Life Lessons From 'Survivor'

Justin Rood
Courtesy Justin Rood
Fans of Survivor will again have the opportunity to watch their favorite castaways duke it out on the island of Palua Tiga.

But for students taking professor Thomas Boone's Psychology 201 course at Assumption College in Massachusetts, watching the show is a required part of the curriculum.

He explained to CBS News Correspondent Diana Olick what it is about Survivor that makes it worth teaching in a college class.
"I see Survivor as sort of the Olympics of social psychology," said Olick. "What drew people to the show was the fact that this is a chance to watch people interact. It's about who's in, who's out, who can you trust? It's all social intrigue. It captured people because we all interact in trying to assess...'Who can we believe? What is in our best interest? Who is like us?' These are all good questions we ask every day."

Looking at footage of the Survivor reunion, Boone points out
that Richard was touching Kelly's leg a lot.

Survivor: The Australian Outback
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"It's like he's saying, 'Good girl' when he did that. It's a sign of dominance." Boone points out that Richard touched a lot of people throughout the entire show.

"He was all over people," says Boone. "The person doing the touching is more dominant than the one being touched."

But Boone thinks Richard has been harshly judged.

"He cooperated with Rudy and all his other partners up until the end. He was strategic. He was arrogant, but hardly bad. What's wrong with being strategic in life, with having a plan?" asks Boone. "Are you strategic about who you go on dates with, or who you invest your money with?"

He wasn't surprised that Richard won.

"He is the only one who was talking about social perceptions...He talked about reading people and 'can I trust them?'"

Boone said the part of Survivor when the two tribes came together was an important part of the show, and is a classic social psychology experiment.

Although Survivor, with its directors, producers, editors, etc., is not a real experiment, Boone says it is "a provocative situation" which reltes to his research on individuals' abilities to form cooperative relationships within a group.

He says that in Survivor, as in life, people sort themselves into either "super cooperators" or "super defectors." "We're all in this hunt to find a cooperator," he says.

"I find teaching something with pop culture helps students connect. I've used Seinfeld, I've used Buffy the Vampire Slayer... It's extreme. It's a game."

Boone has advice for future Survivor contestants.

"There is no issue about alliances. They're going to be there. They have been interjected," says Boone. "Even if you have an alliance not to have an alliance, you're going to have an alliance."

"The gut call is who is trustworthy? There are not just going to be alliances, but alliances within alliances."