Danny McCray Survivor 41 Header

(Robert Voets/CBS)

Ex-NFL player Danny McCray is next up to the line of Survivor scrimmage. The 33-year-old comes out of retirement to play a very different game, becoming obsessed with the show after leaving football. And he hopes to reach the endgame (and endzone) with one plan in mind: Change what it means to be a threat in this game.

Read on for my interview with Danny, and make sure to check in with Parade.com every day for interviews with this season’s contestants and other tidbits. Survivor 41 premieres on September 22 with a special two-hour episode on CBS.

What’s your history with watching Survivor?
I started watching Survivor in about 2015. After I retired from the NFL, I just had a lot of time on my hands, and I needed to fill that time with something that was interesting and kept my mind off of not being able to play football. So I clicked on Survivor, and I never turned it off. I just binge-watched it all day and all night. And now I’m here, so it’s exciting.

Give me one Survivor winner and one non-winner who you identify with the most.
One winner that I identify with the most would have to be Jeremy. And one non-winner, it might sound crazy, would be Russell. He was here to live out the conditions, the worst that they could be, and enjoy Survivor as it really is supposed to be.

What’s one life experience you feel has prepared you most for the game?
It would be my route to the NFL. It was not easy. I did not get drafted. Nobody expected me to make the team, so I had to grind from the bottom to get there. And once I made it, it was a very exhilarating feeling. But it taught me a lot about expectations and how hard you have to work to get what you really want.

What do you think people will perceive you as?
I think my fellow players will perceive me as a hard-working competitive guy who wants to win at everything. They’ll see me as loyal, but not loyal to a fault.

What do you desire in an alliance partner?
I desire someone who is competitive and knows how much work it takes to get to the end. And somebody who’s loyal to me who’s going to tell me when somebody is coming for me and is gonna have my back when I need them to.

What’s your current game plan for when you touch down on the beach?
My current game plan is to find an idol and change the perception of what a threat is in the game. I’m probably one of the more physical-looking guys out on the island. So I’m going to try to make sure that people know that the physical threat isn’t the person you should be worried about. It’s the people that are good at puzzles, the people that have this strong social game. There are no individual challenges where if you run faster, jump high, it makes you an automatic winner. The game just doesn’t work that way.

What will people underestimate in you the most on Survivor?
I think my fellow players will underestimate my intelligence. Sometimes you look at people, and you create this idea of what they are. I think that happens to me often, and I don’t think it’ll be that much different on the island.

How much authenticity do you plan on bringing into the game?
I plan on bringing 100% authenticity into the game. I’m gonna come out here and be myself and see how it works out for me. I won’t let the game of Survivor change me. Hopefully, my personality and who I am works for the game.

Which is more important to your game: Strategy or social?
The most important thing to me is strategy. Finding a way to maneuver and get to the end is going to be key for me. I’m a social guy already, but I don’t want that to be used as a disadvantage. So just me having that strategy to find a way to get to the end is very important.

When you’re at your lowest moment in the game, what’s one happy memory you’ll pull from in your time of need?
The birth of my daughter. That was one of the most exciting times of my life. It changed my life. Me and my wife, it was our happiest moment. So I’ll pull from that. I’ll see her face, and it’ll bring me back to where I need to be.

What celebrity or fictional character would you want to come out for a Loved Ones visit?
I would not mind seeing either Denzel Washington or Rihanna. Those are two of my favorites.

You get the opportunity to use magic once while playing the game of Survivor. What do you use it for?
I would use magic to disappear from a Tribal Council where I was going to go home.

Next, check out our interview with Survivor 41 contestant Evvie Jagoda.