Friday, September 09, 2005

Gilligan's Island: An Empirical Study

Seemingly for the first time since the Harlem Globetrotters departed, Gilligan’s Island is newsworthy due the recent death of Bob Denver. Denver played the eponymous “Gilligan” on television during the show’s three year run in the mid-sixties and then actually became Gilligan in real life after the form-fitting red shirt and floppy white hat became permanently attached as the result of continuous reruns of the show over the last forty years. Presumably, Denver is now buried in that outfit three feet above the late Alan Hale still clad as the Skipper

People who attempt to summarize this show tend to focus on two of the more surreal aspects of it: (1) Gilligan repeatedly sabotaged the castaways’ chances of getting off the island through sheer stupidity (without the others smashing his skull to pulp while he slept), and (2) a surprisingly large number of guests were able to drop in on one of the world’s remotest locations while the island’s permanent inhabitants remained trapped there like Patrick McGoohan in the Village.

The question in my mind is to what extent is the conventional wisdom supported by the numbers? Since there were only ninety-eight episodes, I decided to review all the plot summaries to study these trends empirically. What I found was that Gilligan was not as big an albatross as he’s made out to be. In only 10 out of 98 episodes (or 10.2% of the time) did Gilligan’s stupidity, incompetence, or bad luck foil rescue attempts – and many of these escapes were far from a sure thing. For example in episode 4 when Gilligan fixes the transmitter by hitting it and then breaks it again by stupidly showing everyone how he fixed it, the castaways would have had little time to contact somebody with it before the batteries went dead. Far from a sure thing. The same is true, in Episode 20, when Gilligan destroys a weather balloon erroneously thinking it’s a monster. The chances of rescue by weather balloon (even unpunctured) seem remote to me.

As for the second issue, the remote island truly did have a surprisingly active revolving door for visitors. By my count 28 different people (not including native tribesman) visited the island. This means that on average there were 7.29 people on the island at all times (the seven castaways plus on average .29 visitors.) Two of these people, Wrongway Feldman and the unnamed mad scientist from episodes 65 and 77 actually visited the island twice! Perhaps more interesting, 3 of these 28 visitors (or 10.8%) were actually exact doubles of castaways. These included a con-man impersonating Thurston Howell III, a Soviet spy impersonating Gilligan (though not nearly as stupid) and an initially unattractive woman named Eva Grubb who looks just like Ginger when cleaned up. What are the odds of being stranded on a desert island, being visited by your exact double, and still not being rescued? On this show it happened three separate times.

The other thing that people remember about this show but which I haven’t had a chance to check out is the Professor’s ability to do amazing things with bamboo (such as construct a Geiger counter in episode 71.) This might be a fruitful avenue of investigation for someone wishing to build on this research.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting thoughts Mr. Dentist. Here are some other thoughts to ponder regarding the mundane but abusrd aspects of the most Sherwood Schwartzian of shows:

1. The small portable radio had an extremely long-lasting battery. While I have not had the opportunity to review all the plots, I do recollect a few instances in which Gilligan was riding an exercise bike-like contraption that was designed to generate electricity. In general though, my memory is that the radio just sat in the middle of table and played the news of the most recent guest who'd managed to escape to civilization. It struck me as being a very ordinary battery operated transistor radio, so it's not clear how the Professor developed a re-chargeable battery from bamboo and coconuts.

2. Maryann made an extremely large number of coconut cream pies. But where did she get the flower, sugar, baking powder, salt, eggs and any other ingredients necessary for an ordinary pie?

3. Spinal Posture - All the castaways managed to maintain good posture (except Gilligan who never had it) despite sleeping in attrociously uncomfortable looking hammocks. Have you ever tried to sleep in a hammock? Your legs are elevated above your mid-section and go to sleep. It's not comfortable.

4. Their clothes remained clean and the Howells appear to have packed at least 98 outfits for a 3 hour cruise. Enough said.

In general I do think it's a bit sad that Gilligan, oops Denver, (and maybe the rest of them too) was so completely type-cast that his career progressed no farther. Surely there were a multitude of sitcoms throughout the rest of the century that could have profited from his understated style. Certainly Jimmy "JJ" Walker could have used a gangly white buddy? ... A goofy short order cook in "Alice?" ... The older sister's odd boyfriend in "One Day at a Time?" ... Jack's gay lover in "Will and Grace?" ... an aging stoner/pot dealer in "That 70's Show." ... Absolutely any role on "Joannie Loves Chachi" or "Full House." In some ways, William Shatner had a very parallel experience in the 1960s. He also starred on a series that ran three years and routinely wore form-fitting red shirts. His show also went into perpetual re-runs. And yet his career flourished. I wonder why? This might be a fruitful avenue of investigation for someone wishing to build on this ...(research is not the right word).

