A group of strangers is dropped onto a deserted island somewhere in the South Pacific. They don’t know each other, but they do know they couldn’t be more different — and, they need to help each other to survive. In between all the desperate grasps at survival, there are countless context-building flashbacks. ABC broadcasts the whole thing to America. Yes, this is an exact description of the Alphabet Network’s iconic Lost, which aired from 2004 to 2010. But, it is also the premise for its brand-new reality show, Castaways.
In Castaways, ABC went and made Lost very, very real to the point where they cast a real-life man named Sawyer to join the survivalist proceedings. Although you’ll have a litany of questions while watching the docudrama, premiering Tuesday, August 7, right after Bachelor In Paradise season 5, it might also prove to be worth the abject confusion. At a time when we’re all turning to uplifting television like Queer Eye and Making It to make a scary world seem soft again, Castaways may be the unity-obsessed dark horse entry into that comfort TV club.
As with most reality TV premieres, the opening of Castways is dedicated to meeting our major players, who will have two choices throughout the series: Quit, or tough it out until a rescue team arrives. Absolutely no one knows when said team is expected to show up. You know, like Lost.
We quickly learn Robbie Gibbons, an affable Alabama man battling weight issues, is a central character and the series’ very own Hurley Reyes (Jorge Garcia). As with Hurley and Lost, Robbie’s weight-loss journey immediately becomes a running theme. Nashville native Kenzi Whittington, Californian Eric Brown, Hawaiian Krichelle Kerbow (who has a fascinating backstory that isn’t explored nearly enough at first blush), and Angel Alvarenga, a Honduran immigrant now living in California, make the strongest first impressions in the premiere, which was the only episode made available to journalists. There is also a Sawyer Brown from Upstate New York, who we should not confuse with fictional Lost hunk Sawyer Ford (Josh Holloway) from Alabama.
It soon becomes clear that these players, along with the rest of the cast, have penned pre-written journals, which have been scattered across the island for the other castaways to find. When one cast member finds a journal, they also find the writer’s luggage. It’s a fast way to get to know a complete stranger you haven't even met yet, since everyone begins the series totally alone.
The discovery of these journals will likely start a parade of questions for viewers: What are the producer-made rules and regulations of these journals? How did producers decide who stumbles upon which journals? Is it really a coincidence the first person one castaway finds is the precise person, in the vast forests of the show, who ends up with their journal? Who packed all of these ridiculous suitcases? Soon enough, those questions spiral into how the reality TV series is filmed — are camera crews right there along with the supposedly on-their-own cast members? — and what kind of safety precautions are in place.
After all, as we learned on Lost, it’s pretty dangerous for oblivious Americans to wander onto an uncharted island. Between the mysterious bugs, powerful riptides, and erratic temperatures, it’s difficult not to imagine something going extremely wrong, extremely fast. Castaways even acknowledges this fact in the trailer, showing one woman screaming as a napkin rubs across her obviously blemished, reddened leg. You’re left wondering, “What the hell happened there?”
Yet, Castaways doesn’t lean into the horror of finding yourself on an island that might try to kill you, smoke monster or not. At least not at the beginning. Instead, it’s truly about trying to create a tribe out of nothing and the likelihood we’re all stronger together than apart, albeit with a few reality TV-necessary blow ups. While everything from elections to headlines suggests we’re more divided than ever, this kind of outlook, which Castaways shares with the kumbaya attitudes of Queer Eye, seems extremely potent. As one cast member earnestly tells a woman he just met, “Even for you, I’m not going to leave you. I don’t want that to happen. I think together we can help each other.”
That kind of emotional honesty feels like the spiritual antithesis to lead-in Bachelor In Paradise, a reality show built on romantic manipulations, sabotage, and game-playing. But, it is the kind of sentiment Sawyer and Hurley, along with Jack (Matthew Fox), Kate (Evangeline Lilly), and Sayid (Naveen Andrews), could all rally around.
Looking for more theories, recaps, and insider info on all things TV? Join our Facebook group, Binge Club. The community is a space for you to share articles, discuss last night’s episode of your favorite show, or ask questions! Join here.