Gilligan's Island, Deep Thoughts and Science

Gilligan's Island: Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale; the tale of a fateful trip...
Sandra Dodd's memories:

When I used to watch Gilligan's Island in 4:00 re-runs after school every day, I would wonder whose idea it was for the plot, how many writers there were, how they decided who could come and visit, what device they would use to prevent the visitor from rescuing them, how they must plan in advance not to have too-similar plots near each other, and the re-runs must be kept in that same order too. I wondered about them changing the theme song. At first it had said, "the movie star, and the rest," but in later seasons it said, "the movie star, the professor and Mary Ann," and I wondered whether they had resung the whole thing or just spliced in that line, because it sounded the same as it had before. And had they done it because the actors complained? Their agents complained? I wondered whether the pedal-powered washing machine (or whatever it was) really worked by the pedals, or whether it was just secretly plugged in, and if so, where did the wires run? I wondered if much of it was on indoor sets. How deep was that water? (As an adult, I saw what's left of the set at Universal Studios. Cool! Outside! Actual little lake.) When I would see a show the second time, I'd look around for things I had missed the first time. I would re-write lines in my mind, things that could have been funnier, or sounded more in character for that person. I'd wonder who knew more about hammock making, the captain or the professor? Maybe Ginger or Mary Ann knew macramé. When there was a show that didn't have one of the actors in it, I'd wonder whether he was sick or on vacation or what? And if an actor misses the filming of a sitcom, does he still get paid? I wondered about them having to keep their hair the same for years, and which of them might be wearing wigs. Where were they supposed to be getting nail polish and lipstick? Hair spray? I wondered if the professor was a physics professor or engineering, or what, and whether he would lose his job at the university. I wondered about that Mr. Magoo voice on Thurston Howell. I wondered about Amelia Earhart. I wondered about the soundtrack music. Did they just have little themes they pushed a button on during final edit, or was each show done separately? I wondered if the fruit was real or props. I wondered about cameras--where were they? Did they have to sweep the dirt between takes? I wondered if the guy who played the lost WWII pilot was really Japanese. I could think more during an episode of Gilligan's Island than most other people I knew could think in a whole week. I didn't bother to ask my parents any of the questions. They would have thought it was stupid to be thinking them.

So to all outside appearances (except to my cousin, Nada, who was my age) I was just zoning out, involved in the plot of another 25 minutes of Gilligan's Island. That wasn't true at all.

Sandra Dodd

written around 1993, for a group of friends, and published subsequently in Home Education Magazine.

Anne Ohman wrote:

I got the book Curious Minds: How a Child Becomes a Scientist from the library. It sounds pretty cool. Howard Gardner is one of the featured scientists.

But this is what I opened it up to when I first looked at the book...kind of a different *take* (and pretty funny, too!) on the value of Gilligan's Island in someone's life:

Robert M. Sapolsky, professor of biological sciences at Stanford and of neurology at Stanford's School of Medicine. Author of numerous science books and makes annual trips to East Africa to study a population of wild baboons.
From the book:
How did I wind up as scientist? By all logic, I should start with Gilligan's Island, a sitcom that entranced me when I was an eight-year-old growing up in Brooklyn. In it, an unlikely collection of seven people go on an afternoon's boat ride out of Hawaii, get waylaid by a storm, and wind up stranded on a desert island, where they remain for years. The motley crew includes the skipper, his first mate, a wealthy upper-crust couple, a famous actress, a farm girl and "the Professor," who is otherwise nameless. He has every book ever written somewhere in the trunk he was marooned with; he can answer any challenging question you can think of; he is forever saving everyone by rigging up some sort of scientific device. The Professor can do anything (except get them off the island, of course).

While all this was impressive, what really got to me was his presumed connection to Mary Ann, the pretty farm girl in flannel shirt and pigtails. This connection I derived solely from the show's theme song, which went "There's Gilligan, the skipper, too, a millionaire and his wife, a movie star, the *Professor and Mary Ann...*"

Because their names were linked, I assumed that the two of them must have had something going. In my prepubescent fog, this involved a lot of hand-holding. So it was only natural that I wanted to grow up and be the Professor and spend my time out in some remote field site.

Quoted by permission of Dr. Robert Sapolsky and Anne Ohman both, 2/28/05

First Female African-American Astronaut credited Star Trek with her interest in science.

more below

Ria wrote:

On an episode of Gilligan's Island (#9) Mr. Howell makes a comment "Remind me when we get back to mention you to the Ed Sullivan show." or something like that. When I was at Dollar Tree a couple weeks ago, I picked up a video "Best of the Ed Sullivan Show", and we just got around to watching it. There were some acrobats from 1963, dressed like sailors (very Gilligan-esque), which made us wonder what year the Gilligan episode was made, so we looked it up, 1964. Ahhh, so perhaps that comment was directly related to that particular show. Interesting. 🙂


Heather wrote:

This evening I was reading over the standardized test that I will be giving my 10 year old daughter as per state requirements.... and one of the questions asked what country Tokyo was in. I said to my husband - I don't think she'll know that one. So later he asked "hey Brianna, what country is Tokyo in?" and her answer had the tone of "duh" "Japan. I learned that from Gilligan's Island."
I love it!


Shelby wrote:

This may be a silly example, but I remember several years ago, I was in a kickboxing class with a friend, and another girl I knew from school, and my friend and I were talking about Mr. Ed (the horse, of course), and the other girl had no idea what we were talking about. Her mother (who was also in the class, as her daughters weren't allowed to do anything without her, even in the 9th grade) told me very haughtily that her children "had much better things to do with their time that sit around watching television." Which was great, except for the fact that she simply enrolled her girls into "enriching" things without asking them, and they never got to have the awesome discussion about vocal cords and anatomy that I had with my parents after watching Mr. Ed.

in response to someone worried about TV

Star Trek leads to Science and Astronautics

LaVar Burton directed an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, on which astronaut Mae Jemison played the transporter operator. In the commentary following the 6th season on DVD (interview November 8, 2001, on disc 7, "Communications: Bold New Directions"), he said...read more, and see photos...

