#RTVF330: The Final Tribal Council

This past Thursday I taught the final class of #RTVF330, my Northwestern University class on Survivor and reality TV. Thursday also happened to be my last class as a college professor for the foreseeable future, as in the coming weeks I’ll be joining the staff of the Los Angeles office of Frank N. Magid Associates, a research and consulting firm that services media and entertainment industry clients. I’ll have more to say about my transition from academia to industry in a future post. For the time being, I’d like to share a few moments and memories from my class’s final tribal council.

On hand to help me commemorate the end of both the quarter and my time at Northwestern was two-time Survivor castaway Michael Skupin. While Skupin is perhaps best known for the litany of injuries he sustained during Survivor: The Australian Outback and Survivor: Philippines, he’s also one of the most infectiously enthusiastic human beings on the planet. Skupin regaled the students with behind-the-scenes stories about his two seasons, his legendary appetite (mmmm…raw rice cooked in your own belly), aquadumping etiquette, and the ways in which Survivor has – and hasn’t – changed over the course of its twenty-six season. Toward the end of class (approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes in) we shifted gears and briefly discussed Survivor‘s most recent episode. In it, Brandon Hantz, a two-time Survivor contestant who is the same age as many of my students, experienced what appeared to be a mental breakdown and became violent toward his fellow cast members. Together with my students Skupin and I discussed our reactions to this incident and questioned whether or not Survivor had crossed a line by allowing a young person with a history of emotional instability and violence to compete in a game that takes so great a toll on its contestants.

In both of the quarters that I’ve taught #RTVF330 I’ve sought to use social media to open up classroom discussions to participants who weren’t enrolled in the class. For our final session I experimented with what was for me a new tool for opening up our classroom: a live video stream. By using Google+’s Hangouts on Air feature I allowed people in the U.S. and Canada to watch and, more importantly, to participate in my last class as it occurred. Our viewers sent in feedback, posed questions, and in a few instances fact checked for us via Twitter.

A recorded version of the live stream appears below. Also check out this Storify story collecting tweets from my students and from some of the many people who joined us that day via the stream and/or contributed to our discussion via Twitter.

Update (3/21): I’ve also uploaded footage of Skupin’s visit that was shot from the audience. Image and sound quality are a little bit better in this recording; in addition, the angle allows you to see the videos that Skupin showed during his talk.


While the second season of #RTVF330 has come to an end I’m still nowhere near finished sorting through all of the videos, photos, and anecdotes that I accumulated during the quarter. Keep an eye on the blog over the coming weeks for exclusive interviews with members of the casts of Big Brother, Survivor, The Glass House, and Paradise Hotel. Also in the works is a post explaining the elaborate Alternative Reality Game conducted by my teaching assistants over the course of the quarter. Finally, keep an eye on the blog for news about a potential third season of #RTVF330. Although teaching is no longer my full-time gig, I’ve already begun plotting ways of reinventing #RTVF330 as an online course in the future…


About fymaxwell
Max Dawson is a Los Angeles-based media consultant and professor.

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