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Sorry, Skipper!

December 2nd, 2004

This morning, I watched the second episode of the new so-called reality series, The Real Gilligan’s Island. (I missed the first episode because, despite seeing weeks’ worth of promos for the show on TNT, it actually aired on TBS.)

It would be easy at this point to go into a screed about the absurdity of the word “reality” being applied to an elaborately staged, edited-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life recreation of one of TV’s most ridiculous situation comedies. However, I’m of the opinion that all television is fakery on some level, even if it’s only a matter of camera placement. Someone still has to make a decision about which portion of reality is transmitted, and which hides out of view.

Besides, I can’t be too outraged over an attempt to pay homage to one of my guilty pleasures. I would never defend Gilligan’s Island as great, or even good, TV. But the sanitized version of the simple life it presented was certainly appealing, especially with Mary Ann around. (Ahhhhh, Mary Ann. Perhaps the first and greatest of my TV crushes.)

The Real Gilligan’s Island is an odd animal, even for the reality genre. On one hand, it’s about as clear-cut a rip-off of Survivor as I’ve yet to see, with castaways competing in various races and bug-eating contests. The overlay of the familiar Gilligan characters is what makes it weird, especially in the current phase of the game, which requires two full sets of characters to determine which of them will be the “real” Skipper, etc. Hence, players refer to “Mary Ann Kate” and “Mary Ann Amanda.”

(One mistake that I believe the producers made was to rid themselves of one of the Mary Anns in the second episode. Do we need to start winnowing out the scantily dressed babes so soon? Fortunately, the hotter, more Mary Ann-ish of the farm girls won. I do not accept that she is the “real” Mary Ann. There’s only one, honey, and she’s not present.)

Another strange aspect of the game is the presence of two mid-level celebrities, Rachel Hunter and Nicole Eggert, as the competing Gingers. Though, honestly, isn’t the phrase “movie star” being stretched a bit?

We then come to the millionaires, two married teams of which the wives are both considerably more zaftig than Natalie Schafer. One of them, Mindy Stearns, is actually a former Entertainment Tonight correspondent, which should push her closer to what passes for a movie star in this game.

The other millionaire’s wife, Donna Beavens, is an annoying loudmouth who got the boot in this episode, after losing a traditional gross-out eating contest. She said what I consider to be the most unwittingly sublime statement I’ve ever heard on reality TV: “Testicles, bee larvae, worms… It, in my mind, degraded millionaires.” (I’ve added it to my random quotes on the main page of this site.)

While one of the Gilligans is too good looking by half (and is already sharing a hammock with the remaining Mary Ann), the other, a guy nicknamed “Gooner,” appears to have ridden the short bus to the island. Not sure whether he’s playing at being developmentally disabled, or just trying to be this generation’s Eddie Deezen. On the other hand, I have to give him props for putting on such a pathetic show of being “dehydrated” that he convinced Rachel Hunter to mother him with sips of coconut milk, and even to go off with him on a by-God “berry picking” trip. (For someone at the point of starvation, he seemed surprisingly spry during said excursion.)

One final oddity of The Real Gilligan’s Island is that the goal of the players is the exact opposite of the original characters. These “seven stranded castaways” want to stay on the island. (Granted, the losing players are supposedly sent to the infamous “other side of the island” rather than home.) But it’s obvious that no one wants to be rescued, at least until the final payoff.

I think that a better show would be to actually strand them and force them to survive and seek real rescue while remaining in character. What could be a more appropriate reality show hell than slowly starving and being forced to do so dressed as Gilligan?

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