With her husband and two children, Rosemary Stephenson featured in the 2000 reality TV show, Castaway. Its aim: to see if 36 people could be left on a remote Scottish island and become a self-sufficient community within a year. In this new episode of our How To Build Community podcast, she recalls the lessons she learned and the challenges she faced. You can listen or read the highlights below.
A new society for a new millennium In January 2000, Rosemary Stephenson and her family could be seen on televisions across the UK on a reality TV show called Castaway. The show placed 36 people on a remote Scottish island to attempt to start a community from scratch. The objective was to become a self-sufficient society, living off the land and creating their own societal structures. In the words of the production team they were to ‘create a new society for a new millennium’.
The Stephenson family bravely took on this adventure after careful consideration. Rosemary was particularly persuaded by the opportunity to homeschool her children, who she felt were too young to be in the school system.
Agenda versus reality
Without any outside influences, the group were able to focus on the aspects of life that they found to be truly important. They prioritised producing and cooking food for survival and creating positive experiences and learning environments for the children on the island.
They did not elect a leader, although one islander did attempt to enforce his leadership but was poorly received. Instead, people assumed natural positions within the new society where they had expertise – from teachers in the school to farmers of the land. Rosemary reflects on whether it would have been more effective to elect a leader from the start.
As a widely televised social experiment Rosemary felt that the footage the production team chose to portray on air was more to further their own agenda rather than to reflect the real experience of the community.
‘Most of us,’ she says, ‘were just getting on with the boring stuff of everyday life’.
Conflict and coming together
There were some understandable lines of division in the new community: for example, between those who were naturally hardworking and those who were happy to put less effort into day-to-day tasks.
There were also arguments over food and attitudes to parenting: although Rosemary reflects that these were also the things that often brought them together.
Ensuring the safety, education and entertainment of the children was really important to everyone, even though there were differences of opinion about how best to make that happen.
And the community always made sure there was food on the table, despite disagreement over the practicalities of cooking. Ultimately, sharing food, cooking together, and celebrating birthdays and other occasions were the times when the group felt the closest.