A balloon bursts

Episode 5: McSweeney goes bonkers! Moretty just says no!

By Carina Chocano
Published April 26, 2001 5:02PM (EDT)

It's the 17th day of "Boot Camp" and eight recruits remain. Recruit Coddington is still suffering from an "unknown medical condition" that involves swollen limbs and prevents her from sleeping in the barracks, so the other three female recruits pop over to Medic -- which is identical to the barracks save for the red cross on the door -- to see Coddington and talk strategy.

"We can still take Wolf with five votes," Whitlow says, getting right down to it. Recruit Wolf is the alpha dog of the guys.

"Yeah, but he'll take me with him," counters Moretty-with-a-y, glancing nervously over her shoulder. (What if Wolf has wrapped himself in gauze and is lurking in a corner, listening?)

Coddington suggests they wait on the Wolf ejection. "There's still a chance I could get a medical discharge," she says, wiping away the tears, "and that would be next time, so that would be perfect."

The others make pitying noises and move in for a hug.

Cut to Whitlow in front of a tree: "Love ya, Coddington, but ..."

Something tells us Whitlow doesn't have too many friends back home at the soup company.

This week, Jackson is elected squad leader. We know what that means: minibio! Just like the Olympics, only less triumph over adversity.

Jackson's reason for coming to boot camp is a sentimental one. He's been dating his girlfriend for "a really long time," and while this is not something that generally calls for paramilitary training, Jackson can't afford both an engagement ring and a down payment on the apartment they have just bought. Will he have to sell his watch? Will she decide to cut off her beautiful hair? No, Jackson is hoping "Boot Camp" will help him achieve his financial goals and get on the road to economic freedom.

"Hopefully, I'll be able to make it official -- you know, get down on the knee."

Well, he's come to the right place. Next scene: He's facedown in the sand.

"I'm not here to learn discipline," Jackson explains, "and I'm not here to learn leadership -- I'm here to see how far I can go. Because, out in the world, I'm not sure if I've found the deepest point of leadership."

Indeed, we're always misplacing our deepest point of leadership. Once, we left it in a cab.

Calisthenics follow. It's strenuous just to watch, though not really that strenuous. Moretty is having an especially tough time of it, with deranged drill instructor McSweeney hovering above her, fleshy lips flapping.

Last time, we learned that Coddington was McSweeney's "cute little cuddle doll."

Moretty is his pet rock. He doesn't like her 'tude.

"Her eyeballs are always rolling around," he growls. He spends most of the day making her do pushups.

"I can do this all day, Moretty," McSweeney says, as Moretty pushes herself up and down and up and down on the grass like a tentative lizard. "As long as you keep making faces."

This is too much for Moretty: "This recruit is not making faces, sir!"

"Shut your face!" McSweeney screams, running over to her and squatting.

Moretty is in a zone: "This recruit is not making faces, sir!" she screams again.

McSweeney and she are now face to face, both screaming like banshees with their tails caught in a door.

Somewhere, wherever home is, Moretty's toddlers are wailing in terror.

"Stop spitting on meeeeee!" Moretty screeches.

Somebody had to say it. But this kind of defiance calls for two drill instructors. D.I. Rosenbaum scurries up and joins in the synchronized finger-pointing and screaming. "You better think about it, Moretty," Rosenbaum screams. "You better think about it right now ... Don't even think about it!"

You figure it out.

Later, an overwhelmed Moretty breaks down. Her shoulder hurts, and she just wants a little medical attention. She goes to speak with the only female drill instructor, Taylor. This results in an unexpected tender moment. It's almost harder to watch than the spitting.

"The other recruits and I have a lot of respect for drill instructor Taylor, ma'am."

This touches D.I. Taylor in ways she hasn't been touched in years. It must be jarring to finally get in touch with your feminine side, only to realize that you are actually a woman. "Is that right?" she croaks. "I appreciate that."

We feel sort of sorry for D.I. Taylor. What led her to want to join this fraternity of thugs? What kind of strange forces are at work? Wouldn't she have been happier as, say, a sadistic gym teacher?

In an awkward attempt to "nurture" the distraught Moretty, D.I. Taylor quizzes her about her familial relations. At some point, she uses the word "mommy." We wish someone would start screaming.

"What's your first name, Moretty?"

"Jennifer, ma'am."

"Do people call you Jenny?"

Coming from D.I. Taylor's lips, the diminutive comes out sounding kind of gross, as though she'd asked, "Do people call you Toots?"

"No ma'am," Moretty snorts. Jenny's a girl's name.

It's kind of sad when D.I. Taylor waddles into the distance, her too-big hat perched high on her head.

Anyway, Day 18 brings another obstacle course.



And not only are they going to attack it, "we're going to destroy it!" Why? Is it really necessary to inflict violence on mud? What will be gained? And another thing we're wondering, do actual Army recruits yell "Boot camp" before doing all their little activities?

