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How 705 NHL games prepared Tom Laidlaw for 'Survivor'

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Former NHL player Laidlaw competing in Survivor (0:58)

Tom Laidlaw, who played several seasons in the NHL, explains how playing hockey will help him in Survivor: Island of the Idols. (0:58)

Tom Laidlaw is in better shape than you.

No, really.

After his NHL career -- 705 games played with the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings from 1980 to 1990 -- the 61-year-old has found success on social media. Gone are the days when the defenseman delivered crushing body checks while creating space for teammates like Wayne Gretzky; today he delivers inspirational quotes and workout videos. Laidlaw is routinely up at 3:30 in the morning, posting workout videos for his "young grasshoppers," all in an effort to cultivate a positive atmosphere for others to be inspired.

Secretly, Laidlaw was also training for his next life goal: to be a contestant on "Survivor."

Now, the founder of True Grit Life has joined the cast of the 39th season of the CBS reality show. "Island of Idols" premieres Sept. 25 with a 90-minute first episode beginning at 9 p.m. ET.

ESPN caught up with Laidlaw in advance of the premiere.


ESPN: How long have you been a fan of the show? Who are some of your favorite competitors from past seasons?

Tom Laidlaw: I watched from the start, but I've watched all the series [more intensely] since Season 25 when Jeff Kent was on. I liked how Ben the Marine [winner of Season 35] would never quit when it looked like he was done. Tony [Vlachos, winner of Season 28] played a hard game, although I wouldn't play like him.

ESPN: When did you decide you wanted to give "Survivor" a try?

Laidlaw: I was initially asked about being on "[The] Amazing Race" about two years ago, but we couldn't find anyone that was a good fit to go on with [me]. It was over a year ago that the idea of "Survivor" was brought to me by my business partner Bryan Girsch.

ESPN: Why "Survivor"? What was it about the show and competition that made you want to do this?

Laidlaw: "Survivor" puts into practice a lot of the core values of True Grit Life: discipline, devotion, dedication. You have to be disciplined, particularly in the social part of the game where there are so many people from so many backgrounds. You can't do things that put a target on your back. Devotion was needed in forming alliances. Dedication was needed because you are out there for 39 days, so you better be dedicated to your mission to win.

ESPN: What was the audition process like?

Laidlaw: [laughs] That was unlike anything I had ever done. There were other potential players in the hotel, and we couldn't talk to each other. That ended up being kind of funny: same restaurant, same pool, same gym for five days. No talking -- and I love to talk.

We did a lot of physical and mental testing; that's where I found out I'm not very empathetic. We had interviews with Jeff Probst, the producers and some CBS people. That was fun -- we got to talk!

ESPN: How long did it take before you found out you were chosen to be a contestant? What was your reaction?

Laidlaw: It was three or four months before I found out. I was actually pretty confident I would get selected so I wasn't shocked, but it started to set in that "Wow, I'm actually going to be out on an island for 39 days sleeping in the dirt, eating rice and coconuts."

ESPN: You must have received a lot of messages and texts once the announcement came out. Who in the hockey community were you surprised to hear from that reached out?

Laidlaw: Boomer Esiason is a friend and he's a huge Rangers fan; he was very excited for me. Jim Rome is also a friend, and he was excited for me when he heard. Mike Barnett -- my old boss at IMG when I was in the agent business [and also Wayne Gretzky's agent] -- called, and he was totally fired up. John Tonelli and I played together in Los Angeles; we have stayed close friends and he was thrilled.

ESPN: Compare being an NHL player vs. being a "Survivor" contestant: Which one was more grueling?

Laidlaw: When you are on an NHL team you are all pulling on the same rope in the same direction trying to win. Sometimes teammates can be tough on each other, but you move on from any differences because you want to win.

On "Survivor" -- especially early on -- you need to play somewhat of a team game while trying to watch your back. You need to be careful you don't offend people and put a target on your back. In that regard, "Survivor" might be tougher.

The pounding you give out and receive in the NHL is demanding, while on "Survivor" it's the lack of food that reduces your energy level. So physically, the NHL is tougher.

ESPN: We know you can't go into too much detail, but tell us what you can about the overall experience

Laidlaw: I loved being out there playing. I was actually surprised how much I enjoyed it. I wanted to play hard, and I did that.

ESPN: How much fun was it doing the show overall? Where does it rank among your life experiences?

Laidlaw: Raising my two sons was the best thing I've ever done in my life. Playing in the NHL was a dream come true; something I wanted to do since I was a kid. "Survivor" was incredibly rewarding, because I got to test myself and challenge myself at 60 years old, when we are conditioned to think that it's time to dial it back.

ESPN: Would you do it all over again on another season if you were asked back?

Laidlaw: Absolutely I'd do it again, and I would not change a thing. It was glorious.

ESPN: After you went through the experience, who in the NHL (past or present) would you say would do very well as a contestant on "Survivor?"

Laidlaw: Larry Robinson. I played with Larry in Los Angeles. He was a great athlete, and he would be great at the social game. He was one of those guys you loved to be around.

ESPN: What are you up to these days?

Laidlaw: My company is called True Grit Life. It's largely based on how I was raised on my family's dairy farm. My father and grandfather would get up every day and milk the cows twice per day. I'm up every day at 3:30 and I make my bed perfectly before I leave the room. I'm out the door on a march at 4 a.m. It's a march because we get the most out of every stride.

I love doing the motivational speaking. I feel like my life lessons and experiences really make a difference in people's lives. I have a lot of social media followers who love the fact that every day I'm out the door before 4 a.m., posting a video. They realize if I can do it, they can do it.

ESPN: How much involvement do you have with the NHL and, since you live in Connecticut, the Rangers?

Laidlaw: The Rangers have us actively involved in the community. We do charity games, kids' clinics and a lot of appearances.