Johnny Survivor: The Best Moments of John Hennigan from Survivor 37, Episode One

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John Hennigan
Credit: Survivor, CBS

If you are looking for a Survivor recap with a specialized focus on the weekly exploits of one John Hennigan, you’ve come to the right place. After each episode, until Hennigan either wins the show or is eliminated, we’ll recap his best moments and highlights in a column we like to call, “Johnny Survivor.”

To set the stage, over the summer, it was announced that John Hennigan, aka the wrestler who goes by many, many names, would be joining the cast of Survivor 37: David vs Goliath. The show’s title itself somewhat feels like a PPV name and the theme completely lends itself to a wrestling environment. On one hand, you have the Davids, a group of people who through life’s circumstances, haven’t always had it easy and have had to overcome obstacles more often than not. These are the underdogs, the team that the audience is going to want to root for. They are opposed by the Goliaths, men and women who have risen to the top of their professions and who have succeeded in life. They aren’t bad people but just through the opening testimonials (“I’m amazing at everything,” “I’ve led a fairytale life,”) the Goliaths are positioned as the better, more impressive group, which makes them defacto villains, antagonists and heels to the heroes, protagonists and babyfaces of the Davids.

John Hennigan, a 38-year-old professional wrestler who in his own words has had, “more epic ring names than most wrestlers have had championships,” is of course a Goliath and he’s always been a Goliath, something made clear in the early moments of the first episode. When asked by longtime Survivor host Jeff Probst about if he’s always felt like a Goliath, Hennigan’s response was a confident, “yeah, obviously.”

After going into a little bit of detail on his background — he’s a high school wrestler turned 15-year pro wrestler who goes by the Mayor Slamtown and the Friday Night Delight among other fancy nicknames — John Hennigan had his first video confessional.

“I think people here are definitely going to underestimate how smart I am. I graduated from UC Davis with a degree in geology so the journey for me in this game and the reason I’m here is not necessarily to figure out if John is this Goliath. It’s really to figure out who John is.”

John Hennigan and Allison
Credit: Survivor, CBS

Following a few more introductions, Jeff Probst introduced the first challenge, which on its face was designed to follow the narrative as the Goliaths were given an early advantage: choose the weakest Davids to compete and choose the strongest Goliaths to go against them. For the women, the Goliaths chose Allison, a doctor who grew up in a middle to upper-middle class family. For the men, Hennigan was chosen. But as Probst said, part of Survivor is expecting the unexpected, so to even the playing field a bit, the Davids got to choose which of the obstacles they would complete and which ones the Goliaths had to do. The Davids, Christian and Lyrsa, chose the shorter path and the easier puzzle and ultimately, this made the difference as the first challenge was won by the underdogs.

Despite the loss, the Goliaths headed to camp with their heads held high. As all Survivor seasons begin, the first episode saw the groups building their shelters and bonding throughout the process. During one particular scene, John Hennigan struck up a conversation with Mike, a Hollywood director, actor and writer, who asked Hennigan if he traveled a lot for his job. Hennigan said he did and then talked about how in Mexico (AAA Lucha Libre), he’s currently doing an American gimmick that includes talking about how luchadores only wear masks because they are ugly and how Americans are smarter and taller, as well as how all of the Mexican women want him. This led into Hennigan’s second confessional of the episode, in which he listed 14 of his nicknames, which is far from an exhaustive list. Among the names he mentioned were his current ones, Johnny Mundo (AAA and Lucha Underground) and Johnny Impact (IMPACT Wrestling), several former WWE names including most notably John Morrison, and several other names he has used in AAA as part of his American gimmick, the George Bushy of Tushy and Mr. Ab-raham Lincoln.

But as Hennigan went on to say in the video, “None of those characters that I’m playing in a wrestling ring are going to win the game of Survivor. I’m playing as John. I’m playing as me.”

Later in the episode, John Hennigan received more screen time as he talked about how it was a race for the idol as searching for it was something in all Goliaths’ DNA. As Survivor fans, like Hennigan himself is, will know, there is one immunity idol located at each campsite. The idol’s power allows its holder to have all Tribal Council votes cast against them negated for one vote of the holder’s choosing. So there is a strategy to its use and how it factors into a contestant’s gameplay. For the Goliaths, Dan, a S.W.A.T. team officer, found the idol and has so far kept it secret from all but two of the contestants, Cara and Natalia, who were searching alongside him.

As the show continued, it finally came time for the immunity challenge, which was won by the Goliaths. In the challenge’s first leg, Hennigan managed to get a lead over the rest of the competitors, essentially mat wrestling two of them to the ground before crawling through the wooden logs as if they were ring ropes. This gave the Goliaths an early advantage, one they never relinquished, all the way through the final puzzle at the end.

That’s it for episode one. It’s still early in the season and with the Goliaths never really in trouble, we’ve yet to see Hennigan put his strategy into action. As he wrote on his bio at CBS’s Survivor page:

“My daily life consists of physical training, building relationships, and positioning myself favorably in dozens of wrestling organizations worldwide. I currently consistently work for over 20 different wrestling promotions all over the world. Two years ago, I came to Triple A without speaking fluent Spanish and sat in a locker room full of prideful luchadores, some of whom had worked for that company for over 20 years. Less than one year later, I’m the first non-Mexican Triple Champion of Triple A because I positioned myself strategically within that organization, built a great relationship with the owner, and by kicking ass, like I kick ass in the ring my talent could not be overlooked. I am an English speaking Irish-American who grew up in Palos Verdes, and a multi-million dollar Mexican wrestling company decided that I am the best person to represent their brand. Everywhere I go the challenge is the same. I win because I understand how to play the game.”

Check back for the Johnny Survivor week two update and make sure to watch Survivor, produced by Matt van Wagenen every Wednesday night at 8 PM ET on CBS, which ironically is on at the same time as Hennigan performs as Johnny Mundo for Matt’s brother Eric van Wagenen’s Lucha Underground which airs on El Rey Network. Double the dose of John Hennigan is never a bad thing.