Just so we know who we're talking about

Below the fold is a humorous and possibly true account of reality TV trying to include geologists. With appropriate substitutions, the same thing could be said of any academic...

While the media rarely represents geologists to the general population, (excluding sound bytes on Discovery Channel volcano specials), there was one recent attempt to integrate geologists into a television program.

According to various blog sources, CBS was looking to produce a new reality TV show for 2008, after correctly predicting that the writers’ strike would cut down on their ability to create blue-toned dramatic shows centering around corpses. One of their production managers 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.

In December of 2007, CBS hired a production crew to pull the show together; the scenario was that nine geologists would be placed in the field, where they would vote each other off based on their willingness to do dangerous geologist type feats common to the field; like researching active volcanoes, earthquakes,

landslides, and landing in bush planes on glaciers. Geologists that weren’t up to the task would be voted off, and the last remaining “Hard-core geologist” would win a prize.

The production was plagued from the beginning. They were successful in finding nine geologists, 6 males and three females, between 25 and 50 years of age, and they quickly set up the first challenge; researching an active volcano in the Phillipines. The geologists and camera crew set up camp near the bottom of the volcano. 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.

This trend continued through the entire first challenge; the geologists were seemingly oblivious to the camera, and the only interpersonal drama occurred when the seismologist and structural geologist got into a yelling match over the best recipe for chili. When the camera-crew and geologists went up to do research on the volcano, instead of sticking together, the geologists scattered into the landscape, and the camera-crew found themselves unable to find more than two at a time.

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. The final result was almost no footage, and the editors were unable to make sense of what footage there was because they had no idea what the hell the geologists were talking about. 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. Finally, they were simply told to get rid of someone on some sort of criteria. After a council, the geologists decided that whoever had the worst aim with a rock hammer would be told to leave.

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. The result was that small cameras were given to two of the geologists to film themselves. When the footage and geologists returned, the editors found tapes filled with footage and commentary about mountains and ‘glacial erratics’. Only ten percent of the footage featured humans, and most of that footage was simply the petrologist standing by outcrops for scale.

By the time the production reached Hawaii, most of the camera-crew had quit (because of the steady diet of chili and the dangerous situations), and only five of the geologists were left; not because they had been voted off, but because they had been over-excited by rock formations at various locations and had refused to leave. Moreover, paying for an almost-constant supply of beer and transportation of the geologists’ luggage (which mainly consisted of rock samples and unmentionably dilapidated field clothing), had almost exhausted the budget. 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.

[hat tip: Tales from the Travels]

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I can certainly imagine the "bonding over alcohol" part. As far as consuming gallons of the stuff, I've been amazed at the amount of booze that gets consumed in the field at night, and the heaviest drinkers are the first up and most enthusiastic the next morning. However, the reason it was so boring for the camera was that these geologists didn't know each other. If they had, they would've been telling embarrassing stories about each other after the third round.

Yah, Karen - but all of their jokes & stories would have involved Geology-innuendo so it still wouldn't have made good television.

"They've gone to check out the cleavage on those beds hohoho"

and the heaviest drinkers are the first up and most enthusiastic the next morning.

Of course. They are first up because their bladders are the fullest.

I WOULD ACTUALLY WATCH THAT! Takes me back to field camp. Ah, the good old days.

While the footage would make a terrible reality TV show, I'd be interested in seeing a making of documentary about the project. Something like Terry Gilliam in Lost in La Mancha.

With appropriate substitutions, the same thing could be said of any academic...

Just which treacherous locales and dangerous stunts would be called for in a show starring philosophers?

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 07 Mar 2008 #permalink

Just which treacherous locales and dangerous stunts would be called for in a show starring philosophers?

PZ's blog.

By Gary Bohn (not verified) on 07 Mar 2008 #permalink

Now, geophysicists, that's a different story...

So the reality show tried a twist on their usual crap by showing a bunch of scientists in places where they felt right at home? Haven't there already been a few such shows on Nova and similar programs?
It must have been a hoot.

Just which treacherous locales and dangerous stunts would be called for in a show starring philosophers?
Imagine that a train wagon is careering towards 5 philosphers pondering the Platonic forms. You can save this group by diverting the train to another line. This, however will surely kill the Nietzchean pondering the geneology of religion on that line. What to do? This game is played by a moral realist, utilitarian and nihilst.

By Brian English (not verified) on 08 Mar 2008 #permalink

I am skeptical of this piece: I think it HAS to be satirical. Still, having grown up around geologists, I totally recognize these descriptions.

When I was a wee lad, the parents took our family to Hawaii. But did we spent lots of time in the sand and surf? Noooooooo--WE had to go to Volcanos NP. And then, did we just stick to the roads and look at lava pits? Noooooooo--WE had to go back country hiking to try to find the only active cinder cone at the time. Ten freakin miles over lava beds in the baking hot sun, with my father saying things like "look at that pahoihoi formation!" and "Gee whiz! More Pele's hair! isn't that amazing?"

Is it any wonder I went into cognitive science?

By boojieboy (not verified) on 11 Mar 2008 #permalink

...kill the Nietzchean pondering the geneology of religion on that line. What to do? This game is played by a moral realist, utilitarian and nihilst.

Any Geologist would tell you there is only one possible answer to this question. Have a few beers and let it work itself out.

By GLYTeacher (not verified) on 30 Oct 2008 #permalink