Northwestern “Survivor” shows the real me of the competition


The reality show Survivor is one of the most well-known competitive shows on television. With dozens of seasons and decades of airtime, it sparked a variety of recreations, including one at Northwestern. Northwestern Survivor participants follow the same format as the game, taking part in challenges as the castaways are eliminated until one receives a cash prize.

JOSHUA PERRY: Before we begin, a content warning. This episode contains explicit language.


JOSHUA PERRY: Most people would struggle to keep a brand new club up and running with members scattered across the country and a pandemic ravaging the world.

JACK AUSTIN: But for these students, surviving is what they do best.


JOSHUA PERRY: From the Daily Northwestern, I’m Joshua Perry.

JACK AUSTIN: And I am Jack Austin. Meet Podculture, a podcast about arts and culture on campus and beyond.

JOSHUA PERRY: Student organization Northwestern Survivor began in the winter of 2020 as a film project for Chase Reed, then head of communications. It’s based on “Survivor,” a popular CBS reality TV series in which a group of castaways on a tropical island pit against each other in a series of challenges. Each person competes to stay on the island the longest – and to win a big cash prize. The winners of the challenges temporarily secure their place on the island, and the losers are forced to make the difficult decision to elect one of their contestants off the show.

JACK AUSTIN: The show has an incredibly dedicated fan base and has inspired many Northwestern castaways to participate in their own version of the game. Communications junior Kylie Boyd, for example, said she has been watching “Survivor” since she was born. in high school.

KYLIE BOYD: There are people who literally watch from birth. I started a little late.

JOSHUA PERRY: McCormick senior Jane Leff is a much more seasoned fan. “Survivor” had a huge impact on her, especially during the pandemic.

JANE LEFF: From March to September, I would say that I reviewed almost every season of “Survivor”, mostly because I wanted to, and then I realized that I had really spent a lot of time studying how “Survivor” works. “. I really studied each episode and how to get through each vote to try to get through.

JACK AUSTIN: The format of NU’s Survivor mirrors the original: the students are divided into two clashing tribes. The winning team gains immunity, while the losing team must vote against a player. At the end of the season, the last person on the island – metaphorical in this case – wins the prize and the show.

JOSHUA PERRY: NU’s Survivor is not the first of its kind. Among the show’s more than seven million viewers, many college students and longtime fans were hoping to recreate the show with their own small-scale “Survivor” games. Northwestern Survivor is following in the footsteps of the University of Michigan, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Maryland, and others.

JACK AUSTIN: Participants said the game revolves around identity and is central to a social experience that reveals who a person really is. One of the reasons so many people love the show is the way it reveals people’s desires, strengths, and shortcomings.

JANE LEFF: It’s really hard to pretend. People who really try to pretend can only do it for this long. You will always see at the end of the day who is someone on the inside.

JOSHUA PERRY: Communications manager Gus Moody participated in the first season and co-hosted seasons two and three. He said he felt the elite university environment, with stressed and busy students, provides a unique pool of applicants.

GUS MOODY: “Survivor” is a social experiment, I think. Reduced to the essentials, that is what it is. College Survivor isn’t like we’re trying to emulate “Survivor”. It’s like we put 16 students who are so busy with extracurricular and school activities and facing a global pandemic into the most socially demanding thing in the world. It’s just exciting to see what happens.

JACK AUSTIN: The first season started filming in person, but when the pandemic hit NU was forced to go virtual and everything changed. The game was included and ended up being played primarily on Zoom. But while it certainly posed a challenge to the production of Season 1, the pandemic hasn’t completely halted production. In fact, Carson Knoer, a 2021 graduate and former Survivor competitor, said things could have been a lot worse.

CARSON KNOER: It’s obviously a bummer that we weren’t able to meet in person because there was something special about meeting someone on campus for this game. But honestly, it went pretty well.

JOSHUA PERRY: Carson said it wasn’t too difficult to take the challenges to a virtual format, and filming the show on Zoom was actually pretty straightforward. Overall things went well.

JACK AUSTIN: And it was nice for many Northwestern Survivor members to maintain a sense of community. For Kylie, participating in the game was a valuable resource amid the isolation of distant classrooms and social distancing that defined 2020.