The recruits run and crawl and hop and hop and yell "Boot camp!" while the camera cuts away to Yaney testimonials. Everybody is proud of Yaney, including Yaney. He's gained "a confidence that's more than confidence. It's a desire."

"Boot camp!"

The recruits' faces are covered in mud. They hop from log to log, where, sadly, Whitlow bites it. She trips on a stump and sprains her ankle.

On "Boot Camp," recruits drop like flies. Will our reality TV jones not be sated until actual death makes a visit?

"That's the pain," Whitlow says later. "But that's why I'm here. Because I know that I can go farther. But it's not easy -- a lot of people would quit." Is the Campbell's Soup Co. listening? Somebody really wants a promotion.

Whitlow gets put on limited duty, but Coddington is back. Unbeknown to her, however, the other women have begun to resent her. It isn't just that she's the object of McSweeney's affection, it's the way she's been "chilling and relaxing" and then complaining about getting in the sand. Moretty's eyes start rolling.

"The game is getting interesting," Moretti-with-an-i, a male recruit, observes. "There's a lot more ... I call it crap, if you will. There's a lot more crap going on between people. You don't know who's telling the truth anymore."

Sure, we'll call it crap, if you will. But, more specifically, there's a good deal of deceit and manipulation taking place. Brown doesn't trust Whitlow. "She's too corporate." Yaney distrusts the cliques. Whitlow suspects Yaney. Yaney's mother advised him to "back-stab them all."

The bloodthirsty world of professional balloon sculpting was not enough for her. No wonder Yaney's a little funny.

The next day, D.I. Rosenbaum gets the group together and has them play a little game. First, they must lift up their left arms like so, then raise their right hands this way. Next, they must guess what they have in the left hand. It's "beer, sir." And in the other hand? Imaginary popcorn, which they must mime salting and eating.

"Munch it, crunch it, crunch it. You're done," Rosenbaum barks.

"Do we have any idea what our reward is going to be?"


"It's going to be movie night, you understand that?"




But then comes his "favorite part, the punishment."

"If you fail my mission, we'll make a horror movie at midnight in the pit. There's gonna be pain. There's gonna be anguish. There's gonna be blood, sweat and tears. This isn't a love story unless you love dirt. So are we gonna kick ass on my mission?"






The mission involves crossing rope obstacles without anyone touching the ground. Then they have to go to the second checkpoint and pick up three boards. Using the boards, they must cross a minefield without either the recruits or the boards touching the ground.

They have an hour to complete the mission. It's interminable not just for us, the viewers, but for the recruits, too, since the drill instructors are standing around watching them.

Jackson messes up. He figures the group doesn't need all three boards. He orders the squad to bring along only two of them. Soon, they're playing pickup sticks with boards and not getting anywhere.

The troop ends up lined up on a log, frozen in the middle of a make-believe minefield.

Jackson looks at his watch. "We're out of time."

Later, Jackson muses, "Maybe I'm a horrible leader."

Punishment is brutal, as promised. At midnight the group is roused for several hours of situps and jumping jacks. Worse, McSweeney, unleashed, trashes their dorm rooms. He throws cots around. He throws cots outside.

As Yaney struggles to rebuild his cot at 3:30 a.m., he muses, "This is a dictatorship. You either like it or don't."

Exactly what Stalin used to say.

Weird stuff happens next, as natural enemies Brown and Wolf conspire against Whitlow in a bathroom. What happened to the girl alliance, we'll never know. Whitlow doesn't have nice things to say about Wolf either. "He's extremely manipulative. I know that he hates Brown, and yet he's Brown's best friend. It's like blowing smoke up someone else's butt."

We never really understood that expression.

But who cares about Whitlow? The Richard Hatch of the day is Coddington, who, in between confabbing with the other "injured," Whitlow, guesses that Yaney's going to get the boot. She says she's heard other people talking about it.

Whitlow later agrees. "His heart isn't in it right now." We've seen no real evidence of this, and plenty that these two are not exactly popular.

The "noninjureds" rip into Whitlow and Coddington. "These people who are resting," Jackson says, "we should send them home."

Time for Dismissal Hill.

So Coddington, she of the swollen legs, gets the ax and gives the most saccharine farewell speech yet -- to all her compatriots and even the D.I.s. It is enlivened only by a parting blast at McSweeney, everyone's favorite "Boot Camp" psychopath.

"The only thing I learned from him is what it's like to be spit on by a very mean, nasty man."

Out of nowhere, she takes Yaney, the lovable, doughty balloon sculptor, down with her.

No explanation. No reactions. No Yaney farewell speech.

And with the weirdo balloon sculptor goes the last of our interest in "Boot Camp."

-- Carina Chocano

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Carina Chocano

Carina Chocano writes about TV for Salon. She is the author of "Do You Love Me or Am I Just Paranoid?" (Villard).

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