We'd grown accustomed to his braces.
Doughty recruit Yaney, the goofy balloon sculptor who had a mouth full of stainless steel and a heart full of tapioca pudding, is gone, snared in a sudden conflagration at the end of last week's "Boot Camp" episode.
Recruit Coddington was summarily ousted by the other seven recruits remaining. It is one of "Boot Camp's" delectable twists that the ousted recruit each week is allowed, willy-nilly, to drag another recruit off the show with him or her.
And last week, unexpectedly, instead of taking down with her one of the bickering alpha males left -- recruits Wolf, Moretti-with-an-i or Jackson -- Coddington picked on the melancholy Yaney, before he even had a chance to sculpt a big farewell puppy balloon with a tear coming out of one eye.
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"Boot Camp" is by far the most physically exhausting and mentally knotty TV show we've ever watched. We suppose that's the point; it's just like real boot camp. But we don't want to actually be there.
We're in it for the vicarious pleasure of seeing people be abused by the show's bristling phalanx of psycho drill instructors, fervently praying all the while that MM McSweeney, Rosenbaum and Francisco will be part of the mix in "Big Brother II," should that demonic plan come to fruition.
Still, when we watch people doing too many push-ups, we get tired. Watching the show, we feel our biceps throbbing; our abs are cramped with the thought of having to do more sit-ups, even though we haven't done one in, uh, a while.
And then to make things worse, there's the setup of the show. Allowing each bootee to make a "mercy kill," as one of the D.I.s termed it, makes handicapping the game very difficult, if not impossible.
And things aren't going to get clearer. The announcer at the start of tonight's episode, the series' sixth, describes what the final show, two weeks hence, will consist of: a complicated slate of physical challenges and a voting process reminiscent of the Rube Goldberg contraptions that caused so much trouble in Florida last November.
It takes a while but we finally discern how the endgame on "Boot Camp" is going to play out. The last two players are going to have to go through a series of tough physical contests, with the discharged recruits (as opposed to the mercy kills and those medically discharged) coming back to vote to whom to award the $500,000 "Boot Camp" grand prize, "Survivor"-style.
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Tonight is another study in how women handle the "Boot Camp" process differently from the men. The first order of business is deciding who this week's squad leader is going to be.
The squad leader, you will recall, leads the group on the weekly faux-commando mission. If the squad completes the chore in the requisite amount of time, the squad as a whole gets some little reward, generally involving food or fun, and the squad leader that week gets immunity from booting.
This week, getting immunity automatically gets you into the final four, so it's a big deal. It seems to come down to two of the women, Brown and Moretty-with-a-y.
"Let's flip a coin," Moretty finally suggests
"No, you can do it," says Brown, so conflict-averse that even a straight 50-50 shot seems to her emotionally perilous.
Meanwhile, over in the boy barracks, Jackson doesn't like how the D.I.s, or at least the three male D.I.s, are making goo-goo eyes at the women.
Jackson thinks that the girls are getting away with murder and that the D.I.s aren't riding them as hard as they do the men. He says that when the women laugh in formation, or look the D.I.s in the eye, which the recruits apparently aren't supposed to do, the women don't end up doing pushups, the way the men do.
"Moretty's not a leader," Jackson says. "She smiles and looks the drill instructors in the eye and they never call her for eyeballing them and they never tell her to lock her body -- all the stuff they tell us on a daily basis!
"She looks at Francisco and the two of them smile and joke together! Hey, that's fine and that's the real world, but there are people who get by because they're cute."
He could have a point: Last week, Moretty-with-a-y ended up in a shouting match with the feral McSweeney; if she paid a price for it besides enduring McSweeney and Francisco spewing spittle into her face for a few minutes, the show didn't vouchsafe the information to viewers.
Did Brown make a mistake by ceding to Moretty? She puts the best face on it: "Things could go wrong. People who have been bossy have not made it very far here."
Yeah, but being a complete nut, like Yaney, doesn't do you much good either.
Moretty-with-a-y starts telling the squad what to do. We see the attenuated group, now numbering just six, waddling through some morning drills, looking more than a little as if they hadn't gotten their 45 seconds in the head that morning.
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Next, time for a little "Boot Camp" water sports! D.I. McSweeney, who combines the physical constitution and agreeable personality of a medium-sized rhinoceros, runs the squad out into the lake the camp sits next to -- in what the show tells us is 43-degree weather.
The recruits stand waist-deep in the water in a state of shock.
The implacable McSweeney shows them how to inflate their pants (!) and tie the legs around their necks. The result is no fashion statement, but it does function as a passable flotation device.
McSweeney takes the group out of the frigid water to stand and shiver on shore. They look, each one, as if they'd been hit with a two-by-four.
"I know we're hitting the water with great intensity," he says in his peculiar voice, which is a rough cross of Harvey Fierstein and Chewbacca.
He amusedly orders the squad back into the water.
Jackson's having none of it.
"You can't gut it up? You're telling me you can't gut it up?" shouts McSweeney.
Jackson is told to go shiver on the beach. The others grouse about how Jackson, suddenly, is the one getting no punishment.
But later McSweeney tells the camera that he knew that the squad would take its revenge for his wimpiness.
"I didn't have to go ballistic on him," he says. "That was worse for him than anything I could ever do."
Jackson doesn't care: "It's not worth it to me to die of hypothermia."
