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May 24, 2019

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Northwestern professor is a real ‘Survivor’

Kai Ryssdal May 20, 2015
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Max Dawson has always been a fan of the long-running reality television “Survivor,” so much so that in 2012 he taught a class about it at Northwestern University. “The class was called “The Tribe Has Spoken,” says Dawson, now a Los Angeles-based media consultant. “I wanted to teach these students … about the industry they were going into. And what better way than using a case study of a show that really defined reality TV and redefined what American television is all about?”

Dawson’s class soon caught the eye of recruiters for “Survivor” and he was offered a spot on the show. “First, I thought I was being pranked by a friend or a student, but when the idea was planted in my head, it suddenly seemed really logical,” he says.

After getting the invitation, Dawson spent nearly two years preparing for the show. He did everything from putting in time at the gym to reading books about psychology in order to get ready. When it finally came time to make his debut, he felt ready. But he quickly realized that he may have been a bit too prepared.

“I was voted off in the second week,” Dawson says. “I came to the harsh realization that not everyone loves a know-it-all.”

This season of “Survivor” also had contestants broken into one of three groups: The white collars, the blue collars and the no collars. Dawson was put into the white collars, which he doesn’t think did him any favors. “White collar is synonymous with the 1 percent, the oppressor, the man,” he says. “To me that was putting a target on our backs.”

Even though some would say that reality television represents a degradation of entertainment TV, Dawson says that the genre goes beyond that.

“I see it more as a great sociological experiment that not only allows us to be entertained, but forces us to think about really tough issues, to confront things that we might not otherwise want to confront or that our entertainment might otherwise allow us to avoid.”

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