Like many people, Terry Allen of Agoura Hills has dreamed about relaxing on a tropical island, sipping coconut milk and staring at the stars on a warm evening. Recently, her tropical getaway came true, but it wasn’t as relaxing as she might have hoped.
Allen, 62, recently spent several weeks living on a desert island in Indonesia, foraging for food and building her own shelter. But she wasn’t shipwrecked. She was a participant on the new ABC series, “Castaways.”
She can’t give away many details about how long she was there or the structure of the show, such as whether she had to complete specific tasks, but she said the experience changed her life.
“It was a very profoundly spiritual event for me. You know when you’re stuck, I realized what was real, where I was really stuck and where I really wasn’t. Problems I had created for myself, what I had to grow out of,” Allen said.
“(Now) I actually feel very grateful for the life I have, where before I wanted to leave it as quickly as I could. It brought in a sense of gratitude that I just couldn’t see when I was stuck. So really, my life took a little turnaround, and it’s just appreciating everything where I just wasn’t able to see it before.”
A mother of five whose youngest child just went off to college, Allen lives with her parents, sister, brother and his wife. She said that as her parents have aged it’s fallen on her and her siblings to look after them. Her mother is in the early stages of dementia.
As much as she knew she had to help her parents, Allen wanted an adventure in her life, to escape her responsibilities for a while and get a new perspective. She was on her computer one night about a year ago when an advertisement asked if she felt lost.
“Most of my life I just wished that someone would drop me off on a deserted island and I could sleep all day and eat coconuts and stare at the stars. I’ve had this romantic notion forever,” Allen said. “In that moment (I saw the ad) I said, ‘Heck yes.’ I’ve had a really adventurous life and now to be back here taking care of my parents full time—I don’t know the community anymore. I didn’t have any friends. I felt really lost.”
She filled out the questionnaire and sent it off. The next day a producer from the show called her saying they were interested in her story. She said she was shocked to hear back.
She started sending videos to the producers that captured her dayto day life, and eventually they told her she had been selected as one of 12 contestants for the show. She said it felt like destiny, that she was being offered the chance to have the experience she’d dreamed about most of her life.
Allen took it on herself to prepare for the adventure. The producers told her she would be in Indonesia, so she went to the library and spent hours researching foods she could forage and animals she should avoid.
She said that once she was isolated on a desert island it gave a her a new appreciation for the natural world.
“It’s an experience everyone should take on at some point in their life, to feel at one in the nature of the environment that we live in. It has so much to give us,” Allen said. “Those nights that were quiet where I was looking at the stars or dealing with the crabs or snakes, it’s really quite an amazing world we live in. Everybody should take a chance with it and move out of their fear of it because it will give you so much more than you could ever imagine.”
She said supplies occasionally washed ashore in suitcases provided by the show’s producers, but for the most part she was on her own.
Her family was skeptical of the idea at first, unsure of what Allen was hoping to find. In the weeks leading up to her departure, film crews would regularly visit the house to tape segments with Allen and her family before she left. Over time they came to support her.
As far as the show, Allen is as in the dark as the rest of the viewing public. There were 11 other contestants whose stories are interwoven with hers, so she’s tuning in to see how the events unfold. Thinking back on the experience, Allen said, she’s glad she took the chance.
“I’ve got to say it was not easy. I think the vision I had of this island where I’m kind of lounging and eating coconuts and stuff was certainly not the case. It was a deeply, profoundly, really spiritual experience,” Allen said. “It was life-changing, and it would be life-changing for anybody.”
“Castaways” airs at 10 p.m. Tuesdays on ABC.