Survivor Interview: Superfan’s torch gets snuffed

Screen Grab/CBS
Screen Grab/CBS

Max Dawson knows everything about Survivor, except how to win it. In an exclusive interview with The TV Junkies, Max shares his passion for Survivor, explains how he knew he was going home and weighs in on why Carolyn may have flipped alliances. ( flip, flip, flipper)


The TV Junkies : At what point did you realize you were the one going home?

Max Dawson: I started getting bad vibes very early on in that tribal council when Carolyn was refusing to make eye contact with me and Shirin. She started angling her body away from us, giving us the classic body language cues that she was not with us. When people go into the voting confessional to write down the names, it’s possible to watch and observe how many letters they’re writing on the parchment. Most of the people at that tribal council were not smart enough to know that if you want to blindside someone, you should make it look like you are writing more letters than you are actually writing down. So when Carolyn went in and wrote down three letters M-A-X instead of four letters  W-I-L-L, I knew my game was over because if we didn’t have Carolyn we were done. So from that point on I knew I was headed home that night.

TTVJ : What do you think was the biggest factor in Carolyn flipping alliances?

MD: After the very first vote on Day 3, Carolyn was very confused about why her name had been written down by Joaquin and So. In any blindside there will be someone who gets votes who is not the person going home and in that event it was Carolyn. Even though Shirin and I told her beforehand that her name would be written down but she was safe, she didn’t understand the concept of being a decoy or a pawn. She didn’t like it so after the tribal she asked Joaquin “Why did you write my name down?” and he replied “Because Max told me too.” So from that moment on Carolyn thought Shirin and I were gunning for her. She felt that I had Shirin wrapped around my finger, that I was a cult leader and Shirin had drank the Kool-Aid and that I was going to somehow get her out of the game. So she thought she’d get me before I got her.

TTVJ: From the viewer’s perspective, you and Shirin were definitely in the hot seat, do you think your stingray and feet-in-the-pot incidents tilted the vote against you in any way?

MD: No, I think that Carolyn tilted the vote my way. The stingray incident has little significance I believe in the outcome of my game. What you didn’t see is that I was ordered to put my foot in that pot of water by the Survivor medical staff. They don’t come and provide you with sterile medical supplies to clean out a wound. They tell you to use the resources you have and in that case it was the pot that was filled without drinking water. The doctor’s knew what was going on with my feet, they inspected them and told me to do it. So I did that with authorization from the medical staff. If the people in my tribe were ignorant enough to think that they would get a planters wart from that, and decided to vote me out that would have been quite foolish on their part. But ultimately it had little to do with it because Carolyn was the deciding force in that vote and she recognized compared to Shirin I was more of a threat in the game.

TTVJ: From your naked ways to your “Hold up Bro” with Jeff at tribal, there were many callbacks to previous Survivor seasons. Were those intentional references or more you living in the moment?  

MD: They were intentional IN the moment, they weren’t things I had planned on doing before. When you find yourself out on that stage, and you have the opportunity to live out a dream or a fantasy, to walk in the footsteps of great people, you take it. I’m the sort of guy who if you and I were sitting down to have a beer, I might make some of those same references if they were appropriate to the context that I made on the show. You know I might go to the bathroom and come back completely butt naked. I’m the sort of guy who doesn’t hide the fact that he’s passionate about Survivor and not embarrassed about it at all. In those moments I thought it was too fun of an opportunity to pass up.

TTVJ: How did you end up teaching a class about Survivor?

MD: I used to be a professor in the Film and TV department at Northwestern University and every year I taught a class on reality TV and the U.S. TV industry. I decided at a certain point I was getting bored with the regular syllabus, and I wanted to spice it up so I used Survivor as a case study. I had the kids use Survivor as the vehicle for understanding on how reality TV had changed American television and pop culture. In the process, because I’m a bit of a sadistic bastard,  I decided to play Survivor with the students. They were divided up into tribes, and competed against one another for rewards and ultimately for immunity from the midterm exam. Each week the kids would take quizzes, there were a lot of readings, with many challenging elements to them and the tribe that scored the best on all the quizzes didn’t have to take the midterm.

We also did things like have scavenger hunts for hidden immunity idols, had Survivors come and speak to the students about their experiences on being on reality shows. Also stars from other shows like Big Brother, The Bachelor, Glass House. People came and talked about how reality television affected their lives. The common misconception is the class was on how to build a fire, how to cook a snake or how to pull off a blindside. It was really just a class on how Survivor and reality television have transformed the landscape of American TV.

TTVJ: Is there anything you would go back and change or add to your teaching curriculum based on your experiences.

MD: Obviously I would have new insights into elements of the production of the show that I did not have before. The class is very much about the behind the scenes of reality TV, the business of reality TV. So I would like to involve more people who work on the productions side. Most of the students who I taught, when they leave Northwestern they don’t become movie directors or screen writers, they become reality TV show production assistants. Part of what I was trying to do was give them an introduction to the business they would be working in.  So to have them meet and talk to some of the production designers, camera people and sound people, ones who really make Survivor the great show that it is, I think would be the greatest enhancement that I could do to make that class even better.

TTVJ: Do you have any advice for future Survivor fanatics that may play the game, perhaps to keep there knowledge of the show to themselves?

MD: My advice for future contestants would be to be yourself, like I was myself. Everybody always says “Be yourself, be yourself.” It’s the biggest cliché in reality TV, but it’s also the truest statement there can be. I was true to myself and as a result I walk out of the game with my head held high. It’s the people who debase themselves, change themselves or try to conceal there identity who are ultimately embarrassed by what they see on the screen. I know that looking at what was portrayed of me this week, that I’m supposed to feel like I’m some sort of horrible, hopeless geek who was brought down by his infatuation with a silly TV show. I see it quite differently. I see it as I was authentic, and transparent about my passion. That’s who I am, and it defines me. I would tell future super fans who play Survivor to do the same thing. If people vote you out or give you a million dollars because of that, ultimately its because of who you are.

Survivor: Worlds Apart, airs on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on CBS and Global.