Former defenseman Tom Laidlaw, 61, believes he’s better conditioned today than he was when he played for the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings from 1980-90.
Embracing what he calls a “True Grit” lifestyle, Laidlaw gets up every day at 3:30 a.m., makes his bed “perfectly,” does a 2 1/2-mile march and then heads to the gym to work harder and smarter than he did as a player.
“I’m 20 pounds heavier but with more muscle,” he said. “I weigh all of my food every day.”
But he insists his dedication to fitness is not what landed him on the CBS show “Survivor,” which launches a new season, “Island of Idols,” Sept. 25 with a 90-minute episode at 9 p.m. ET.
“I was pretty cocky,” Laidlaw said, laughing.
That was his intention when he had his first meeting in Los Angeles with host Jeff Probst and other producers.
“When I came into the room, I came in hard,” Laidlaw said. “I was just having fun and treating Jeff like a normal guy, joking around, laughing. At one point, Jeff turned to two women and asked, ‘What are you thinking?’ One woman said, ‘I like him. He’s confident but not cocky.’ The other turned and said, ‘No, he’s cocky.’”
Before securing a place on the 39th season of “Survivor,” CBS had considered Laidlaw for a spot on the show “Amazing Race.” The problem: there was no natural partner for Laidlaw. He didn’t have a former teammate, or friend, in his age bracket who met the criteria to be on the show, including having a high level of conditioning.
Laidlaw is contractually bound to remain silent about what happened on “Survivor,” but whatever the outcome, Laidlaw enjoyed the experience.
“I had watched a lot of the show, but I hadn’t put a lot of thought into it,” Laidlaw said. “But once I got my head around the fact that you have to mislead people, it’s all part of the game and the strategy, I accepted it.”
Laidlaw, who played 705 games with 164 points and 717 penalty minutes, told CBS officials that he would incorporate his “True Grit” lifestyle into the competition. The fact that Laidlaw does a regular “True Grit” podcast and commands a growing group of followers probably made him more attractive to the network.
The diversity of the competition was fun for Laidlaw.
“I turned 61 while I was out there, and a lot of the other players were in their 20s and 30s,” he said. “You’ve got to be disciplined. You want to have fun and be who you are, but at the same time you have to be aware that everything you say, or do, can be used against you in the game.”
Laidlaw trained specifically to play the game. For example, his trainer had him memorize a poem and then recite it before training started. Laidlaw could do it perfectly. But then the trainer would elevate Laidlaw’s heart rate and ask him to do it again. He couldn’t do it, at least not flawlessly.
“It showed me how my mind reacted to getting wound up,” Laidlaw said.
He kept that in mind during “Survivor,” making sure temperament or fatigue weren’t influencing his decisions. He said he reminded himself to take a deep breath before making any decisions while he was weary or aggravated.
Laidlaw said the “Survivor” experience reinforced to him that his “True Grit” lifestyle is perfect for him.
“Anytime you push yourself … you are out there eating rice and coconuts, sleeping in the dirt, you have to tell yourself, ‘there is no out here,’” Laidlaw said. “This is not just for one night. If you are going to participate in this game, you are going to be here 39 days. You have to prepare yourself mentally. There’s no complaining. You can’t turn on the TV to get your mind off it. It made me realize even more, it doesn’t matter, what my age is, I can do anything.”
Did he get up at 3:30 during the “Survivor” competition? “Well, there are no clocks on the island,” Laidlaw said, laughing. “So I don’t know what time it was. There you get up when the sun comes up, and go to bed when the sun goes down.”