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 0.29 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 looked 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 the Geiger counter he constructed in episode 71.) This might be a fruitful avenue of investigation for someone wishing to build on this research.