"20/20" co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas spoke with cast members at their jungle location in Hawaii.
Korean-born actress Yunjin Kim said her first reaction to the concept was, "Either this is going to be the best, one of the best TV shows, or the worst. Something that people will make fun of. Oh, yeah we're sort of like the Survivors. No, we're 'Gilligan's Island.' "
Upping the risk factor, many roles went to young actors who were relatively new to the business. Emilie de Ravin had a background in dance. Ian Somerhalder and Maggie Grace had been models.
"Lost" executive producer Bryan Burk says the youth and beauty of their casting choices set off lots of jokes, one from a friend in the business.
"He says 'So let me get this straight. There's a plane crash, and everyone dies except for the UCLA volleyball team,' " Burk said.
The cast's fresh faces were balanced by some who'd been Hollywood-hardened. Josh Holloway, who plays the tough but tender Sawyer, said he had struggled for eight years to get an acting break and was ready to give up.
"I was done, I'd just gotten my real estate license and I had a conversation with my fiancée, wife now, and I asked her if she would still be with me if I was a forest ranger," he said.
Holloway says he poured his own anger and frustration into the character.
"Girls love a messed-up guy, you know, who's tough and a man's man but somewhere in there he's got a heart," he said.
Sawyer's bad boy plays off the heroic Dr. Jack Shepard, played by former "Party of Five" star Matthew Fox. Jack becomes the leader of the "Lost" flock.
"This idea of a bunch of people being in the middle of an environment in which all the rules of society are taken away is something that's really fascinating to me. So I was really into it," Fox said.
Producers had their male lead. But pressure mounted as the time for location filming closed in and they still had no leading lady. Then they saw Evangeline Lilly, who had done some missionary work in the Philippines and some modeling in her native Canada.
Lilly beat out hundreds of candidates for the role. Producers liked the video she sent. And something clicked at her first encounter with Abrams. "At my first meeting with him, we got into a conversation about how I love to climb trees and then I kind of got wind of the notion that Kate's character is going to have a fairly high-profile role," she said.
Lilly still seems stunned by the remarkable change she's experienced in the past year. "A year ago I was driving a beat up, rusted-out, old Toyota Corolla with the back window busted out and covered in duct tape in pouring rain. I was driving to university, working a serving job, doing extra work on film sets. You know, hanging out in Vancouver, British Columbia," she said.
With very little acting experience under her belt, Lily was nervous when she landed the role. "I had never had a speaking role in film and television before. So I was terrified," she said.
They were all scared, and for good reason. By most predictions they were on a flight through the dark "Heaven's Gate" to failure and oblivion.
But they landed in a magical place a world of popular appeal and critical praise.
What's the secret behind this long-shot success? The cast and crew have some theories.