They came from the land of sheep and the place where the tango was born. They left behind fjords and the Eiffel Tower. They crossed oceans and continents, drawn together this weekend for a single purpose -- to get “ Lost.”
They are the faithful legions of ABC's hit show "Lost," one of the most active, diligent and fervent fan bases in television who had to be here Saturday night for a special preview of their favorite program, which begins its inexorable march toward a long-awaited conclusion after six riveting seasons.
In the end, about 12,000 descended on a Waikiki beach to be the first to view the opening hour of the show's final season premiere, which airs nationally Tuesday. Many camped out overnight in the rain to land the best spots on the sand to learn fresh revelations about the survivors of Oceanic flight 815.
But, a yearning for new knowledge about the deep mysteries of the show was just part of it. This group, some of whom landed on the island after coaxing early graduation and birthday presents or begging for donations on Facebook, discovered a new sense of community among the others.
After having come to know each other mostly by screen names and Twitter handles where they'd weigh every line of dialogue, investigate every " Easter egg," and scrutinize every literary reference, they used the event as the ultimate in-person meet-up. Six years after the island mystery launched, the show's virtual community has become a tangible one.
"I love the show, but it's not the show that keeps us going," said Oahu resident Ryan Ozawa, who co-hosts a popular podcast called “The Transmission,” with his wife, Jen. "It's what you're seeing here. They feel like friends, even though we've never met them and they've been riding along with us for four or five years. I seriously doubt there will be another TV show that will create this kind of fandom."
Surely, when "Lost" was created, this was not part of the plan. Executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse had enough to worry about with the complicated castaways, the confounding Dharma Initiative, the elusive smoke monster, and that wacky time traveling. Neither could foresee the show's fans would become such an integral part of their professional lives.
"It's a little bit, I think, like the story you hear people say when you ask them 'how did you and your wife meet?' " Cuse said. "Well, we were friends and we hung out enough and, after a while, we realized we'd fallen in love. We were doing weird things on the show and we were interested in people's feedback. And, suddenly, the Internet existed as a medium to allow us to interact and pretty soon we were engaged in this dialogue with the fans that turned out to be a really meaningful part of our experience as show runners."
Lindelof, who calls himself a " Joss Whedon ( "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") acolyte," had watched from the sidelines as Whedon cultivated an online relationship with viewers until "Buffy" went off the air in 2003.
By the time "Lost" premiered a year later, the Internet was emerging as an entertainment medium and its rabid global following had a cozy place to convene and theorize. Lindelof and Cuse seized the moment, participating in chats and podcasts, creating original content on "Lost" websites, and also alternative "Lost" experiences in print and online.
"The Net dropped the barrier and helped us create what we felt is a more direct communication," Lindelof said. "But at the same time, it's not like fans are coming into our office and hanging out with us. We just realized that there was a community out there who really wanted to dial into the show in a more intimate level than a lot of other people and it makes us excited to facilitate that for them."
But who are these voracious fans that have affectionately nicknamed the two show runners "Darlton"? They are people such as Francois Pizarro, 22, Kevin Gallet, 23, and Audrey LaGuilliez, 25, who met virtually on a "Lost" forum in Paris, France, and became close enough friends that they traveled to Oahu together.
Or sorority sisters Blythe Ann Johnson, 22, and Gabby Decoster, 22, from Texas, who persuaded Johnson's parents to buy them tickets for her upcoming graduation present. There's also 19-year-old Josh Gordon, of Orlando, Fla., who paid for the trip with funds he collected from his family and friends on Facebook and sports a tattoo of Shannon (Maggie Grace) from a scene in the pilot on his forearm.
"It's so intelligent and addictive," said Johnson, of San Antonio. "As soon as you get a little bit of that taste, you have to know more. It's somewhat of an abusive relationship where you're being told you're wrong over and over again."
It's about the puzzle of it all, theorizes Jen Ozawa who with her husband organized events all weekend for 100 fans of their podcasts -- "Lost" devotees who traveled from as far away as Turkey, Japan, Venezuela, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia. "I think people are drawn to things they can't figure out," she said. "I've been into shows before but there's never been this level of storytelling and there's never been anything this intriguing."
Erik Bertelsen, 29, of Norway, follows Ozawa's podcast, but he's not the typical fan.
"I hope they leave some questions unanswered so that the story can live on forever," said Bertelsen, who traveled alone and camped out for nine hours before the premiere with other members of Ozawa's group, including 56-year-old Chris Meissner, of Riverside, who tattooed "Lost" and a flower on her leg.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing," said ABC President of Entertainment Steve McPherson, who attended the screening and noted that the success of "Lost" is measured beyond Nielsen ratings. Although "Lost" has never attracted the audience that the network's other top hits have, and some viewers gave up because of its notoriously complex plotting, its value extends beyond the TV screen.
"I think it's captured people the way no other show has," he added. “Grey’s Anatomy” and “ Desperate Housewives" "are fantastic and people are passionate about them, but this has a different sense about it."
So what if every second of "Lost" footage is pored over around the globe, and every creative decision dissected and studied to death? "Darlton" wouldn't have it any other way.
"As a writer, I think it's great that there are certain writers like J.D. Salinger who really appreciate writing in a vacuum," Cuse said. "But I think most writers want to feel that people appreciate what they've written. So, for us, it's beyond a dream come true that people not only care about what we write, but that they actually scrutinize what we write. That's maybe the greatest thing that can happen to you as a writer."