KYLIE BOYD: It really has been a crazy way to meet people during the pandemic. It literally requires you to socialize because if you don’t socialize there is no point in gambling because you will likely be rejected.

JOSHUA PERRY: After shooting three seasons virtually, club members said they were excited to film season four completely in person. And Northwestern Survivor received club status from ASG last winter, providing an additional incentive to participate. From now on, the University will fund the winning prize of $ 100 each season.

JACK AUSTIN: Regardless of how successful each tribe member is, attendees said they learned a lot from the show, both about themselves and how they are viewed by others. Jane said the show made her more confident and social.

JANE LEFF: They say that about the real “Survivor”, and it’s true – you have to know who you are. If you don’t, they’ll eat you alive.

JOSHUA PERRY: In the intense competitive environment, filled with backstabbing and empowerment, those involved in the show experience heightened emotions.

JACK AUSTIN: For Gus, planning a big project and communicating with allies behind the scenes has proven to be very rewarding. His machinations made him feel like he was “like the best drugs mankind has to offer.” But he also spoke of the overwhelming sadness to see a player excluded from the game.

JOSHUA PERRY: In a game with high monetary and interpersonal stakes, participants experience the full range of human emotions. It’s all about the competitive advantage that drives castaways as they strategize to move forward. According to Carson, there’s a lot that goes into this planning element of the game.

CARSON KNOER: In Survivor, there is this complex balance of social dynamics, individual performance, connection and manipulation. It’s this really interesting combination of a lot of different traits.

JOSHUA PERRY: And of course the players want to win.

KYLIE BOYD: People want to win so much, every person wants to win so much.

CARSON KNOER: And it’s dramatic. It’s exciting. There’s a lot of twists and turns, and there’s a lot of emotion and energy, betrayal and bondage, and it’s going to be really fun to watch.

JACK AUSTIN: Participants impart their own style and strategy to the game and often turn to CBS “Survivor” for inspiration and advice on how to progress step by step. Jane said she had studied CBS “Survivor”.

JANE LEFF: My strategy at the start of the game was to build really strong relationships with certain people and to leave no one behind – to try to have a good relationship with everyone. For me, it’s also a life strategy. Never the loudest person in the room, never the quietest person, trying to stay in the middle as much as I could.

JOSHUA PERRY: As the host, Gus enjoyed spicing up the game the most. One method used rules from other reality shows.

GUS MOODY: The funniest part about it, in my opinion, was finding the twists and turns that rock the game and shock the competition. The most rewarding feeling for me is to reveal a new twist to the castaways, to see their shocked faces and not see the panic in their eyes, but the “Oh my God, how are we going to deal with this now?” ”And knowing that I did my job as a producer to spice up the game a bit.

JACK AUSTIN: Club members are optimistic about the show’s next season, not least because it will be filmed in person.

GUS MOODY: The future of the series is going to be so good. I am so excited. I think we did a good job creating something engaging and exciting to watch although it’s only on Zoom. I think everything will be better. There is so much more we can do with it in person. Watching someone physically stand up and leave the tribal council area to write their vote is so much more engaging than moving from one working room to another.

JOSHUA PERRY: Despite their physical separation so far, the students at Northwestern Survivor are close, and they say the experience has been incredibly valuable. Many contestants, like Kylie, came out of the show knowing more about themselves.

KYLIE BOYD: It definitely made me more confident. It made me more social. I really feel like I learned a lot from that, as a person.

JACK AUSTIN: Northwestern Survivor ultimately tests the students, judging their character, intelligence, and strength. Tensions run high in this highly competitive game which can be both ruthless and satisfying. Challengers must be strong individuals who can cooperate as a group if they are to be successful. Drama, twists and turns, shame and glory come together to create wonderful entertainment that teaches people a bit about who they really are.


JANE LEFF: Everyone who plays it is like, “I feel more confident, I feel more daring, I feel stronger as a person.” It’s amazing, and I am literally so happy that I did.

JACK AUSTIN: From the Daily Northwestern, I’m Jack Austin.

JOSHUA PERRY: And I am Joshua Perry. Thanks for listening to another episode of Podculture. This episode was reported and produced by Jack Austin and myself. The Daily Northwestern’s digital editor is Jordan Mangi, and the editor is Jacob Fulton.

E-mail: [email protected] and [email protected]

Twitter: @JackAustinNews and @Joshdperry

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