Next we see the group marching and singing "cadences," which is the "Boot Camp" name for cute little military marching songs.
"Cadences are a terrific way to march," D.I. Rosenbaum explains. "It keeps everyone in step, it looks good and it sounds good and it promotes enthusiasm."
We agree with him totally, except for the part of it looking and sounding good.
One goes like this:
It's my hey hey hey
Woo woo woo woo
The second half of the show is devoted to the challenge and ouster maneuvering that starts out with "I, Claudius"-style bloodlust but keeps getting leavened with girl-power hugging, tears and apologies.
It's far too complicated to detail here, but basically Moretty-with-a-y and tow-headed Whitlow decide to gang up on Brown, who (like awkward Coddington) has always rubbed the other girls, and some of the boys, the wrong way.
But then Whitlow overshares with Wolf about the plan, and news of it quickly comes back to Brown. As the three women fill sandbags, she confronts them.
This prompts several rounds of recrimination, guilt, hugs, tears, resentment, apologies and, finally, smiles, as the three women ultimately vow: "Friends 4ever!"
The problem all the recruits have is the wild-card oustings. The varying personal chemistries and the gender lines on the show make alliances difficult. Uniformly, booted men have taken women with them, and vice versa. It's hard for the three women to agree on a guy to vote for, since it's inevitable that if they're successful he'll take one of them with him.
Brown, for example, says she likes Jackson best; at the same time, though, he's a prime candidate for booting because "right now he's the only guy left who wouldn't take me with him."
And Jackson wants Whitlow out the most. But: "She's risky," he notes. He's pretty sure she'll take him with him.
Jackson, however, is not making any friends this episode. Over dinner that night, he tells the women, "Do you know how annoying it is to have Francisco flirt with you guys?"
The women howl in protest, but Jackson rants on.
That puts a big damper on the conversation for the rest of the dinner.
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Time for the challenge. The reward, Francisco tells them, is an hour in a hot tub -- in which "the nasty little recruits can put their nasty little bodies."
For this week's squad challenge, we think it would have been a knee-slapper if "Boot Camp" had fashioned a raid on a Vietnamese hamlet in which the group had to neutralize the area without actually resorting to massacring a group of unarmed women and children.
Instead, the squad, with Moretty-with-a-y in charge, is to assault a small compound with a mannequin hostage inside. They need to get through a cool "laser labyrinth" of alarmed light sensors, free the mannequin (which weighs as much as a human), and then send it across a high-wire line to safety. They have 90 minutes to do it.
Moretty-with-a-y seems to be squad leader only nominally. Everyone basically tells her what to do, and she acquiesces. Jackson hotdogs it into the laser labyrinth, raising a few eyebrows, but gets through eventually, as do the other recruits.
The resulting sequence is somewhat less sexy than the one Catherine Zeta-Jones does in "Entrapment."
This was the best mission yet. They group makes it with a minute and half to spare.
Moretty-with-a-y gets immunity. "It's a great position to be in for not having actually done that much work," Jackson snipes.
Time for the hot tub!
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It's haircut day and we get a tone poem of a film collage of D.I. Rosenbaum shearing the heads of Wolf, Jackson and Moretti-with-an-i.
Notwithstanding this important bonding ritual, there's intrigue on the boys' side as well. They're preparing to gang up on Whitlow.
Wolf has a studied contempt for Moretti-with-an-i: "Whatever Jackson and I tell him he'll do."
Time for chores!
Whitlow and Brown are on something called "submarine watch," which is apparently not a joke.
Wolf and Jackson clean the latrines.
Moretty-with-a-y and Moretti-with-an-i are given the somewhat Zen-like chore of raking sand. It would be positively Beckettian of the show to have the two spend the time discussing the similarity of their names. Instead, we notice that even Moretti-with-an-i calls Moretty-with-a-y "Moretty-with-a-y," when you'd think he'd be the one person in boot camp (besides Moretty-with-a-y, of course) who wouldn't have to.
Moretti-with-an-i isn't the sheep Wolf thinks he is, it turns out!
He tells Moretty-with-a-y that he doesn't want to vote for Whitlow. He seems to be agreeing to target grumpy Jackson.
Then Moretti goes to Jackson and tells him that the girls are going after Wolf and pledges his troth to Jackson.
"I promise both of you," Moretti says with finality. "I'll never do that."
Treachery, thy name is Moretti-with-an-i!
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It's time for Dismissal Hill.
Francisco walks among the remaining recruits with that peculiar rolling walk of his.
He toys with Brown, then Wolf, then Moretti. But in the end, Jackson's impolitic gender-bashing at dinner -- and his water-wussiness -- does him in.
He gets four votes. Jackson himself voted for Whitlow. Surprisingly, we note, Wolf voted for Moretti-with-an-i. That's going to make for some interesting discussions in the now two-man male barracks next week.
Jackson gets to talk to the squad. He tell them there's no hard feeling and practically gets choked up saying goodbye to the commandants -- er, D.I.s.
Who's he going to drag off the plank with him?
It turns out you can't rust anyone in boot camp! He picks Brown. Everyone else looks relieved. She looks stunned.
We can see her mind working: If she'd only taken Moretty-with-a-y up on her offer of the coin flip, she might have won, could have led the squad to completion of its mission and gained immunity for herself!
Reality TV is hell.