Like several million others, I didn't get caught up in the Survivor frenzy until late, tuning in to just one episode before the August 23 finale. I know everyone loved to hate Rich, but all the participants seemed just about equally despicable to me (with the possible exception of Rudy, who had the advantage of being old and not saying much). But what really struck me about the show was the persistence of the Gilligan's Island aesthetic in our culture. I'm convinced, in fact, that the Tribal Council hut was actually constructed on a CBS Television City soundstage.
Though I grew up with 60s television, the whole island castaway thing didn't really speak to me. I may have been the targeted viewer for Gilligan and his cronies, but I only tuned in occasionally, and never much liked it. Too dumb, even for a 10-year-old. The silliness of Green Acres, a personal favorite, was part of its self-referential subject; it was postmodern before the term existed. The Munsters, likewise, gave a goofy poke in the ribs to horror movies, and had a killer set and costumes. Gilligan's Island was just cheesy.
But Gilligan, like Richard Hatch, has survived, on Nickelodeon reruns and in popular imagination. Attending a Cinema Studies conference a couple years ago, I was startled to see a presentation about an LA artist who has found his greatest success selling detailed ground plans of classic sitcom locations. The prized sample in a collection that also included Mary Richards' first Minneapolis apartment? You got it. Conferencegoers were distributed an overhead view of the uncharted desert isle - similar to a map on the official Survivor website, though far more detailed.
I understand the impulse to order one's fantasy universe - watching The Beverly Hillbillies, I always wanted to create a blueprint of the Clampetts' 30-odd-room mansion, only tantalizing bits of which were depicted on the show. Even the urge to be (temporarily) trapped in an artificial tube-friendly space is strong. But why not a show featuring contestants trying to survive in a ramshackle Midwestern farmhouse, while subsisting on a diet of unpalatable pancakes? Or confined together in the staircase foyer, kitchen, and "cement pond" areas of some CBS executive's estate? That would be much more evocative than the featureless setting of that other summer reality show, Big Brother, which is regarded as a disappointment. The reason may be that the personalities are boring. Or it just may be that the location doesn't resonate with our collective TV unconscious.