“Castaways,” a show that, according to its network description, focuses on “testing the human need for companionship under extreme circumstances,” features 12 participants who are dropped alone on a series of Indonesia islets and challenged to survive. The answer to the show’s “test” isn’t much of a mystery. It’s not hard to believe that human connection matters, particularly in intense situations.

“Castaways” follows the tradition of reality TV as therapy with the idea that surviving a harsh environment will potentially improve your life. The series begins with contestants swimming to different shores. They know there are others, but they don’t know how many or where they are. They find washed-up luggage, a few scattered resources and some abandoned structures for shelter but otherwise they are on their own. It’s basically “Survivor” without contests and prizes. There are two ways to leave: Quit or last until rescue arrives and they aren’t told when that might happen.

Shot documentary style, the action moves between events on the islands and flashbacks to the participants’ lives at home. Background music sets a solemn tone. There are no to-camera interviews. Rather, contestants reveal their inner thoughts in voiceover narration. The at home footage and comments quickly establish each person’s troubles.

Robbie, a 42-year-old father from Birmingham, Alabama, who weighs just under 400 pounds, acknowledges his food addiction, as a clip shows him eating a large meal at 1 a.m. while his family sleeps. Krichelle, who lives off the grid with her family in the jungles of Haiku, Hawaii, talks about her desperate need to leave her situation. Eric, who discusses his tough transition from military to civilian life, admits that he fears dying alone. Terry, age 62, talks about the pressures of caring for a mother with dementia. Kenzi, a musician from Nashville, is filmed having a tough discussion with her boyfriend as they go through the reasons she ended their relationship.

Each story is compelling and relatable and similar to watching any number of shows where people share their problems. However, it’s unclear what motivated the contestants to go on the show, other than a vague goal of challenging themselves. Krichelle traded one jungle for another. The lack of food may mean Robbie loses weight but will surviving with strangers help him deal with the issues behind his addiction? If the series is simply about human connection as a type of problem solver, it’s not obvious that any of the contestants were lacking companionship before they chose to try out their survival skills on television.

That leaves the voyeuristic appeal of peeking behind the curtain of other people’s lives to discover their personal issues. This isn’t a new theme for reality television. Nor is it necessarily a bad one so why not own it? As much as “Castaways” wants to call itself a “revolutionary” social experiment, its real, therapeutic premise is firmly rooted in how we think about privacy in a confessional culture of sharing.

“Castaways” premieres Aug. 7 at 10 p.m. EDT on ABC.
— Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at staytuned@outlook.com or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.