Tell it to the Marines!

Episode 3: Just another recruit meets balloons, recruit loses balloons, recruit gets ballons back again story.

By Salon Staff
Published April 11, 2001 4:55PM (EDT)

Ever get the feeling that "Boot Camp" is just "Survivor" in a military setting? So does Mark Burnett, the creator of "Survivor." Burnett and CBS just filed suit against Fox, the presenter of "Boot Camp," for copyright infringement.

Fox says it stole the idea fair and square. The suit is just the latest intrusion of reality into reality TV. Earlier this year, Stacy, an early contestant, sued "Survivor." "Survivor" countersued Stacy. Meanwhile, "Temptation Island's" Ytossie and Taheed sued Fox. We won't be surprised if the suit is ytossied out.

No word yet on whether Fox will sue Stacy for giving CBS the idea to sue them.

Incidentally, we are currently developing our own litigation-based reality program. (Working title "I'm Suing!") If anyone tries to steal the idea, we'll see them in court.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Day 9 of "Boot Camp" begins in the pre-dawn hours, just like all the others, with klieg lights, screaming and huddled forms springing into fatigues.

"Boot Camp" makes us so tense.

The fact is, as fey, rather shiftless literary types, we've never understood the allure of giving oneself over to a braying, saliva-incontinent government hireling for indoctrination and physical punishment.

We understand that in many cases it's just a job, not an adventure, but we don't understand these "Boot Camp" people, especially not the women. Why are they so serious? Why do they remind us of our Catholic high school gym teachers? Where are the whispery, sarong-wearing aspiring spokesmodels of yestermonth?

Honestly, wasn't last week's shocker -- really -- that Brown didn't say I'm not gay? Isn't that why people always join the Army?

Recruit Yaney (who, incidentally, laughed at Brown's confession last week: "What is she, nuts?") notes that the women are stronger than the guys, "as far as they've got their act together."

Recruit Jackson, who does not sculpt balloons for a living, elaborates. "If the game becomes gender-based, the women will win. Because they can get it together and we can't."

Or maybe, if the game becomes gender-based, the women will win because the male barracks are brimming with vainglorious half-wits. Recruit Thomson, puffed-up realtor, discusses the medical condition that has grounded him the last few days -- an unexpected swelling of the ankles and feet. (The head-swelling is congenital.)

"The doctors don't understand why exactly -- I'm 29 years old and seem to be in exceptional shape and I'm having these problems."

Emphasis added. As it's not the first time Recruit Thomson has referred to his stunning physique, we feel it's only fair to point out that Recruit Thompson closely resembles a prematurely aged overweight tuber.

And here's another thing that's getting on our nerves: Everything in "Boot Camp" is so dramatic.

We can't stand the histrionics.

The recruits can't get from bed to breakfast without passing through a gauntlet of screaming, more screaming, glaring and Raisin Bran. But listen to the music that accompanies their lunch-line hustle and you'd think they were disembarking at Normandy.

Over breakfast, Recruit Thomson clumsily tries to form alliances. "Tell the girls," he says to Coddington, "that even if I'm injured, I'll be back 100 percent and that I'll vote with the girls, so ... you know what I'm saying?"

Wait. That was a little unclear.

"I feel like the girls are on my side," Thomson confesses later. "And Meyer is on my side for life. I saved Meyer."

We're disappointed when Meyer concurs.

The fearless Recruit Brown, on the other hand, thinks that Thomson is "completely playing people."

We wonder what could have given her that impression. Was it the overly modulated voice, dripping with false sincerity? The way he tries to hypnotize the other recruits with his dim, bovine eyes? Or the way he keeps blatantly talking about voting strategies and allegiances within earshot of everybody else?

"I don't really manipulate people," Thomson says later. "But if I get a chance to talk to people and explain myself to them, then they usually see that it's in their best interest to do what I say."

Remember him? He's the "winner" guy.

Recruit Moretti-with-an-i has been chosen as the new squad leader. He feels the recruits need leadership, and he is the one to provide it. As he later explains, leadership to Moretti-with-an-i includes "being too nice" and "being himself."

In fact, he came on the show to "be himself." We've noticed that "being oneself" is important to roughly 90 percent of reality-show participants, who express their priorities in exactly the same way. Should Moretti decide to be Wolf, or Jackson, for the day, we're fairly sure no one would notice.

So the recruits train -- run, crunch, push, sweat, cough up mucus -- and the drill sergeants bark and another day seems to last an eternity.

Next drama: Thomson's "medical condition" persists!

After more swelling and more tests, most of which reveal that he's "healthier than normal," it turns that Thomson may have "some type of enzymes" in his blood that could lead to kidney damage.

"They said it was primarily from overworking," he says.

This is what low self-esteem does to guys.

Later, the recruits train for a mission by dragging each other all over the beach and learning to drive a Hummer.

The driving segment is followed by one on vehicle maintenance. Meyer -- the goofball slacker who gets on our nerves, but let's face it, is the only recruit we can actually identify with (he complains often and liberally, like a normal person) -- feigns heat exhaustion and drops to the ground.

The others all see this time that he's a big faker, but that doesn't stop them from persisting in the delusion that they really are recruits.

Says soup-slave Whitlow, "I mean, if he does this to the drill instructors simply because he's tired, what is he going to do to us on the mission?"

We thought, like Meyer did, that this would be a show about how people who weren't ever meant to go through boot camp got through boot camp. But the place is crawling with people whose fondest dream it is to actually be spiritually eradicated and rebuilt by the U.S. Army.

