9:00am PT by Josh Wigler
'Survivor' Season 35 Player Profile: Meet Alan Ball
Welcome to the Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers preseason! The Hollywood Reporter's Josh Wigler reports from his exclusive visit to the show's shooting location in Fiji, where he interviewed host Jeff Probst, as well as the 18 new castaways battling it out for the million dollar prize.
Click here to make sure you're all caught up on our stories from the island, including our weekly podcast series First One Out, an in-depth look at all of the new players, culminating in an interview with the first person voted out of the season.
For our first player profile, we turn to the man at the very top of the pack, at least as far as first name alphabetical order goes: Alan Ball, a 32-year-old NFL player who has served as a cornerback on the Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars over a career spanning almost a decade. Just ahead of the 2016 season, Alan was sidelined due to an injury, which was almost more taxing on a cerebral level than a physical one.
"As you get older, everything gets tougher," he says. "Not just the tough part of healing, but the mental part as well. It's been nine years, man. I'm still going? It's [a grind], and you just want life to happen."
With that in mind, life is very much happening for Alan. He has since retired from the NFL — or mostly retired, anyway, as he says the door is still open for a return to football: "But it has to be the right situation, and everything would have to fit, especially with being newly married." (On that front, Alan adds of his thoughts on marriage: "It's tough as shit, but I love her! That's what always pulls us together.") Retirement is looking more and more intriguing for the professional athlete, especially in light of sitting out of the 2016 season.
"Being hurt this past season, this past September through December, I've never lived a September through December where it wasn't football," Alan explains. "I got to live in my house for four months during a part of the year I've never been able to do. I got to see things and experience things that make you question things ... I'm in a good place. I've been blessed. There's nothing that the NFL gave me that I can regret or say I would do differently. Fortunately enough, I put myself in a situation to enjoy life a little bit. And this is the next challenge I want to conquer."
Listen to the podcast below to hear from Alan and the rest of the Heroes in the second episode of our preseason series, First One Out.
In terms of how he plans to move forward through the game, Alan has at least one concrete idea of what not to do — own up to his past as an NFL player.
"Not a chance," he says when asked if he plans to reveal the fact that he played professional football. "I'm a personal trainer. I'm riding the trainer out. I know I might get nailed. But my way out is I don't mind telling people what I did. I just don't want to be forthcoming right off top. What do I do right now? I train now. How specific can we get? That's up to you. But I train."
Alan certainly looks the part of the personal trainer, and he's not alone in that. Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers is filled with men and women who look like they walked out of the pages of Sports Illustrated, with muscles upon muscles upon muscles. In recent Survivor history, the phrase "meat shields" has started coming up more and more, referring to a strategy in which physically strong contestants hide behind other physically strong contestants as camouflage. Alan hopes to lean on that tactic, and even plans to rein in his own physical abilities when it comes to immunity and reward challenges.
"I do," Alan says when asked if he feels protected by the fact that so many members of the Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers cast appear to be so physical. "That's why I have to be careful in what I do, in terms of when we compete, and just my competitiveness. I don't think blow for blow, physically, the guys can stick with me. That's just me being me, who I am. So I have to be mindful of that, and do just enough to help my team, do just enough to be relevant, but not over the top.
"I know testosterone is going to take over somewhere along the line with this group of guys," he continues. "It has to. Look at the guys. It has to! Testosterone is going to kick in. You can see by the way the guys are ripping their shirts off. It has to happen. And I'm going to have to control that. I'm going to have to just let it take over for them, and I'm going to have to do just enough of what I need to. Hopefully, I may be one of the guys who says, 'We need to get rid of that guy. He's a physical threat!' That's where I want to be at."
Watch the video below for more from Alan on why he's going to win Survivor.
That's Alan in his own words. But what does everyone else think? Over the course of these interviews, I showed the castaways pictures of each other from casting, to get their pre-game impressions of their future competitors. Read on for their takes on Alan.
Note: Comments from the castaways have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Cole Medders (Wilderness Therapy Guide, Healers Tribe): He seems like an athlete. He's pretty jacked. He's always wearing athletic clothing. I think he'd be a really good physical asset, a good ally, and also maybe a bigger target for me to hide behind.
Ben Driebergen (Marine, Heroes Tribe): He's an athlete. He's like a track star or something like that. He's fit, he's cut, he's strong. He seems like a pretty good dude. He's out here for something, too. I can tell he's out here for his family, or something like that. There's something else driving him, but he's a real physical threat. He seems like a pretty social dude, also. I'm excited to work with him. I want to work with him — until I don't need him no more.
Ryan Ulrich (Bellhop, Hustlers Tribe): Okay, so this guy is a former track athlete or football player, but I don't know who the hell he is. I laughed at other people. How do you not know who Scot Pollard is? How do you not know who Cliff Robinson is, or Jeff Kent, you know? I get out here, and I don't know who the hell that is. I'm gonna end up not being able to unlock something, and I'll have a gold medalist next to me!
JP Hilsabeck (Firefighter, Heroes Tribe): He seems like a nice guy. Athletic. Maybe played sports, or something like that. Definitely going to be a contender in the games. Seems like a great guy to get along with.
