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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Castaways is a survivalist reality show about people who are individually stranded alone on deserted islands with scarce supplies and must either attempt to survive alone or start the search for other contestants. The show is largely free from iffy messages and content that will concern parents: There's no sex, no graphic violence (save for a few sequences in which participants sustain minor injuries and are in pain -- viewers of course know that participants can be rescued if they're ever really in danger), no cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol (a few background vignettes show adults consuming alcohol; no one acts drunk). Cursing is also mild, confined to the odd "Hell, yeah!" Participants are diverse in terms of age, race, sex, and background, and their backstories are told sympathetically. Contestants must kill animals to survive -- sometimes that is disturbing, like when a man accidentally pulls a pincher claw off a live crab. Positive messages are frequent, with contestants forced to do things they're not sure they can, and then rejoicing when they make things work. Participants frequently say things like "I've got this" when challenged or "You have to have the will to survive inside you."
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What's the story?
Somewhere on a set of deserted islands in the South Pacific, 12 strangers from different walks of life are CASTAWAYS. Each is dropped off alone with insufficient resources and is faced with three distinct choices: try to survive utterly alone until the rescue team arrives, search for other contestants and try to make a go of it together, or quit and go home. As each episode focuses in on a different island and the contestants gamely trying to make it there, we also look back at their lives and the choices that landed them on the show. Who will make it? Who will find companionship and success, and who will fail alone or together?
Is it any good?
Carrying with it a whiff of both Survivor and Naked and Afraid, this reality series takes the survivalist tack one step further by stranding its participants all by themselves. "Torn from their everyday lives ... shipwrecked on a string of deserted islands in the South Pacific ... lost, stranded, and alone," the portentous voice-over tells us at the series' beginning. Well, there is the small matter of the camera crew -- and the contestants are also not stranded far from each other, so most of them set busily about trying to find others -- and often succeeding -- right after they figure out how to get some shelter and something to eat.
As is typical on survivalist series, that's often the most interesting thing to watch, with various Castaways rigging up ingenious solutions to their problems with the materials at hand, just like Gilligan making a radio with two coconuts and some string. In between the fishing and crabbing and shelter-making, Castaways injects a note of pathos by zooming in on contestants' private lives and struggles: One has issues with loneliness and addictive behaviors, one's just been dumped for being too much of a lone wolf, one really wants to make his mama proud but fears he doesn't have stern enough stuff to survive. Watching a cast struggle and succeed and/or fail in beautiful and/or harsh locations isn't new -- but those who enjoy peeping at strife from a comfortable air-conditioned living room (yet didn't love watching contestants on Survivor bicker and scheme) will be enraptured.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the various books, films, and TV shows about castaways and people stranded on remote islands. What are some of the most famous ones? How do those stories compare with Castaways?
Are TV series like this one useful for teaching about surviving in the great outdoors? Or are they designed to be more entertaining than educational? How realistic is it to think that people who do not have training can survive in these extreme and isolating circumstances for long periods of time?
Families can also talk about what it means to be a true survivor and how "real" the show is. Do you think the contestants are ever really in danger of starving or getting seriously hurt? Are the players really the way they seem on TV, or does editing shape how they come across to viewers?
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