Before the credits roll, viewers are warned about the show's "coarse language." They are not, however, warned about the intestinal rupture they are about to sustain. Comedy, as we know, is man in peril, so it's no wonder that "Boot Camp," which features a pig farmer, a balloon sculptor and an aspiring actress in basic training, is hands down the funniest show ever broadcast.
The recruits -- a colorful assortment of miscreants, manipulators and underachievers -- will spend 30 days under the vociferous tutelage of four deranged drill instructors. The producers of "Boot Camp" have watched other reality shows and learned.
Reflective moments, slow-motion bikini shots and wavy-haired paternalistic figures in shorts are great for "Baywatch," but reality TV is all about witnessing other people's psychic and physical pain from the comfort of our own depravity.
Here's how it works: Each week, the group, now numbering 16, elects a leader whom they will follow on some exhausting military-style mission. If the members of the squad complete the mission, they receive a small reward and their leader receives immunity.
If they don't, they receive petty punishments and no immunity for their leader. At the end of each show, one recruit is banished by his or her peers. The banished recruit then gets to retaliate by eliminating another.
All of this rejection and revenge will transpire, naturally, on "Dismissal Hill," in much the same way that all of our criticism will transpire on "sarcasm bed."
Day 1: The drill instructors, three screaming jarheads and a vein-popping Napoleonette, have a default speaking volume of 100 or so decibels.
They have a charmingly proprietary sense of their surroundings. Everything they talk about is described as "mine."
The four eagerly await the arrival of a bus, inside which the new recruits slumber peacefully, dreaming of prize money and Jamie from "Big Brother"-level fame.
The drill sergeants climb aboard the bus and start screaming things like "Under my command, you're going to exit my vehicle safely but quickly! Start moving!"
Alarmed recruits run from the bus clutching their belongings. One man, a pear-shaped, 29-year-old real estate agent, given to statements such as "It's always a good day when you're Dave Thomson," sprints from the bus in a generalized panic.
Trendy recruit Katherine hops away on high heels. Shawn Yaney, a professional balloon sculptor, is intercepted while running to get into formation. His eyebrows do a little dance. Frankly, we can't believe this, either.
The recruits then sprint into a barracks (unless we specify otherwise, the recruits are always sprinting and the sergeants are always screaming) to be verbally abused by the sergeants.
Drill sergeant Rosenbaum, perhaps the most tormented of the four, loudly asks recruit Jennifer Whitlow what she does for a living.
"Campbell's Soup Co., sir!"
"What's the theme of Campbell's Soup Co.?"
"'M'm! M'm! Good!' sir!"
This response causes him to scrunch up his eyes and squat.
This kind of exchange will apparently make up roughly 90 percent of the show.
Later, we'll notice that Campbell's is a sponsor of "Boot Camp."
That's why they call it "reality" TV!
Next, the recruits' possessions are unceremoniously dumped out onto a table and pawed through by the manic drill instructors.
"You want to tear them down emotionally and then build them up as a team," drill instructor (D.I.) McSweeney explains after forcing recruit Moretti to kiss a photo of his wife goodbye.
Moretti obeys, and we wonder for a moment which layer, specifically, in this experiential shortcake actually made him do it. The temporary delusion that he is actually in the military? The thought of the prize money?
Thomson's stuffed lemon?
"What is this? What does it do?"
D.I. Taylor (who makes up for her rather diminutive stature by climbing up on tables, bending over and gesticulating dramatically while she screams) is bellowing at Thomson after she and D.I. McSweeney discover a small lemon plush toy tucked away in one of his shoes.
"Mr. Lemon is a stuffed lemon. His function is to make for a nice atmosphere, sir!"
A sergeant later asks the balloon sculptor to make him a poodle -- then bites the head off the poodle.
By 10:30 p.m., hipster recruit Katherine is slumped over a sink in a gnarly outdoor bathroom, refusing to come out. She thought this would be more like "Boot Camp Island."
She wisely decides to go home. As the recruits have their heads shaved, two drill instructors scream incoherently into Wolf's ears. Later, the other recruits will call Katherine "pathetic" for not giving the experience "a chance."
Katharine's departure leaves six women and nine men. The female recruits:
Haar, 35, is a pig farmer from Georgia. She is out of shape but dedicated.
Brown, 26, is an actress from Los Angeles. Haar "breaks [her] heart."
Moretty-with-a-y is a self-described "military wife" and homemaker.