Ali Elliott (Celebrity Assistant, Hustlers Tribe): He seems like someone I would probably hang out with. He seems hilarious. He seems like if we're on the same tribe, we'd probably be in an alliance. I feel like a lot of the people in college were kind of like him, just based off of appearance and what I'm seeing around [Ponderosa]. I feel like every person he talks to, they're dying laughing.
Devon Pinto (Surf Instructor, Hustlers Tribe): (Big laugh.)
Josh Wigler (Reporter, THR): Oh, my God, big reaction right out the gate!
Devon Pinto (Surf Instructor, Hustlers Tribe): I don't know, man. He seems like he'd be full of himself for sure. He's just been one of the more to himself contestants I've seen so far. You know, he seems like he would be a nice guy. I might want to work with him, and maybe his ego would be a shield for me. So, I would work with him.
Watch the video below for an early look at what Alan's victory speech might look like.
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Lauren Rimmer (Fisherman, Hustlers Tribe): I think that he's going to be a very nice guy. He doesn't seem to be a prick. His demeanor is very laid back. I think he's going to be a big help during challenges. He's very tall, and strong. I think he'll be easy to work with, maybe.
Patrick Bolton (Small Business Owner, Hustlers Tribe): He seems genuinely nice. He gives smiles. I wouldn't trust him with my life, but I think that he would be great in challenges. He'd be good at camp. As far as getting to really know somebody, you can't without them opening their mouth. So as far as he goes, he seems like somebody I would like to be on my side.
Mike Zahalsky (Urologist, Healers Tribe): I mean, he seems really nice. Really straight-edged, straight-laced and trustworthy. He's going to be a survivalist. He knows how to make a tent, he knows how to prevent himself from getting bug bites, and he's a physical threat. But when was the last time a physical threat won Survivor?
Desi Williams (Physical Therapist, Healers Tribe): I like him, more than I should. He seems like a nice Christian boy. I assume he's Southern. He prays before each meal. I haven't seen anybody else do that besides him. He seems to interact well with the staff members. So, I'm hoping to form some type of alliance with him.
Joe Mena (Probation Officer, Healers Tribe): I've had dreams about him for months now. He's been in my alliance forever. Literally.
Katrina Radke (Olympian, Heroes Tribe): I can't figure him out. He has a nice smile. I'm wondering if he's a dad. I notice that he has a wedding ring on, or I assume it's a wedding ring. I wonder if he has kids.
Chrissy Hofbeck (Financial Analyst, Heroes Tribe): Oh, he is such a gentleman! His mom raised him well. He lets the ladies go in front and he is just a kind soul.
Roark Luskin (Social Worker, Healers Tribe): He seems like the sweetest human ever. Everybody is constantly high-fiving him. He's getting to know all of our guides, our handlers. He seems super nice. Obviously I have my eye on him for that reason. Are you too nice?
Simone Nguyen (Diversity Advocate, Hustlers Tribe): I think that he looks athletic, but he also seems like a really opportunistic guy. I think that he is not going to be shy about hiding his prejudices and I think that the women are not really going to like that about him. I think what gets him out is a girl's alliance. I'm not saying that the girls need to have a strong alliance every time, but I think that his inability to connect with other women is what's going to do him in.
Ashley Nolan (Lifeguard, Heroes Tribe): He's pretty gorgeous, like he managed to step out of a modeling catalogue or something, but I don't know if he can hang with the environment. I'm seeing him kind of struggling, you know? He said something yesterday that I overheard: "I can't get in that water! I'm going to be sitting here wet all day!" Or something along those lines. And I'm like, in my head, "Yeah, buddy. You're going to be getting in that water, and sitting on this island for many weeks if you're lucky. So get used to it." So I think he's going to be in for a shock as far as the environment, for sure.
Jessica Johnston (Nurse Practitioner, Healers Tribe): I think he's definitely a jock, and I think he plays a lot of mind games. I don't see him making a lot of eye contact, or really even trying to get to know people. You can get to know a lot by observing mannerisms and I am a huge observer. I'm a stalker, kind of. He doesn't do any of that. He keeps his head down. A part of me is like, "I don't really trust you. I don't know why you're not already playing the game."
Alan Ball (NFL Player, Heroes Tribe): I've been showing certain things to certain people...
Josh Wigler (Reporter, THR): What are you trying to show people?
Alan Ball (NFL Player, Heroes Tribe): I'm just easy-going. I want people to think that I'm here, I'm just having a good time; they're automatically going to read into me as somebody athletic, I know that. I know that's the first thing everybody probably says when they see me. I do something. Probably don't know what — maybe, maybe not. If they're from Texas, maybe they've seen. I don't know. But I've been trying to show that I'm just here to have a good time. I want people to think my brain doesn't work. If I get [pegged as] the meathead or jock, great. Because I want you to be thinking that I'm only here to compete in challenges. That's what I want people to believe, that's what I want people to think. Before they know it, I'm doing something strategic that they don't understand.
Click through the gallery below for photos of Alan and the rest of the Survivor Season 35 castaways.
Keep checking THR.com/Survivor for more coverage of the Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers preseason.