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Gilligan's Island: Hidden Lessons of Sustainability and the Environment

Gilligan's Island

Gilligan's Island

Gilligan Fact

Although Gilligan's Island was only on for Three Seasons it still had plenty of episodes, with a total of 98 episodes! Season one included a total of 36 episodes, season two a total of 32 episodes, and season three had a total of 30 episodes

Gilligan's Island has also had a number of TV movies including: Rescue from Gilligan's Island (1978) and The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island (1981)

Everyone's familiar with the tale of the castaways, a small group of people stranded on deserted island in the Pacific. It made for three great seasons of television and a number of spin offs and TV movies, not to mention a pretty big impact on our culture! I for one loved Gilligan's Island, watching rerun's in the 1990s and now own the complete series on DVD. I always tried to figure out why I was fond of the show, was it the characters? the stories? the comedy? the tropical setting? or something more? Of course it was all the above! and that little something more might have been the prelude to my current passion for sustainability. It makes sense if you are stranded on a deserted island you have to be sustainable in some way or form if you are to survive. So below i thought i would mention some of the sustainable ideas that i have discovered in the show, presented as comedy, but are credible ideas to a sustainable lifestyle. I will also mention some episodes that focus around environmental issues, especially ones that we are dealing with today.

First, if you are not familiar with Gilligan's Island here is a brief summary. It is a show created by the legendary Sherwood Schwartz about a group of men and women who become stranded on an uncharted island after getting stuck in a storm while taking a three hour tour on a boat out of Hawaii. The show was a 30 minute family comedy that aired on CBS from 1964-1967. The seven castaways included Gilligan, the first mate of the S.S. Minnow played by Bob Denver, The Skipper, Captain of the S.S. Minnow played by Alan Hale Jr., Thurston Howell III, a millionaire played by Jim Backus, his wife Mrs. Lovey Howell played by Natalie Schafer, Ginger Grant, a movie star, played by Tina Louise, Professor Roy Hinkley, aka "the Professor" played by Russell Johnson, and finally Mary Ann Summers, a daughter of a farmer in Kansas, played by Dawn Wells. Below is the opening credits to the first season of Gilligan's Island. The first season was in black and white but changed to color for season's two and three. The credits also changed to include "the professor and Mary Ann" at the end of the song, which the first season it did not.

Gilligan's Island opening credits- First Season

Below I will list a number of episodes from Giligan's Island, in chronological order, that have a strong message of sustainability or highlight of a current environmental issue of today. I will give the title, episode number, and a brief summary of that episode before discussing the environmental/sustainable attributes of that particular story line. The summaries for each episode come directly from the DVD box cover for each season.


Gilligan (Bob Denver)

Gilligan (Bob Denver)

the Skipper too...

Skipper (Alan Hale Jr.)

Skipper (Alan Hale Jr.)

Season 1 Gilligan's Island 1964-1965

-Season 1, Episode 8: Goodbye Island - air-date 11/21/64

"The tree sap Gilligan wants to use as a pancake syrup turns out to have better use as a glue - one that can be used to patch up the damaged S.S. Minnow."

In this episode Gilligan stumbles upon a tree syrup that he wants to use to make pancakes, however the syrup cools to a point that it becomes like cement. Although disappointed that he doesn't have any syrup, the Professor informs him that his new rubber cement he discovered could be used to create nails and hold down broken boards on the still beached S.S. Minnow. As you may surmise, in the end it doesn't work out. However the message that forest, especially tropical areas are full of undiscovered materials is evident. Natural resources can be found in many natural landscapes and have many capabilities to help mankind. 

-Season 1, Episode 14: Water, Water, Everywhere - air-date 1/2/65

"The Howells do a rain dance. The Skipper uses a divining rod. But there seems to be no way to replenish the dwindling fresh water supply...until Gilligan finds a frog."

This episode touches on a very important environmental issue of today, water shortage. Just like many places in the world today, fresh water sources are drying up quicker then they can be replaced. Many areas, like on Gilligan's Island, it is a life or death situation to find fresh water sources. And like the episodes the environment can be used to find water sources, such as Giligan's frog.

Gilligan's Island episode addressing water issues.

Gilligan's Island episode addressing water issues.

a Millionaire and his Wife...

