For most Survivor players, the reality show is their first taste of stardom. While some go on to be well-known public figures because of the competition series, other fade back into oblivion after their fifteen minutes of fame through various confessionals in their boot episode.
However, there has been a handful of Survivor players that actually achieved fame well before their time on the show, though they usually have tried to hide it from their competitors. Being a successful athlete or actor can be detrimental to a contestant’s game, as it usually convinces the jury not to vote for them and make them richer.
Gary Hogeboom (Season 11)
Even though he didn’t take home the million dollar prize, Gary Hogeboom found the first hidden immunity idol in the history of Survivor on season 11, Guatemala.
Gary was also the first former professional sports player to appear on Survivor, having played in the NFL for ten years. Even though he had a history as an athlete, Gary lied to his teammates about his last name and occupation, claiming to be Gary Hawkins, a landscaper. Some of his fellow castaways knew better, and tried to get him to come clean.
Ashley Massaro (Season 15)
Ashley Massaro was targeted early on in Survivor: China due to her illness early in the game, causing her to be a weaker member of the tribe leading to several challenge losses. Back home, Ashley was actually known for her strength as a professional wrestler.
Ashley had a successful career as a WWE star, winning the WWE Diva Search in 2005. She went on to be a radio host model, and actor, diversifying her talents in the entertainment industry. Sadly, Ashley passed away in 2017 shortly after returning to the wrestling scene as a manager.
Ron Clark (Season 38)
Ron Clark is best known for his motivational speaking, teaching, and founding the Ron Clark Academy. Many of his tribe-mates didn’t recognize him while on the island, but he was actually pretty well known in the world of education and even had a movie made about him in 2006 that starred Matthew Perry.
Ron was a fun character on The Edge Of Extinction, frequently getting on the nerves of his fellow castaways and causing chaos at the tribal council. In real life, Ron was better known for his strength as an educator working with disadvantaged students.
Mari Takahashi (Season 33)
Mari Takahashi was favored to go far on the 33rd season of Survivor, however she was taken out early by her millennial allies just a few days into the game. Though her time on the show was short, her vote-out led to her tribe-mate Hannah Shapiro’s success on the season.
Coming into the game, Mari was famous for her YouTube channel and involvement in the Smosh comedy group. Mari’s popularity on YouTube originally stemmed from her gaming content. Post-show, Mari has taken up acting and co-owes Space Station Gaming.
Whitney Duncan (Season 23)
Whitney Duncan was part of a subtle failed showmance on Survivor: South Pacific, where she met her now-husband Keith Tolkerson while playing with legends like Coach Wade and Ozzy Lusth.
Survivor isn’t Whitney’s only claim to fame, as she makes her living as a country music star. Prior to competing on Survivor, she was a contestant on another reality television show, Nashville Star, where she placed fifth. Whitney has three studio albums and her post recent EP, Heartbreaker, was released in 2021.
John (Hennigan) Morrison (Season 37)
John Hennigan, also known as John Morrison in the WWE world, is one of the most followed Survivor contestants on social media. He was also the victim of an epic blindside on Survivor: David Vs Goliath.
John had a successful career as a professional wrestler, performing consistently from 2002 until 2011 and returning to the WWE briefly from 2019 until 2021. His wrestling career was more successful than his time on Survivor, though he was laid off due to budget cuts.
Taj Johnson-George (Season 18)
Taj Johnson-George was a threat to win Survivor: Tocantins, which is precisely why her two closest allies Stephen and JT took her out at the final four. Her ray of sunshine personality and maternal energy made her a shoe-in for the million dollars, as she was so well-liked by all of her peers.
Way before she married sports player Eddie George, had their son, and competed on Survivor, Taj made a name for herself as a popstar. She made up one-third of the vocal trio, Sisters With Voices, a very successful R&B group in the ’90s.
Jonathan Penner (Seasons 13, 16, 25)
Jonathan Penner was a fan-favorite when he competed on Survivor: Cook Islands, which is why he was invited back not once but twice as a returning player. Jonathan never won the game, but he did have great narrating confessionals and a strong presence on every season he participated on.
Prior to his many attempts at Survivor, he was an actor in many popular movies and television shows. His credits include shows like The Nanny, Arrested Development, Seinfeld and movies like The Last Supper.
Mike White (Season 37)
Not only was Mike White a finalist on Survivor: David Vs Goliath, but he is also a critically acclaimed screenwriter, director, and actor. Prior to his time on the show, Mike was known for his roles in School Of Rock and Chuck & Buck and post-show he created the beloved HBO series, The White Lotus.
Mike’s success in the entertainment industry may have contributed to his loss in the final episode of season 37. While his former tribe-mates respected his gameplay for the most part, they couldn’t bring themselves to give him a million dollars when he was already the most well-off of the final three.
Lisa Whelchel (Season 25)
Lisa Whelchel may have made it to Final Tribal Council on the 25th season of Survivor, but she is more famous for her role as Blair Warner on The Facts Of Life.
Lisa played Blair for nine years on syndicated television, and also made her mark on The Mickey Mouse Club. When she competed on her favorite game show, she hoped that no one would recognize her for her time on television. Ultimately her plans were foiled as teammate Johnathan Penner remembered her from his television screen, and gave her a chance to explain her career as a child actress in front of the jury.
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About The Author
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Emily Proctor is an entertainment writer and avid television fan. She recently graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a degree in Communication, Media, and Theatre Arts. In addition to writing for Screenrant, Emily frequently publishes personal essays on her Medium profile and personal blog SheWritesTV.com. She is also an aspiring actress and songwriter.
You can follow Emily on Twitter at @emproct for more of her opinions on pop culture, the latest TV and movies, and links to her work.
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