9/14/2005 07:51:00 PM  
Blogger The Fifth Dentist said...

These are excellent points ... though I disagree with a few.
-- I believe that Gilligan and the Skipper were the only ones sleeping in hammocks. The rest of the castaways slept in beds (made of god knows what.)
-- I am not sure that typecasting killed these actors' careers so much as lack of talent.
-- Shatner wore a yellow shirt.

9/15/2005 04:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doh! You are right about the yellow shirt. It was the unnamed red-shirted personnel who were always killed on Star Trek during any sojourn on the planet below.

I do recollect that the Howell's slept in beds but don't remember ever seeing the sleeping arrangements for Ginger and Maryann. I thought the Professor also slept in a hammock, though. Either way, hammocks are awful for sleeping.

Lack of talent probably played a role in the career of these individuals but this cannot explain all of it because Keanu Reeves (and William Shatner) works regularly. Not to mention everyone who appeared on Dallas (especially Larry Hagman - who'd ever buy that guy as a successful tycoon), Knots Landing and Beverly Hills 90210. Also, I think Russell Johnson brought a real understated quality to his role as the Professor and deserved the opportunity for bigger and better roles in other tv and movie productions.

9/15/2005 12:53:00 PM  
Blogger The Fifth Dentist said...

I have to disagree with you on Russell Johnson. He was pure dinner theater from the day he graduated from Lee Strasburg to the day he built his last bamboo centrifuge.

9/16/2005 05:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you surprised that your Empirical Study of Gilligan's Island has generated the fewest number of comments among your various postings (but conversely [or perversely] elicited the most detailed response)? So maybe pound for pound it was the most effective posting? It's sort of the Sugar Ray Robinson of your blog.

9/20/2005 07:14:00 AM  
Blogger The Fifth Dentist said...

Yes it is quite the paradox.

9/20/2005 09:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you think it would be a better practice to review comments and post responses after your normal working hours so that you could devote more time to each response? Of course this assumes you are gainfully employed.

9/20/2005 10:16:00 AM  
Blogger The Fifth Dentist said...

It depends what you mean by "gainfully." I am employed but I don't see what I'm gaining (except for fat on my ass.) How much time would you suggest I spend on each response? Are you insinuating that my responses are inadequate? How would you like it if I suggested that you need to spend more time at home formulating your questions? It stings a bit doesn't it. But since you are my number one (and possibly only) fan I'm going to pardon your impertinence because I am a just and forgiving person.

9/20/2005 12:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm certainly not responsible for most of these posts.

9/20/2005 05:24:00 PM  
Blogger The Fifth Dentist said...

Really? You mean there's more than one person reading this shit? That is surprising. I figured it was just someone who knows me screwing with my head. You mean I have actual readers? Any particular topic you'd like me to write about? I'm having some creativity problems lately. It would be helpful if you could suggest something.

9/20/2005 07:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

- allow me to chime in please ... I read lots of blogs and the thing I think is usually missing is some good description of the blogger's motivation. I mean what makes you want to have a blog, what makes you tick sir blogger. Personally I don't have the patience, I'm too antsy. I read bits and pieces and then move on. But why did you do this? To be funny, to be serious, just so your voice might be heard in the wilderness? You've obviously got some points of view, but the Q&A posting was just to be funny or ironic without a real message like the ones about Bush and Intelligent Design (those bastards!). I think you need to know your purpose or purposes in order to spark the creative blogger within you. When you sit down at the keyboard you should have a reason, a cause, specific anger, whatever. But if you just make it a mish-mash, I think it will be harder to maintain your velocity. Oh what do I know ...

-- Argyle

9/20/2005 08:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Fifth Dentist blogs
From a place of pain and rage
It is therapy

The Haikubomber
"It's not pretty, but it's poetry"

9/22/2005 12:49:00 PM  
Blogger The Fifth Dentist said...

That's beautiful. Must not let them see me cry...

9/22/2005 01:31:00 PM  
Blogger Roger L. Sieloff said...

perhaps gilligan's island is a metaphor about living in America. stranded and isolated amoungst a small gang of friends no better off than yourself.

11/05/2005 08:57:00 PM  

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