Whitlow, 25, is a corporate drone who says things like "I don't want to win everything, because then I'm a target. I want to do the little things that I can to be part of the team. When the time comes, you'll see me." She'll probably win the game, then get promoted at work, then spawn a team of junior sales analysts.
Hutak is a deputy sheriff.
Coddington, 22, is a soft-spoken scholarship counselor.
The male recruits:
Wolf, 22, is a college student who doesn't see this as boot camp, but "as a way to get to the money."
Meyer, 27, is the resident troublemaker. ("He's not even hearing t-e-a-m," Whitlow says.) Meyer is an urban planner who has a hard time not laughing in the sergeants' faces, but can cry at will to manipulate other recruits. He thinks the other recruits are taking the game too seriously. "Everyone's playing their stupid game of let's be whatever, but it's retarded."
Park, 26, is a stoic art teacher who forms an early alliance with the other three strongest men, alienating the women.
Thomson, 29, is a real estate agent. He has a massive chest and a penchant for motivational literature. "I'm Dave Thomson, winner," he says, sounding exactly like a loser.
Yaney, 27, is a balloon sculptor.
Jackson, 28, is a filmmaker, and part of the alpha male alliance that includes Park, Wolf and Moretti.
Moretti-with-an-i is a personal trainer who has never left home before.
Lauder, 50-ish, is a plumber.
Finally, there's someone named Pupo who's a bit mysterious.
The recruits, like all citizens of reality TV, are finally taken to a beach, where they are required to do more punishing exercises. By now, the irreverent Meyer is generally regarded as disruptive by all. He's taken out by the D.I.s and forced to do jumping jacks.
Thomson decides to try a little motivational speaking on him. Thomson is from Las Vegas.
"He needed to get in there at breakfast," Thomson explains breathlessly to the camera crew, "and do some crazy speech and pull tears, pull whatever he had to pull, to get people not to vote for him."
In the tenebrous pre-dawn of Day 2, recruit Wolf pulls his dog tag out of a cap and becomes the leader of his squad on that day's mission.
The recruits then file into the mess hall for breakfast, where they are served scrambled eggs and white stuff. Meyer delivers a wholly unconvincing soliloquy about his mother's desertion when he was 4 and his subsequent lack of discipline.
Thomson looks on Yoda-like, as though Meyer were his own personal Jedi-in-training.
Whitlow stares, transfixed, buying into the lie as she has bought into every lie she has ever been told. The others just chew. Then Meyer sits down and squeezes out a few crocodile tears. That seems to do it. A laughing Meyer later explains that he pulled it off by "thinking of something sad." But Brown and Moretty buy the "depraved on account I was deprived" charade. Meyer "deserves a second chance."
After breakfast, we watch the recruits grunt and sweat through their exercises. There is more yelling from D.I. McSweeney, followed by a mile-and-a-half run. Recruit Haar, who does not wear a cute little sports bra like most of the other female recruits, is woefully out of shape.
She requires the motivational services of two drill instructors -- who rather incongruously transform into supportive trainers for the occasion -- to get her to the finish line. She finishes last, and immediately falls into the arms of Meyer and weeps for joy.
By that afternoon, the squad is carrying her. She winds up in the infirmary with an injured ankle.
The mission in which Wolf will lead the group consists of completing a land and water course that includes rowing and carrying a 400-pound inflatable boat through a dense wooded area. Under Wolf's leadership, Park and Jackson get bossy, causing resentment among the women.
Later, after the mission is complete, recruit Brown remarks that it's obvious that "the strong" -- Wolf, Park, Moretti and Jackson -- are forming an alliance. So the devious Meyer and the women organize "the weak" into a voting alliance against Park.
"Either Meyer is out of here today," he says later, referring to himself in the third person like a good psychopath, "or Meyer will have orchestrated one of the greatest upsets in military history."
Dismissal Hill is like the tribal council in "Survivor," only stripped of every bit of its exoticness. The group stands at sunset in an extreme state of portentousness as D.I.s Rosenbaum and Francisco try to deliver some drama.
"I hear heartbeats," Rosenbaum announces.
Idly, we wonder what Jeff Probst is doing tonight.
Since Katharine took a walk, the bootee tonight won't be allowed to drag someone down with him or her.
The recruits all vote, one by one. Rosenbaum walks among them, taunting both Meyer and Park before delivering the bad news to Park.
Park got seven notes, Meyer six. Pupo and Jackson got one each.
"Get 'em off my hill," D.I. Francisco says.
-- Carina Chocano