Debate Team

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See a preview of this Truly CA episode.

Debate Team explores the strange subculture of competitive college debate. Competitors battle at 360 words per minute, hauling around mountains of evidence, and nearly every debate ends in global nuclear annihilation.

But back in 1969, debates were slower, more theatrical, and less technical. At the 1969 National Championship, a debate team from Harvard prevailed over the University of Houston. And Michael Miller from the Houston team has never been able to let go of that defeat. Miller, now a retired lawyer, discusses his life-long obsession with debate, his suicidal ideation, his ruined romances, and the self-hate borne of the loss to Harvard 37 years earlier.

In 2005, some 200 teams converged on San Francisco State to compete in the National Championship. Debate Team follows four teams: Michigan State, Harvard, West Georgia, and Berkeley. As the competitors are slowly eliminated, we are left wondering who will find themselves inheriting Miller's legacy. What emerges is not simply a chronicle of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, but an examination into the nature of competition itself and the American fetish with championships and champions.