true, but, you know, not really the whole story.
So, we’ll be watching Ball as he navigates the island. Join us.
Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. He can be found on Twitter @readDanwrite. (He is not the same Daniel Roberts who has written for Deadspin about Floyd Mayweather, but people will probably still tweet angrily at him the next time the other Daniel Roberts writes here.)