That’s a wrap

Margaret Matray

Tribal councils, rose ceremonies and confessionals dominate television as real-world people anxiously wait to learn their reality-television fates. Have they been fired? Has tribal council spoken to send them home?

Northwestern’s own Simon Cowells and Jeff Probsts are making their debut this season.

As the reality television craze continues to grow, students have begun stepping into its realm.


The filmed drama of six people living in an Evanston house isn’t another season of MTV’s The Real World. It’s the first season of “Robot House.”

There is no game, rose ceremony or script, but the roommates discuss the episodes before filming, said Stacy Peterson, a Communication junior and roommate. This creates a mix of reality and satire, Peterson said.

“It’s split, where half the show is reality TV and then something totally preposterous happens,” Peterson said. “It’s not scripted, but weird things happen. In the first episode, everyone dies, and in another we go to seventeenth-century France. A lot of times it’s just us sitting around our house, though.”

“Robot House,” a reality show that airs on NU Channel 1, was created by Communication juniors Jackie Doherty and Rachel Wolther. The idea for the show developed three years ago, but the roommates filmed the first season this summer, Wolther said.

“We’re film students and we get bored when we’re not making movies all the time,” Doherty said. “The things going on in our home were too fantastic to not show everyone. We decided to put a show together.”

“Robot House” hired professional cameramen and a crew from Chicago, but the cast often filmed its own episodes. The show differs from mainstream reality TV because the roommates acknowledge and interact with the cameras, Peterson said.

“We’re very aware of the cameras in the middle of a shot,” she said. “We are the crew, and the camera is passed around. We’ll show the process of filming while we are literally filming.”

They have no plans to create a second season but may film again if they can get paid and aired on a station such as Public Broadcasting Service, Wolther said.

The “Robot House” roommates plan to release a DVD of their season this winter, Wolther said.

“Reality TV is entertainment and insight into the soul,” she said. “The best part about watching TV is watching people do things you do every day. The peak will be watching people on TV watching TV.”


Tony Swanson “chased nature” for four days in September when he used engineering and robotics skills to build a human-scale model of an animal on a set in Australia.

The McCormick graduate student was chosen for the third episode of “Chasing Nature,” a reality show on the Animal Planet channel that will premier in December. The show brings together four-person teams of engineering students from the United States to reproduce physical characteristics of animals on a larger scale.

Swanson and Kellan O’Connor, also a McCormick graduate student, heard about the show from a McCormick e-mail. Each applied and interviewed with a casting director and had to explain his robotics and fabrication research, O’Connor said.

Swanson was accepted for the third episode, and O’Connor will go to Australia Nov. 22 to film.

Both were cautious to apply for a reality show and were more interested in a taking a week-long trip to Australia than being on television, they said.

“I’m not into girls crying on TV,” Swanson said. “I get sick of the reality TV drama, and I was very cautious because there is no way I was going to participate in something so stupid.”

Reality television “helps deteriorate human character,” O’Connor said. He didn’t want to participate in a reality show that would pit contestants against one another, he said.

“We can talk to who we’re working with ahead (of time), and we’ve e-mailed,” O’Connor said. “We made a pact that no one would plot against one another.”

“Chasing Nature” focuses on engineering, not emotions. The engineers were not told of their task in advance so that their initial reaction could be preserved on camera, but the show wasn’t based on human drama, Swanson said.

“There wasn’t time for drama,” Swanson said. “The atmosphere was light-hearted, and we got to play with a bunch of toys.”

Reach Margaret Matray at [email protected]