Mr. and Mrs. Howell (Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer)

Mr. and Mrs. Howell (Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer)

a Movie Star...

Ginger Grant (Tina Louise)

Ginger Grant (Tina Louise)

the Professor and...

The Professor (Russel Johnson)

The Professor (Russel Johnson)

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A Gilligan's Island Infographic!

A Gilligan's Island Infographic!

Season 2 Gilligan's Island 1965-1966

-Season 2, Episode 6: Quick Before it Sinks - air-date 10/28/65

"The Professor determines the isle is slipping into the sea...but what he didn't factor is the Gilligan factor"

In this episode the Professor is studying the tide levels in the lagoon on the isle. He receives disturbing results day after day, the island is sinking at an incredible rate. The bad news is shared with the men on the island, they begin to build a hut on stilts at the highest land on the island in order to wait out the encroaching waters the longest. After all night shifts building a secret hut and keeping it a secret from the women, it is discovered that the stick used by the professor to measure the rising water is in fact the same stick Gilligan uses to lay lobster traps, and he moves it every day! The idea that the island is sinking is one reality that many places in the world, especially the island nation of the Maldives, face today. Rising sea levels have been documented across the oceans and have the possibility to impact huge percentages of the world's population. Like the castaways did in this episode, the only thing you can do is prepare and adapt. 

-Season 2, Episode 19: Seer Gilligan - air-date 1/27/66

"Few Books? No matter. There's other reading - eating a rare plant's seeds allows the group to read minds"

In this episode, Gilligan stumbles across a seed from a plant, which allows him to read people's minds. Soon the rest of the castaways figure it out and our determined to find the bush, even though reading each other's minds ends up causing nothing but trouble. The environmental lesson that comes from this episode is that the world, especially places like rain forest, have plants that have unknown reactions to the human body. Many believe there is a cure to cancer in an undiscovered plant, deep in the rain forests of the world and that many plants on earth hold the key to preventing illness. 

-Season 2, Episode 25: Operation Steam Heat - air-date 3/10/66

"Good news an underground source means hot water can be piped to the huts. Bad news: it also means new volcanic activity"

One of my favorite episodes involve the discovery of a hot water spring. This discovery thrills everyone because it means hot showers, hot water for washing dishes, and hot water to cook. As they try to build a plumping system to transport the hot water, it doesn't seem to work and soon find out from the Professor, that the underground hot water spring, really means a volcano might erupt! In the end there is volcanic activity but it's basically just a hiccup. The underlying theme of geothermal energy is very prevalent in this episode, the use of hot springs for hot water is just one of many geothermal benefits. Now a days in certain areas of the world with the correct strata, geothermal energy is used to heat and cool homes. It is considered a renewable energy because it relies on the heat of the earth. Once again this theme was ahead of its time when it was used for comedy on Gilligan's Island. 

-Season 2, Episode 30: V for Vitamins - air-date 4/14/66

"Jack and the Beanstalk - Gilligan style. While guarding the group's few remaining orange seeds, the first mate nods off and dreams of Jack's adventure"

In this episode the castaways discover that they have run out of vitamin c based fruits. The lack of citrus fruit on the island poses a grave threat to the nutrient balance in each of the castaways. Although the show's plot veers to tell the story of jack and the bean stalk, its catalyst was resource depleation and food scarcity. Both resource depletion and food scarcity are big issues across the world where millions of children die from malnutrition, sometimes this is due to social effects, other times it is related to climate or just over production of farm land. 

-Season 2, Episode 32: Meet the Meteor - air-date 4/28/66

"A meteor fragment whose emissions cause plants to age prematurely inspires Gilligan's dream of the castaways sharing the isle in their senior-citizen years"

The final episode of season 2 showed the castaways reacting to the landing of a meteor on the island. The problem is the meteor causes everything around it to age prematurely and die! This is less of a face value environmental or sustainable issue but a perfect analogy. The meteor is a external factor upon the environment, like man made pollution. This outside factor causes harm and damage to not only the environment around the meteor but also the humans near by, just like pollution. 

Gilligan's Island episode touching on geothermal energy.

