Deserted-Island Living: The Shows that Made Us Wish We Were Lost

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We all have fantasies of finding ourselves stranded on a desert island, forced to live off coconuts and pineapples, and create shelter out of palm leaves and discarded bamboo sticks. Just me? OK, fine. But you have to admit that the solitude and the excitement of tropical survival sounds a little romantic in this media-saturated, loud and crowded world we live in.

Which is probably why so many television shows tackle the idea of what it would be like to be stuck on a deserted island. Some, like Arrow, show the brutal realities of how much it would suck, while others take a lighter tone. But regardless of your preference, these shows usually address some similar issues: how do you find water, food and shelter while trapped with a bunch of strangers in the middle of nowhere? Sometimes the biggest struggle isn’t staying alive—it’s trying not to kill the people you’re stuck with.

Here are three of the best desert island shows—and one book!—to satisfy any tropical survival fantasies you might have:


Oh, Lost. You’re like my White Whale of television shows. Every time I think about watching all six seasons of your twisty, intense storylines I feel overwhelmed with excitement and fear. Which is why I still haven’t attempted this one. But everyone and their mother keeps telling me to watch it, so it’s on this desert island list regardless. The premise seems fairly simple: Oceanic Airline’s Flight 815 crashes on a tropical island and the remaining passengers must fight for their survival. But then there are mysterious hatches, The Others, complicated backstories, a polar bear (?), Smoke Monsters (???), hookups, and all kinds of crazy stuff. Which actually sounds pretty awesome, to be honest. I think it’s time to make 2016 the year I finally watch Lost. Netflix, here I come! Who’s with me?

Flight 29 Down

As a huge fan of young adult literature, I love stories about teenagers forced to fend for themselves without many grown ups around. Flight 29 Down is the perfect teen-deserted-island show: just the right amount of camp, intensity and nostalgia. It opens with a plane of teenagers on an eco-trip going down somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. They safely land on a remote island, but quickly realize they’re stranded and that they have to figure out how to survive. What follows is half found-footage, some terrible acting and a ton of teen drama mixed with real survival scenarios. It’s awesome. The first two seasons aired on Discovery Kids back in 2005 (that Corbin Bleu kid from High School Musical stars!), but you can find it on DVD on Amazon. This show will always be a good time.

Gilligan’s Island

An oldie but a goodie—Gilligan’s Island is a classic for a reason. It aired on CBS back in the 1960s, but it still holds up, trust me. The characters have become iconic—bumbling Gilligan, sexy Ginger, the smart and suave professor. And almost every episode is the same: they think of a way off the island and somehow it gets screwed up. If you want your desert island with a side of laugh-track fun, then this show is for you.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray (Scholastic Paperbacks, 2012)

libby-bray-beauty-queensI’ve been a huge fan of Bray’s since her debut Young Adult series, The Gemma Doyle Trilogy. Beauty Queens was released way back in 2011, but it’s still my favorite stranded-on-a-desert-island book ever. It tells the story of 50 contestants from the Miss Team Dream Pageant who get stuck on a tropical island after their plane crashes. They have to fight to survive, both in terms of finding food and realizing they have no makeup. The book is a tongue-in-cheek satire with the girls practicing their modeling walks while also coming to terms with the fact that they might starve to death. Bray pokes fun at the media, the world of pageantry and just what it would mean to end up stranded with a bunch of beauty-obsessed teen girls. It’s hilarious, smart and surprisingly poignant.


Rachel Carter grew up surrounded by trees and snow and mountains. She graduated from the University of Vermont and Columbia University, where she received her MFA in nonfiction writing. She is the author of the So Close to You series with Harperteen. These days you can find her working on her next novel in the woods of Vermont.

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