Alumni Profile - David Pritikin
Growing up in Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago, David Pritikin ’94 was a standout athlete. At Highland Park High School he played basketball and quarterbacked the football team. When he arrived at UHart in the autumn of 1989, he brought with him a strong interest in extracurricular sports.
Pritikin joined the University’s basketball team as a freshman and played from 1989 until 1993. That year he was awarded the Gordon McCullough Award, presented to the player who demonstrates the strongest desire to win. Neither his coaches nor his teammates ever wondered what kind of intensity David Pritikin was going to bring to the game. He was always “all in.”
But if he was clear about his passion for sports, he was somewhat more ambiguous about his career plans. Pritikin’s father, James Pritikin, an attorney who specialized in matrimonial and family law, urged his son to follow in his footsteps. And for a time young Pritikin aligned himself with that counsel, majoring in political science and government as a possible preparation for law school.
His heart wasn’t in it, though. After graduating, he worked for a while as a stockbroker in Chicago. “It didn’t interest me,” he says. Shifting gears, he moved to Florida and worked for a while with his uncle, a building construction contractor. The weather was nice, but construction wasn’t where his future lay, either.
It was only after these abortive career starts that Pritikin finally decided to listen to his heart. “I’d always wanted to get into film and television,” he says. “I watched a lot of TV as a kid. So, I decided to listen to Joseph Campbell’s advice and follow my bliss.”
When a friend from Chicago moved to Los Angeles, Pritkin tagged along. And, much to his surprise, success came quickly.
Pritikin’s first job in Los Angeles came when he interviewed for the position of production assistant for ABC’s popular Sabrina the Teenage Witch series. The job amounted to an apprenticeship, and he stayed with it for two years. While his main responsibilities were low level — running errands and answering phone calls on set — he kept his eyes open and used the experience to learn as much as he could about television production.
When Sabrina shut down after Pritikin’s second year with the series, he was introduced by a friend to the producer of a new program that was still in pre-production, slated to debut in 2000. Pritikin joined the company in its first season and got in on the ground floor of what was to become arguably television’s biggest phenomenon of the new century, “reality TV.” The show was Survivor, and it turned out to be a huge hit, now in its 15th year on CBS.
Luck and Hard Work
“Luck has a lot to do with success,” Pritikin says. “You have to be in the right place at the right time and that is often a result of the networking you do. The more people you know, the more likely you are to find out about opportunities. Once you find the opportunity, you have to work hard to make the most of it.”
The UHart alumnus gives a tip of the hat to former coaches Jack Phelan and Paul Brazeau for instilling in him values that have served him well throughout his career: discipline, focus, and an appreciation for teamwork. He also cites the positive influence of Professor Roger Desmond, who mentored him and helped him develop leadership skills.
Pritikin was with Survivor when the initial season was filmed in Borneo, and he was named associate producer midway through the season. He and a crew of nearly 300 found themselves living in the wild, along with the cast, enduring a veritable plague of “bugs, jungle rats, and snakes,” and sleeping “mummified in mosquito net.”
Despite those decidedly unglamorous aspects of the job, Pritikin remained with Survivor through 2007, by which time he had become supervising producer. It was a tribute to his enthusiasm for the career he’d chosen and his capacity for hard work that he’d achieved such a position, with such a prominent TV show, in such a short time. But after seven years, he had grown tired of the brutal production schedule. Each series occupied six months of the year, including work on location and post-location editing in the studio.
So, he struck out on his own as an independent show runner. Almost as soon as he decided to leave Survivor, he got a call from Mark Burnett, the show’s producer. Burnett had a new, eight-episode series in mind.
“Mark asked me to produce a program called Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” says Pritikin. “I wasn’t certain about it. Governor Palin was a rather controversial figure. I tried to keep an open mind, though, and it turned out to be a great opportunity.”
Part Alaskan travelogue, part slice of life, Sarah Palin’s Alaska was different from Survivor in almost every respect. Filmed on location, it didn’t require months of camping in extreme circumstances. Instead, Pritikin and his crew traveled with Palin around Alaska, filming in the mornings.
The production schedule was more leisurely than that to which he was accustomed, still, Palin was “extraordinarily driven,” Pritikin says of the former GOP vice presidential candidate. “She worked very hard. It was go, go go.”
The short series debuted in 2010 and wrapped up a year later. Pritikin wasn’t unemployed for long, though. By then he’d been involved with TV reality production for more than a decade and was a proven professional. Over the next few years, he served as executive producer for such “reality” programs as World’s Toughest Trucker; Bering Sea Gold; The Devil’s Ride; The Fighters; Rods N’ Wheels; Billy Bob’s Gags to Riches; The Bait; Blood and Oil; Philly Throttle; Shipwreck Men, and many more.
Since 2011, he has been an executive producer with Discovery productions. Discovery owns 14 U.S. cable and satellite television networks including Discovery Channel, TLC, and Animal Planet that reach nearly 900 million subscribers. In 2014, Pritikin was among the producers who received an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program” for the program Deadliest Catch.