Show drops real people who fit the mold of original characters onto an island
MIKE HUGHES GANNETT NEWS SERVICE
Forty years ago, TV found one of its eternal themes. "Gilligan's Island" was born, stranding mismatched survivors. Critics winced; kids watched.
"I think it was one of the great ideas," says Mike Fleiss, a reality-show producer whose "The Real Gilligan's Island" premieres at 8 p.m. Tuesday on TBS. "People love to watch survivors."
It's a way to throw opposites together. "When else would a millionaire sit down with Gilligan or Mary Ann?" asks Sherwood Schwartz, creator of the original "Gilligan's Island," which first aired in 1964.
That sort of notion has rippled through novels ("Robinson Crusoe," "Swiss Family Robinson"), movies ("Swept Away," "Cast Away"), TV fiction ("Lost," "Gilligan's Island") and TV reality ("Survivor").
Now "The Real Gilligan's Island" takes real people with backgrounds that are similar to the fictional TV characters' and puts them near Mexico's Yucatan. It also adds challenges.
The situation might be contrived, but contestant Kate Koth says the conditions were real.
"It was hot," she says. "Really hot. I had one set of clothes. I slept in it; I swam in it."
In her case, those were short shorts. Koth -- 21 and from farm territory near Manchester, Mo. -- was the designated Mary Ann.
Or, more precisely, she was one of them. Only when they got there did contestants learn that there were two separate batches of characters, who were going to compete in challenges.
Koth (whose mom, Janet, lasted two weeks on "Survivor: Amazon") suddenly met an alternate Mary Ann -- Amanda Dodson of Elsmore, Kansas. "I was sizing her up right away. She's adorable."
The two groups were from parallel worlds.
The Ginger-type movie star on Koth's team is Rachel Hunter; the one with Dodson is Nicole Eggert of "Baywatch." The Koth millionaire and his wife (Glenn and Mindy Stearns) are actually half-a-billionaires; the Dodson pair (Bill and Donna Beaven) is worth $2 million or so.
There are also two Gilligans: Chris O'Malley, 20, from Boston and Mark Groesbeck, 31, from New York; and two professors, Pat Abbott, a 64-year-old geology professor at San Diego State University, and Eric Anderson a 36-year-old sociology professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
Let's not forget the skippers: Bob Fahey, a 52-year-old Massachusetts resident who has been a skipper for 30 years, and Jim Murray, a 55-year-old Massachusetts native who has spent time as a captain and first mate in the Navy.
They'll compete, starting with a two-hour opener. Don't expect "Survivor," Schwartz says.
"There's a deep philosophical difference between the shows," he says. "In 'Survivor,' you have a mean-spirited nature."
That was the opposite of "Gilligan's Island," where people bonded and worked together. "I started to think, 'Wait a minute, what if we did a (reality) show where they all worked together?"'
The idea went to TBS, which wanted a reality veteran involved. Fleiss ("The Bachelor") joined.
"It posed certain challenges," Fleiss says. "There haven't been many reality shows with a comedic touch."
Besides, a show that only has seven characters can't be ousting them. He came up with the idea (secret, at first) of two groups.
The next step was to find people who fit each category.
"I thought it would be very hard to find a millionaire," Schwartz says. "Why would a millionaire want to do the show? It turned out that there are dozens and dozens of millionaires who wanted to."
The casting added sex appeal. In Koth's group:
- The millionaire's wife (Mindy Stearns) doesn't resemble the matronly Lovey Howell of old. "She's a TV personality, very beautiful," Koth says of the former "Entertainment Tonight" reporter.
- The Ginger type (Rachel Hunter) is beach-friendly. She's frequently been in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. "I was intimidated by her at first, but she was very nice to us," Koth says.
- And Koth is no wallflower. "She's a red hot, sexy, corn-fed girl," Fleiss says.
Men might want to date a Ginger, both producers say, but they want to marry a Mary Ann. Both say they did that in real life.