We get our thrill on Dismissal Hill

Episode 4: For once, Yaney blows up something besides a balloon.

By Salon Staff
Published April 19, 2001 6:08PM (EDT)

Recruit Yaney is an archetype. He is a balloon sculptor by profession, and as we saw a couple of weeks ago, he may indeed be a modern Bernini of this celebrated and history-heavy area of human endeavor.

How he came to be on "Boot Camp" is a mystery for the ages. D.I. Francisco speculates it allows Yaney to prove that he could do it, to push himself, but that still begs a few questions: One, isn't being a balloon sculptor and dealing with the grueling bands of demanding children enough? Why did he feel the need to push himself further?

And, given the treatment he's in for tonight, couldn't he do it in a less physically punishing way?

Thinking along these lines, we realize that Yaney should perhaps instead be thinking of a career upgrade -- to, say, a clown, in which job he could, in addition to the extravagant balloon sculptures, deliver yuks, even while making himself available for pies in the face, getting bonged by two-by-fours and so forth.

Instead, on "Boot Camp," Fox TV's hallucinatory reality TV show, Yaney, with his glasses, braces and trusting eyes, is everyvictim writ large. He is Piggy in "Lord of the Flies," Shelley Winters in "The Poseidon Adventure," the buck private from Abilene in every war movie who gets blown away in the second reel.

But he says he's in it to win. "This is anybody's game," Yaney says. "I'm in the top 10 already."

He's not as crazy as he sounds. "Boot Camp's" wild card is its coed setup. In a real boot camp, populated only by men, Yaney would have been chewed up right after his first balloon poodle was eaten by Drill Instructor McSweeney.

But in "Boot Camp" the women think Yaney is cute. They wouldn't sleep with him or anything, but they're not going to vote him off anytime soon.

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

It's day 13. The recruits are thinking ahead.

In "Boot Camp," you will recall, the recruits, originally numbering 16, vote one of their own off the show each week. The ejectees, in turn, get to take another recruit down with them -- presumably whomever they suspect of having engineered their ouster.

Each week, one recruit is chosen as squad leader, and put in charge of the group's mission for that show. If the group accomplishes the mission, it gets some special reward, and the troop leader that week gets amnesty from expulsion.

We see Recruit Jackson, one of the men, explain why he's trying to avoid being chosen squad leader this week.

"As it gets to the point where there are no more weak people to vote off, that amnesty is going to be more valuable," Jackson says.

Whitlow, one of the women, is thinking similarly: "I need to stand out when the time is right."

Just about everyone's thinking that way. That means they have to find someone who they can prop up in that role right now so that they can assume it later, when it matters.

Like a three-card-monte crew looking for a mark on a crowded subway train, the 10-person group zeroes in on Yaney.

"You wanna do it, Yaney?" the girls chorus, sweetly.

"I'm dead," Yaney says resignedly. "I'll do it."

"How bad could it be?" Yaney asks the camera later.

We then get to see Yaney's dynamic leadership skills in action; it's a little like a "Naked Gun" outtakes reel. We watch him clumsily lead the group in calisthenics. Most poignant is an extended frozen, bunny-in-the-headlights silence when he can't remember how to move the troop back to the barracks.

The drill instructors are shaken to their inner being at the choice.

"I did stutter steps," recalls D.I. Taylor, when she saw the new recruits' leader.

D.I. Rosenbaum, sporting his sexiest morning mohawk, walks up to the assembled recruits and gets an eyeful of the new squad leader. He doesn't miss a beat: "Hello, recruits. What did you have for breakfast, crack?"

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

Next we get a little featurette on Recruit Lauder, a 50-year-old plumber. The other recruits worry that he's going to have a heart attack during his exertions.

Indeed, we see Lauder looking like he's going to collapse as he careens through the boot camp exercises.

We see him in tears under the strain just talking about it. It gets worse when he talks about the death of his wife some 15 years ago.

"I visualize that she gives me strength to get up in the morning, and just to push on," Lauder says, crying unashamedly. "She had all the faith in the world for me to succeed.

This interview is intercut with some sappy music, shots of his kids and footage of Lauder taking an afternoon outdoor shower and, towel wrapped around his waist, waddling back to the barracks.

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

Next we see the recruits learning to rappel down a 50-foot tower.

It looks hard, and dangerous.

It turns out that the D.I.s call Recruit Coddington, who collects Beanie Babies and calls Rosie O'Donnell her personal hero, "Princess."

"It's the way she trots around," offers D.I. Francisco. "And she's kind of dainty."

We see Coddington hanging over the edge of the tower; in voice-over, she says, "You look over your shoulder and it seems so far down and then there's [D.I.] McSweeney at the bottom of the rope, there to save you if you should fall off and die, and that's not a comforting thought. He's just looking at you with those mean evil eyes."

"She's so prissy," McSweeney says. "She's just a sweet little cuddle doll."

We think all the D.I.s have got a thing for Coddington. She's engaged to be married. We wonder how her fiancée, whom we envision as a sort of Brad Majors type, feels about it.

She is kind of prissy, though. We watch Coddington retreating from the edge and the rappelling expert dressing her down for letting go of her brake handle.

"It would have been a lot nicer if he hadn't been there," Coddington sniffs.

Actually, if McSweeney hadn't been there telling Coddington not to let go of her brake handle, the chances of her falling and actually becoming his little cuddle toy would have been drastically enhanced.

