Between the Lines: July-August 2005

August 1, 2005

As we were editing the account of a young alumnus' Bachelorette pursuits, reality--or reality TV--struck again. Word came that Andrew Schuler, assistant professor of civil engineering in Duke's Pratt School of Engineering, had been cast as "The Professor" for a new reality show, The Real Gilligan's Island. The show started in June. "Like a lot of people in my generation, I grew up watching too many bad sitcoms," he says.

Schuler volunteered for the part after an open casting call last summer on--of all places--the listserv of the Association of Environmental Engineering Scientists and Professors. He was flown to Hollywood for a screen test; he clinched it, he says, after he took out a guitar and sang his own song inspired by Gilligan's Island. Last fall, he joined the cast and crew at an undisclosed tropical location, though he allows that it was "a very nice place" somewhere south of Cancun. He says he enjoyed the company of his fellow castaways, and, from the island lifestyle, lost ten pounds and gained a suntan.

People are bound to wonder, as he put it in the North Carolina Independent, why he'd agree "to be televised nationally in coconut-oriented competitions with people in feather boas and sequined dresses." He says he did get to live out a fantasy--makeup people, producers hanging on his every word, camera crews that came running "every time I cracked a coconut."

But what made the experience meaningful was the potential to promote an environmental agenda, to be a public personality drawing connections between island survival and scarce natural resources. He has used his pseudo-celebrity status to gain access to radio talk shows and newspaper opinion pages, advocating for environmental sensitivity on issues like global warming.

So reality TV may appeal not just to the bachelorette-crazed and the island-enamored, but also to those who want to reshape the global reality. That's the hope of the professor--or "The Professor."