Teaching to TV: Gabe Dannenbring’s rise to fame

There’s not much difference between surviving in the wild and controlling a room full of rowdy seventh-graders. At least that’s how content creator Gabe Dannenbring views it.

“Sometimes it feels like they’re the same. There are some days where being on a reality show was less stressful than trying to teach a group of middle schoolers,” Dannenbring said.  

For Dannenbring, starring in a Netflix’s reality show “Surviving Paradise” or teaching seventh-grade science was never in the cards for him. 

“I thought I was going to be a doctor, but I quickly learned two things. One, I can’t do blood and two, I learned I wasn’t smart enough to become a doctor,” Dannenbring said. 

With his dad being a teacher and his mom running a dance studio, Dannenbring decided to go into education. He graduated from Minnesota State University, Moorhead with a degree in health and public health education and a master’s in education leadership with an emphasis in school administration. It landed him a job teaching sixth-grade science at Patrick Henry Middle School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota before he moved over to Ben Reifel Middle School. 

“I wanted to do a job where I felt I was doing good to society and giving back in some sort of way and I wake up every morning knowing I’m doing something good,” Dannenbring said. 

Dannenbring had no intention of ever becoming an influencer. However, a video recording of his reaction to seventh-graders screaming when he played Kahoot music on Tiktok would change his life. 

“I kept getting TikTok notifications and I was thinking I got only 12 likes. We kept looking like ‘Oh, 1,000 views. Cool. Now it’s 10,00 views, then 50,000,” Dannenbring said. “It’s completely changed my life.”

The video has over 41 million views and nine million likes. Since the video was posted, Dannenbring has amassed over 277,000 followers on Instagram and 1.6 million followers on TikTok with over 52 million likes. 

Senior Trinitey Bryant followed Dannenbring on TikTok after her sister-in-law sent one of his videos. As a Family and Consumer Science Education major, Bryant said she’s interested in his perspective of teaching through the creative content lens.

“I’m interested in the ‘record-your-day’ content and I’m interested in following in his footsteps,” Bryant said. “It gives you the perspective of what’s going to happen when you get in the classroom.”

Bryant said Dannenbring’s content on relatable classroom experiences gives credibility to the teaching field.

“I like his perspective because a lot of people frown down on teachers. Him showing everyone what he does in a fun way gives teachers credibility to let others see what’s actually going on in education,” Bryant said.

Dannenbring’s videos range from roasts students have told him, the different types of teachers and the ins and outs of being an educator. Even with working alongside middle schoolers, he’s drawn a fine line of keeping social media out of the classroom.

“During the work day when the kids are there, I’m strictly a teacher. I don’t ever address it or talk about it,” Dannenbring said. 

Besides starring in a Netflix show, TikTok has opened several other doors for Dannenbring. From co-hosting the “Teachers Off Duty” podcast, getting brand deals from companies such as Google, Target and Amazon and helping his brother with a financial advising company designed to help influencers, his schedule is consistently packed.

Dannenbring said he’s learned to manage his time by learning how to fail enough times. 

“It took a lot of over-committing to things and letting people down to realize I can’t do everything. There’s all these different opportunities and now I’m like ‘Is this worth being gone?’ Dannenbring said. “It’s been a game changer to have the ability to realize I can’t say yes to everything and I got to take care of myself.”

Last summer, Dannenbring spent a month in Lefkada, Greece filming “Surviving Paradise.” The show is a combination of “Big Brother” and “Survivor” where 12 competitors think they’ll live in a luxurious villa, but instead get sent down to a camp to sleep in the elements and compete in challenges. Alliances can vote people up to paradise, but can also turn on them and send them back to camp.

Dannenbring said the soft skill of having crucial conversations and maintaining his emotions in the classroom worked to his advantage on the show. 

“One of the things that teaching teaches you is to control your emotions. If you have someone swearing up a storm in your face, as a teacher you just have to take it and that’s how I approached it on the show,” Dannenbring said.

Dannenbring said his most memorable moment of filming was when he found out he was going to be on the show. After a 10-day quarantine in Greece, producers told him he might not even appear on the show. 

“The producers said ‘If you don’t get a call by Wednesday, you’re not going to go on the show and we’ll fly you back home.’ It was Tuesday night and I remember calling the producers saying I wanted to go back home but they told me to wait a day,” Dannenbring said. 

The next day, they called to say he would be shooting the next day, pulling up to a party yacht on a jet boat. 

“Just being stuck and feeling lonely, to all of a sudden getting a call saying ‘Hey, you’re going to be on the show tomorrow morning. Pack your bags,’ was such a cool moment,” Dannenbring said.

Dannenbring said having a growth mindset has helped him navigate the challenging parts of being a content creator who grew from overnight success.

“I’m a teacher in South Dakota. I’m the last person who should be on Netflix or have a million followers on TikTok, but if I can do it, then other people can do it,” Dannenbring said. 

Bryant said she considers Dannenbring an inspiration.

“Lately, I’ve been super scared about classroom management and going into that field, but he inspires me to keep going,” Bryant said. 

Dannenbring said for those looking to become influencers is to be themselves.

“People can see phonies right away. People want to follow those who are authentic and original. I tell people all the time to make themselves different from everybody else and the only way to do that is by being yourself,” Dannenbring said. 

Besides upcoming quizzes and tests, Dannenbring said he’s not sure what’s next for him, but he plans on saying yes to new opportunities. 

“I want to stay a teacher for a long time and I want to keep making content because I enjoy it. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing, but I’m not going to say no to different doors opening up,” Dannenbring said. 

All episodes of “Surviving Paradise” are now available on Netflix.

Header photo: Gabe (clockwise), Lellies, Shea and Linda pop champagne as the remaining four finalists in the new Netflix reality show “Surviving Paradise.” A mix between “Big Brother” and “Survivor,” competitors fought for a $200,000 cash prize. 

Write to Emma Johnson at emma.johnson.5@mnsu.edu

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