But in the event, when we actually see her drop off the tower and make the descent, it's quite a thrill.

This appreciation of her is immediately broken by her dissing Hutak, another female recruit, who screwed up her mission as squad leader a few weeks back.

Hutak wants nothing more than to join the military. She's going to talk to a recruiter when she gets out of "Boot Camp," she tells the camera.

Coddington can't believe it. "Hutak is too gung-ho, in my opinion," she says.

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

In the barracks tonight, it's time to spit and polish and plot.

The guys don't like the de facto leader of the women, Recruit Brown.

"I heard that Brown is trying to get rid of the strong guys!" Jackson says. Jackson, Wolf and Moretti-with-an-i have an alpha male pact.

"I'm going to take Brown with me," Moretti-with-an-i vows.

The boys do a clever thing: They all know Lauder is going to be offed that week, so they get him to agree to their group pact to take Brown along with whoever gets voted off.

"It's time for recruit Lauder to go home and see his family and get some rest," Moretti says.

Lauder's clueless. "I got a lot of confidence and faith in Wolfie," Lauder says. "I'll go with him."

Then we see Lauder going over to talk to the women. He tells Hutak that he and Yaney want to help the women out. "If the four of yers decide to do something and it's in my and Yaney's best interest then we'll go with you," he says.

But it doesn't look like she's buying what he's selling.

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

In preparation for this week's mission, McSweeney assembles the group before a drawing board. They have to draw pictures of their favorite food; if the other recruits can guess what it is, it will be part of the reward smorgasbord if the mission is completed unsuccessfully.

"You draw what you crave the most on my chalkboard. Then the squad's gonna guess what it is," bellows McSweeney. "If they guess it, you get it. If they don't, well then you suck spit!"

Yaney draws a big M&M.

The only good part is that Brown draws a big rectangle and then a lot of curious characters inside it.

"It's an assortment of Japanese sushi, sir!" sings out Wolf.

"An assortment," McSweeney says.

"Yes, sir!"

"A plethora," McSweeney says.

"A myriad, sir!" says Wolf.

"We're going to be doing a myriad of push-ups after we eat our nasty chow tonight, aren't we," McSweeney says.

The mission sees the group assaulting a big concrete house, rescuing some POW mannequins, rappelling off the roof -- and then blowing up a watchtower.

The girls say they're going to do it for the balloon sculptor.

The D.I.s like the kid's spunk, too: "Yaney came here to push himself," Francisco says. "He's thinking, I have everything to win and nothing to lose." The group gets into the house OK. As they're rappelling down, there's some highly amusing footage of various recruits losing their footage on the descent and slapping against the wall, hard.

One of them is Yaney.

If there are any safety lines to protect the recruits from slipping and falling and breaking their necks, we don't see them.

For the blowing up of the watchtower, the "Boot camp" producers have conceived of a very exciting "untangle the detonator wire" challenge.

The tower is blown up in highly satisfying fashion.

"I did good; I don't care what anyone says," Yaney says later. "I never thought I'd be a squad leader, and I really never thought I'd complete a mission -- and I blew something up!"

For dinner that night, the recruits get to take their boots off at the beach and stuff themselves with the food they wanted.

Jackson is in heaven: "The pizza, the s'mores, the ice cream. At home it's the things you eat every day, twice a day, and you take it for granted."

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

Moretty-with-a-y's legs are swollen, just like Thomson's were a few weeks back. He was eventually tossed out of the platoon for medical reasons. She hopes, tearfully, that the same fate won't befall her.

"My ankles are so swollen it's disgusting," she sobs.

But we forget about Moretty when the D.I.s discover that a set of rappelling cords is missing. Someone left it during the mission.

We're pretty sure the authors of some recent mistakes of the U.S. military -- blowing up the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, for example, or, more recently, sinking a Japanese fishing vessel with a submarine -- didn't suffer as much as Yaney does for losing the rappelling strap.

D.I. Rosenbaum has an epileptic fit right in his face. Yaney looks like he's been hit by a truck.

"The hard part is figuring out how a stupid thing like a rope and clip is worth this much aggravation and terror in one's life," Yaney says.

Brown finally tells Yaney that Wolf had actually taken Yaney's strap -- and that Wolf knew it and was letting Yaney take the rap.

Wolf denies this. But the D.I.s, perhaps sticking up for Yaney, grill Wolf big time. He doesn't crack.

The "Boot Camp" producers, in a sort of "Rashomon" reconstruction, demonstrate that Yaney, Wolf and Moretty had all tossed off their straps at one point -- and that ultimately it was Moretty who had left her strap back in the tunnel and picked up someone else's strap and put it on.

It's possible, since other straps were lying around, that Brown really did see Wolf pick up Yaney's as well.

But Moretty's the real culprit, and no one knows it.

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

Last week, we got our thrill on Dismissal Hill; Meyer, the loon, finally got ousted. No one's even talking about him this week.

This week, it's less dramatic. Because of all of his health troubles, Lauder essentially has a big red target drawn on his forehead.

We'd been kind of feeling for Lauder during his crying jag, but he leaves the show like a jerk.

He gets to take another recruit with him. For whatever reason, he doesn't name Brown, which is what the men wanted, so as to remove a formidable adversary.

"I don't like pushy women," Lauder says. "The only one who pushed me was Hutak, so I'm taking her along with me."

Bye, Lauder!

(Bill Wyman)

Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------