Nerd Factor: Fantasy Island Gets Creepy

Michael Robinson ~ PhD

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Guests are once again going to Fantasy Island. The newest iteration of the popular franchise, which began in the 1970s and returned briefly in the late 1990s, continues a familiar format. Guests come to the Island with fantasies to fulfill but often leave having learned unexpected lessons along with way. 

In its current form, the Island, capitalized here because it is treated on the new show as having magical powers and undefined intentions all its own, is run by Elena Roarke and her new assistant Ruby. The location of the tropical paradise is not revealed. I’ve always suspected that it’s somewhere near the islands on Lost and Gilligan’s Island myself, part of some incredible archipelago. 

A recent episode raised some questions for me though. At first, “Twice in a Lifetime” seemed like a fairly standard installment of the series. A guest named Nisha sought to discover her life partner, choosing from a fun-loving but not so ambitious boyfriend (Josh) or the serious future doctor (Savin) with whom her parents were trying to arrange a marriage. A second plot unexpectedly involved Javier, the pilot who flies guests to the Island on his seaplane, spending personal time with Elena Roarke. More on that in a moment.

Nisha’s fantasy bounced her through two alternate versions of her life, accelerating her into all of the good and bad experiences she would have in a lifetime with either potential beau. Nisha and Josh went through childbirth and financial worries. Nisha and Savin faced infertility and the challenges of Savin’s career needs. In both lives, Nisha found her own needs being pushed aside, ultimately leading her decision to stay single.

Meanwhile, Javier got to spend some time with Elena Roarke after rescuing her when her car broke down in the jungle on the way to her private hacienda. He got to know the enigmatic host of the island better which led to some intimacy between the two. However, in the morning, Roarke insisted this connection would not be continuing, returning their relationship to the status quo. 

Although some stories do involve other people that the guests know, the Island has the capability to generate realistic human equivalents. Nisha is clearly not interacting with her real-life suitors as they express no confusion over the time hopping. Where did these beings come from then? Since the Island appears to use no special technology, everyone Nisha encountered must be magical creations. Yet these entities are convincingly human enough to live and love with. How real were they? Did they have souls? If so, were they technically alive and feeling Nisha’s rejection?

Meanwhile, Javier’s fantasy raises an issue of consent. Although Roarke runs the operation, the Island is clearly a higher power. Javier was able to arrange a fantasy involving another person which begins, at least, without her consent when her jeep is stuck in the mud. In prior episodes, we were given the sense that Javier is a good person, but if this is not an actual crime then it is some serious tropical creeping on his part. Had Javier achieved his goal, had the two fallen in love, how would this have actually worked as a meet cute story? “Hey, Elena, it’s our anniversary. Remember when it all started? That time when I sort of abducted you against your will?” It gets more disturbing every time I think of it. 

The Fantasy Island franchise has always cautioned us to be careful what we wish for because it may come true. More recent series have asked us to question the mechanics of those fantasies too. Westworld has offered an insightful and emotionally harrowing exploration of the artificial beings forced to serve as the fantasy objects of others. WandaVision featured a journey of healing for its main character that also raised very troubling questions about the impact that had on the people unwillingly trapped within that fantasy. In this new series lasts, Fantasy Island might want to start questioning its methodology a bit more. 

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