Christine Alvarado, on how she played with My Little Ponies and became interested in math and engineering.

Learning about the World

(other memories of adults who benefitted from TV)

In a TV debate in 2010, Joyce Fetteroll wrote:

I do know some, including myself, that used TV to decompress after school. Being an introvert I watched *a lot* of TV but I got good grades, lived in the real world (that insisted I needed to be an extrovert and enjoy being around people all day), remained creative, went onto college.
Dola Dasgupta-Banerji, of New Delhi (then), India, wrote:
I agree with this totally. I too watched a lot of TV. When I was 8 years old we moved to Dubai from New Delhi, India. At that time I spoke mostly Hindi. But when in Dubai, I was required to speak only in English. I learnt it all from TV. I also learnt the different American and British accents from watching Gilligan's Island and To the Manor Born and Mind Your Language.

I learnt to appreciate Western Classical Music by watching Tom and Jerry. They used some of the world classics on the show. I learnt about Henry Mancini the great composer of modern times from watching Pink Panther Show. The famous Vivaldi piece was used in The Lone Ranger series on TV. My first lesson into American Cowboy and cattle rangers.

I learnt all about native Americans from watching old red Indian films on TV.

Besides that TV was my source of knowledge about USA, UK, France, Japan....I learnt a lot about these countries only by watching TV. And no I did not watch only documentaries. I watched a lot of sitcoms, pop shows and loved Bill Cosby show. Later books by Bill Cosby have been my inspiration in my learning journey. This show was my first window into the African-American people. I watched the Oscars every year to feed my knowledge of Hollywood films.

I loved watching the old Doris Day films they showed on Dubai TV. It increased my interest in musicals.

I learnt about SWAT from TV. I learnt about war from MASH. I learnt about american civil war from North South, the Patrick Swayze TV serial. I loved watching Jeremy Brite as Sherlock Holmes and bought volumes of the books to read later.

I loved watching horror films which were screen adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe. Later I bought the books and read them.

I read Roots later but saw the TV version first.

I know so much about America and England, only by watching TV, films and then reading about them all over again.

And I have never been to any of these countries. I know about the covered bridges of madison county first from this amazing animated version of the Headless Horseman and then from the book of the same name and later from the movie Bridges of Madison County and then I read that book too.

and what about the wonderful TV version of Tom Sawyer. Got me interested in Mark Twain and Missisipi and the wonderful song Old Man River. By the way this song was translated into my mother tongue Bangali by a celebrated Indian poet Bhupen Hazarika.

And after all this I topped my high school examination, got into a top Indian college and also got a professional qualification to practice corporate law and learnt to speak German.

I can go on and on....I love this thread.


This page started with the top account of my thoughts about Gilligan's Island, written in 1993. It was one of the first thing on my website.

Since that time, there have been a couple of clever references to Gilligan's Island—one in the film Galaxy Quest and one in a Weird Al parody called "Amish Paradise." In Galaxy Quest it's overt. If you haven't seen the film before, this will be funnier after you have. Sigourney Weaver's character, shocked that the aliens thought their space-travel show (and all TV) was "the historial record" of Earth, had just said "Surely you don't think that Gilligan's Island..."

In "Amish Paradise" (a parody of Gangsta Paradise) Weird Al sings:

There's no phone, no lights, no motorcar, not a single luxury
Like Robinson Caruso it's as primitive as can be
That verse is from the end credits of Gilligan's Island. When a program went into re-runs, end credits were often sped up or muted with announcer voice-over instead of the original music, so many who know the show might have missed the end credits.

Also, in the 1960s, lots of kids had read the early-18th-century novel Robinson Crusoe, at least in Classic Comics form. Enrico Caruso, an exceptional opera singer in the early days of sound ecordings, was a well-known name. So for humor's sake, "Robinson Caruso" was born and lived in spirit on Gilligan's Island.

At 1:18:

At 1:45:

We had this comic at my house when I was a kid. This is from an image on ebay. Someone put staples in it.

Classic comics were an easy way to become familiar enough with older novels to see if it it might be worth slogging through 18th and 19th century writing. Sometimes it was, for me.

You can read Robinson Crusoe free, thanks to The Gutenberg Project. Here: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/521. It's not as good as Gilligan's Island, Galaxy Quest and Weird Al, though, unless you're interested in the history of novels in English, or the philosophical ideas of an Englishman in 1720.

When I went to check the date, I found this interesting thing:

Within a week of his release from prison, Defoe witnessed the Great Storm of 1703, which raged through the night of 26/27 November. It caused severe damage to London and Bristol, uprooted millions of trees, and killed more than 8,000 people, mostly at sea. The event became the subject of Defoe's The Storm (1704), which includes a collection of witness accounts of the tempest. Many regard it as one of the world's first examples of modern journalism.

Go follow some trails!

OH WAIT! One more!
I can wrap this back around to space-TV and castaways. I read in TV Guide once that a new show would be on the next year called "Space Family Robinson." I was excited! I knew it was a reference to Robinson Crusoe (and Holly reminded me just now of Swiss Family Robinson, another novel). When the new season started that fall, it was called "Lost in Space," but the family's last name was still Robinson. And the dad was the same actor who had played Zorro, so I was still happy.

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