Castaway: Eric Anderson

Photo: George Lange

Eric Anderson is a sociology professor at suny–Stony Brook specializing in homophobia and gay athletes. You can also see him this week as “The Professor” on The Real Gilligan’s Island, a TBS reality show in which two teams of castaways, each modeled on the original sitcom—a Gilligan, a skipper, a millionaire, his wife, et al.—battle to escape an actual island. Adam Sternbergh spoke with Anderson.

So you were actually one of two competing professors?
We each competed head-to-head: professor versus professor, Ginger versus Ginger, and so forth.

Professorial competitions?
I can’t go into their exact nature. But one would expect our competitions to be more cerebral than the ones for the Gilligans. How did you land on this show?
They found me through I was an extremely highly rated professor at UC Irvine. When they contacted me, I said, “I’m interested, but you should know I’m openly gay.” They wanted to talk to their superiors about that. But then I explained that so was the original professor.

The character was gay?
Yes, though he was closeted. Think about it: He dressed well. He was an intellectual. He buried himself in his work as a way to avoid a social life. And the biggest indicator: He never acted on the advances of Mary-Ann or Ginger.

Is this a theory you’d concocted prior to this show?
Have you ever watched Gilligan’s Island? Hadn’t you thought that?

It crossed my mind.
Well, there you go.

Now you’ve moved to New York.
While I was on the island, my husband was searching for a place in Manhattan. We’re living in the East Village.

So you swapped one island for another.
Yes, and both offer diversity. But the East Village was a pleasurable shock.

The other island wasn’t so pleasant?
Well, you can imagine that if you take fourteen people from diverse backgrounds and geographical locations, not everybody will be as left as I am. Not everyone will have the same level of intellectual rigor. Some of these people have never met an openly gay man in their lives.

Did your sociology training help you on the island?
I’m well-versed in small-group dynamics. In many ways, I was the glue. Rachel Hunter called me bisexual. She didn’t mean it in a sexual way. She meant that I got along with everybody.

But did you figure out how to build a boat?
I spent a great deal of time preparing. I was on a 900-calorie diet for weeks before filming. I slept with my windows open and never turned on the A/C. I learned how much weight an individual segment of bamboo would hold, so I could calculate how many segments would be needed to safely remove the castaways. If you name it, I can make it out of bamboo.

Can you make a radio from a coconut?
No, but I can make a radio from a wire and a battery. In fact, I don’t even need the battery.

The Real Gilligan’s Island
Premieres November 30, 8 P.M.

Castaway: Eric Anderson