It's all kind of depressing and not that funny. We miss bikinis, and sexual innuendo. We miss sexual humiliation island.

The way they act, you'd think they were competing for a promotion. Moretti accidentally hits Brown in the face. She takes a while to recover, and soon Moretti is darkly hinting that she's an actress. When she asks Wolf who he thinks is out next, he says, infuriatingly noncommittally, "It's not my decision."

"Oh, please," Brown replies.

Whitlow remarks that though Brown is enormously "caring and sensitive," boot camp is "getting to her personally."

And Meyer, scrubbing toilets with a toothbrush, is getting to the point where he is just sick of it. We're with him.

The contestants carry some sandbags around, and Moretti and Meyer note Wolf's fulminating self-obsession. He veritably leaps at the chance to strip down to his boxers and offer Calvin Klein ad-style profiles to the other recruits.

It's a classic love story, the romance between Wolf and himself. Back in the barracks, he likes to stand in front of the mirror and make his biceps twitch.

"Nobody likes to be around those kinds of people," Meyer says. "The girls don't like it, either."

It appears that Wolf's time is up.

Or so says Whitlow, in a surprising turn of phrase.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Day 10 is the day of the mission, and it begins with Drill Sergeant Psychopath.

"Remember," he intones, "when we came to 'Boot Camp,' many, many moons ago, the drill instructors took away some of your most worldly possessions and put them in these boxes?"

(Other, less worldly possessions were stored in attractive earthenware jars, and other, more ethereal possessions were simply discarded.)

We are treated to the highlight of the program thus far, a black-and-white, dreamlike replay of the moment D.I. Francisco bit the head off of Yaney's balloon poodle and forced Moretti-with-an-i to kiss the photo of his wife goodbye.

"There's a lot of emotions in them boxes, isn't there?"

A lump forms and bobs in Moretti's throat.

As the sergeant explains that a successful mission will return to the recruits one item from the box, the camera zooms into a sad teddy bear peaking out from a storage bin.

Fox really knows how to toy with our emotions.

D.I. McSweeney asks the recruits what they would like from the boxes. We almost weep for joy when Yaney expresses a desire to be reunited with his balloons.

The mission involves evacuating a jeep, four dummy casualties and three supply crates in 60 minutes from the scene of a pretend exploded mine.

Big caps go off.

While the other recruits are skilled at talking about having skills and being team players, Lauder, the 50-year-old plumber, actually knows how to do useful things like change tires.

Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here, like: "'The Art of War' is great and everything, but there are still a few differences between your cubicle and a foxhole." Or maybe the lesson is, "Older guys know how to maintain cars because during the Depression you couldn't lease a Saturn."

Those dummies must be pretty heavy because it takes four contestants to carry a mannequin off-screen. But finally, the mission is completed in time. The recruits climb onto a platform to salute the sky and set off a siren.

Moretti takes a moment to congratulate himself.

Later that night, with several family pictures and one big bag of balloons safely back with their owners, the recruits shed a few tears and -- in a very special "Boot Camp" moment -- Yaney makes balloon sculptures for everybody.

It turns out he really knows how to do it. He is the Michelangelo of balloon sculptors. In his hands, latex becomes twisted latex.

The drill sergeants enter and survey the happy scene.

"Happy time is now over."

- - - - - - - - - - - -

We are as crushed as Yaney.

More physical activity follows, along with the requisite reality-show conversations about who will vote for whom, what the alliances are, etc. etc.

We call our lawyer. We're considering suing Mark Burnett for boring us by proxy.

It turns out that Thomson, that fine specimen of manhood, is really ill. Thomson wants to stay. The game show is that important to him. But he will be medically discharged from "Boot Camp." Thomson shakes his head and gives a speech that, frankly, leaves us cold.

Meyer goes to great lengths to squeeze out a tear.

"He was the only person keeping me alive. Now I'm screwed."

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Five women and six men remain ... and it's -- thank you, sweet Jesus -- time for Dismissal Hill.

Why can't there be more starvation on this show?

Wolf suspects that the girls are getting together to get rid of the leaders, so he takes Meyer out for a walk, which confirms it.

An appalled Wolf wants to get Meyer on his side, so he thrusts his finger at him repeatedly and reminds him that he has saved him time and time again.

"You voted against me!" Meyer says.

"You got on my nerves then!" says Wolf.

Wolf should never try defending himself in court. As the girls walk by, he stops them and starts talking about how disappointed he is in them for turning against him. A compelling argument.

"Now I'm on the defensive," he tells us later, "and I've got to make sure I'm politically correct with everyone."

He tries to takes it all back and apologizes to the female recruits, but now everything is out in the open.

Brown, the de facto leader of the women, feels betrayed by Meyer's having talked to Wolf about the plan. "It was a plan to save his [Meyer's] butt," she says, "but he was too ignorant to figure it out."

The girls fear that if Meyer goes over to "the dark side" they will be outnumbered.

Meyer is saying, "All these chicks keep trying to get me to vote for them." He means with them, of course. Moretty-with-a-y says, "We have to think of a new strategy because this one has gone to hell in a handbasket."

Gee, wonder what it will be?

Wolf is not dismissed. All but Meyer vote for Meyer. Meyer gets the boot camp boot. And since Thomson got a medical discharge, he can't even take Wolf down with him.

Live by the slacker, die by the slacker.

(Carina Chocano)

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