Saturday, 8 March 2008

survivor: geology

A CBS "production manager happened to see a documentary on a volcanologist researching lava in Hawaii, and seeing the danger and excitement inherent in people smashing molten hot ‘magma’ with rock hammers, pitched the idea of a ‘geologist survivor-type’ show."

This from Tales from the Travels (via Evolving Thoughts). It may not be true, but let's not let facts get in the way of a good story. It's worth reading the whole thing, but I've picked out a few gems (hah!) for your bemusement:

The camera crew filmed the nine geologists bonding. The geologists were supplied with alchohol (a common strategy to loosen up the cast in reality TV), but the camera crew was surprised to notice that even after drinking gallons of the liquid, the geologists did not change their behavior, and continued talking in an obscure jargonized language about ‘bombs’, ‘breccia,’ and ‘lahars,’ none of which made for good reality TV.

Also, after listening to the volcanologist eagerly predict just how soon the volcano would blow, the camera-crew became extremely nervous and returned to the camp.

Finally, few of the scientists seemed to understand the concept of ‘voting off’ another member. After consulting a nearby university, the crew finally explained that the geologists were ‘competing for a GSA research grant.' This didn’t go well either, as the geologists pointed out that they didn’t have the time to write a research paper.
The second event, landing in a bush plane in upper Alaska, was a complete failure. None of the geologists were nervous at the idea, which destroyed the drama the crew was hoping for, and worse yet, no-one in the production crew was willing to accompany the geologists to the site, out of sheer terror.

CBS finally pulled the plug on the project in January of 2008, despite their fear that they might be sued for withdrawing the promise of a prize; however, none of the geologists sued, as they were still under the impression that they needed to publish a research paper to receive the money.

I doubt the story is true, but it does give me a good idea for a better reality show: the real 'contestants' would be the camera crew. Hire a bunch of actors and stunt players to pretend to be contestants, and have them do all sorts of crazy stuff that pits the crew against one another in a race to get the best shots. The producer would say things like, "you don't have to follow Jimbo into the snake pit, but if you do, you'll get overtime!"

Or maybe not.

John Wilkins says, "with appropriate substitutions, the same thing could be said of any academic," but I'm not so sure. If Survivor: Grad School were filmed in my department, for example, it's certainly true that there would be a lot of jargon-filled talk about historiography, epistemology, and ontology. It's probably also true that we would resist the idea of writing a paper, even for a large grant. The greatest risk the camera crew would run is getting lost in the stacks. Then again, getting a paper published is a bit of an adventure.


Zachary said...

I agree - the scenario is a little too "perfect" for it to be true, but the concept is amusing nonetheless. "Survivor: Grad School" would be pretty funny, especially if the prize at the end were a professorship. People would be like, "Wait ... so, for sure, one of the nine of us will definitely be given the job? That's a lot better odds than what I've been expecting in my regular job search. Sign me up!"

Isaac said...

You raise a good point. I still have to wonder what would happen when the contestants ask for an extension on the first challenge...