Reality Show Syllabus

Challenging the general assumption that reality television is dumbing us down, colleges across the country are using it as a teaching tool. Is Richard Hatch replacing Hegel?



American Idol

Dr. Marilyn Easter, a professor at San Jose State University, uses the talent show's judges to teach different forms of communication: Simon Cowell's style is "direct negative news message," Paula Abdul's was "indirect negative news and good news message," and Randy Jackson's was "mixed message."


The Apprentice, Survivor

Dr. Easter shows students The Apprentice to explain how to create business plans and bring ideas to fruition. Survivor demonstrates strategies in communication and building relationships.


Big Brother

Dr. Amy Aldridge Sanford, an assistant professor of communication studies at Northeastern State University in Talaqua, Oklahoma, wrote her Ph.D. dissertation on Big Brother. She now teaches courses about reality shows, and they've become so popular the number of students had to be capped.

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The Bachelor

Dr. Sanford's asks her students to focus on the people who are marginalized-such as the women on The Bachelor. "Women are portrayed as much more desperate than men on the show," she says. "They're shown bawling their eyes out, saying, 'This is the love of my life' about a guy they met 10 minutes before."


The Real World, Flavor of Love, The Jersey Shore

The evolution of The Real World is a topic Sanford explores, as are the racial and ethnic stereotypes on display on Jersey Shore and Flavor of Love. Discussing those stereotypes is super important in a school located in a state like Oklahoma, where most of the white students have had very little interaction with people of color.

FOX (2); NBC

So You Think You Can Dance, Kitchen Nightmares, The Biggest Loser

SYTYCD is a favorite of Dr. Stephen Swanson, an instructor in the English department at McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas. He screens the show for freshmen composition students who need to figure out how to approach college when they've been coddled in high school. Swanson compares running a kitchen in Kitchen Nightmares to writing a research project. And The Biggest Loser? That teaches realism.