Gilligan's Island episode touching on geothermal energy.

and Mary Ann

Mary Ann (Dawn Wells)

Mary Ann (Dawn Wells)

Season 3 Gilligan's Island 1966-1967

-Season 3, Episode 3: Pass the Vegetables, Please - air-date 9/26/66

"After everyone feasts on veggies grown from experimental seeds, they develop strange powers"

In this season 3 episode, Gilligan stumbles upon a crate of vegetable seeds, which have washed ashore. Everyone is thrilled to see the seeds, with the help of Mary Ann's farming background the castaways begin to farm, adding an extra source of food to their isle. They don't know why but the vegetables grow extrodanarily fast. After feasting on everyone's favorite vegetable they hear over the radio a news bulleten about a lost crate of radioactive seeds. At this point they begin to freak out, fearing they have been exposed to radiation. It is soon found out that the vegetables seem to have an enhanced effect on each castaway, depending on what they ate. For example Mary Ann ate the carrots, which gives her superhuman sight, Gilligan ate the spinach which gives him super human strength and Mrs. Howell has sugar beets, which makes here super hyper and active. The radioactive seeds are similar to an issue we have today with GMO's, Genetically Modified Organisms. Like the radioactive seeds, GMO's grow faster and in more harsh conditions then the natural plants. We also don't know the full impacts of these GMO's on human bodies after ingestion. It's interesting to see this issue of modified food in Gilligan's Island, i think Sherwood Schwartz was on to something...

Gilligan's Island episode about GMOs!

Gilligan's Island episode about GMOs!


As you can see above Gilligan's Island is full of sustainable and environmental issues, which all seem to be ahead of their time. The use of these issues in comedy can make learning about serious problems in the world a little less stressful. Schwartz covered issues from natural resources, water shortage, rising sea levels, geothermal energy, resource depletion and food scarcity, to GMO's. His show could even be used as an analogy for man made pollution or in broader terms humanity, because what is earth but a Gilligan's Island of the Universe with Millionaires (now billionaires), movie stars, and the rest....

Here on Gilligan's Isle



Brian Dooling (author) from Connecticut on February 08, 2013:

Thanks Lizolivia!

Lizolivia from Central USA on February 08, 2013:

Sustainable living 101: Gilligans's Island. Well written recap, Interesting.

Brian Dooling (author) from Connecticut on February 10, 2012:

I feel the same way Rochelle, thanks for the comment!

Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on February 10, 2012:

I enjoyed revisiting the "Isle". I've always enjoyed survival stories-- even silly ones, partly because they teach lessons and make us ask if we could survive. It's a question we all could ask.

Brian Dooling (author) from Connecticut on February 10, 2012:

Lol it's not out of the realm of possibility CMerritt, i've seen classes taught about the simpsons and family guy, they are actually very insightful classes! Thanks for the comment and votes!

Brian Dooling (author) from Connecticut on February 10, 2012:

Thanks Peggy, i saw a nice parallel while watching so i thought about it for a while and just went with it! Thanks for the comment, votes and share!

Chris Merritt from Pendleton, Indiana on February 10, 2012:

WOW! who woulda thunk!

I can see it now, Gillianology being taught as required class in universities all across the nation.

Fun and very insightful...

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 10, 2012:

I also loved watching Gilligan's Island when they were originally run. I like how you mingled current day concerns with the premise of the shows shown back then. Clever and well done! Voted up, interesting and useful. Will also SHARE with my followers.

Brian Dooling (author) from Connecticut on February 08, 2012:

Thanks Fennelseed for the comment i'm glad you enjoyed it!

Annie Fenn from Australia on February 08, 2012:

I watched the original episodes of Gillian's Island as a young child and loved it for the humour and the strange things that happened to the characters. I remember the challenges presented in the shows and admire the ingenuity and improvisation that was written into the scripts, but I hadn't thought about the link to current global situations. Your hub highlights a new level to this old classic that maybe was ahead of its time. I like the sustainability angle and the message that we can actually get along very well without things and all 'the must haves' that are deemed necessities.

This is a great read that bought back some good memories. My votes to you

Brian Dooling (author) from Connecticut on February 06, 2012:

Thanks for the comment lisa.born i'm glad you enjoyed it! on February 06, 2012:

Great hub. Goes to show that we can find life lessons in any situation if we look for it.

Thanks for the memories as well.

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