It all comes down to gerbils

Episode 7: Recruits Whitlow and Wolf endure a sleepless, never-ending gauntlet. So do we.

Published May 17, 2001 2:28PM (EDT)

It's the second-to-last night of "Boot Camp," and we have nobody left to root for. All that sweat, blood and flying spit -- wasted! We knew it was too much to ask for the balloon sculptor to win. But we would have settled for Moretty-with-a-y. Now that she's gone (you never think you'll miss them 'til they're gone), "Boot Camp" has fizzled down to a contest between suburban evil and corporate evil -- just our favorite kinds.

Tonight begins "the gauntlet," a 48-hour endurance test in which recruits Wolf and Whitlow will be subjected to "a mental and physical marathon." It takes us a while to realize it, but we soon figure out that the gauntlet begins immediately after last week's Dismissal Hill, the one in which everyone named Moretty-with-a-y or Moretti-with-an-i got booted off the show.

In other words, it's late in the evening, the temperature is dropping and no one's going to be getting any sleep.

Are they up to it? "SIR, YES --." Please shut up.

The first test is called "Lauder's Last Stand." As we will soon learn, each of the events is named after a hapless bygone recruit and the winner of each event will win its namesake's dog tag. The first to rack up seven tags wins the gauntlet. (Winning the actual game show -- this is a game show, remember -- involves more complications and yet more former recruits. We thought recruit Pupo had forever departed from the American popular culture landscape, but no.)

"Lauder's Last Stand" is named in honor of the time -- who could forget it? -- that Lauder had a hard time standing up after doing some crunches.

So here goes. Wolf and Whitlow each strap on a 30-pound knapsack, mount a pair of white platform disco soles and stare at each other -- write Amnesty International now and receive a set of personalized address labels -- at attention, until one of the two falls off. Ready?

They stand. They stare. They stand. They stare.

Two hours later. It's the middle of the night. Wolf's eyes are rolling unattractively into the back of his head and Whitlow is experimenting with mind control.

"Get yourself a warm glass of milk," she tells Wolf telepathically. "Think about crawling into bed ... and drop." Her porcine lips spread into a greasy smile.

Two-and-a-half hours later, when it's 35 degrees outside, Whitlow is still smiling. Her direct supervisors must be proud.

Five hours and 40 minutes into "Lauder's Last Stand," Whitlow quietly concedes. Wolf, meanwhile, is locked into position. When he tries to get off the platforms, he nose-dives into the sand.

"My toes are frostbitten; I can't feel them!"

We want to feel something, but the feelings don't come.

Later, Whitlow cries. It was the damn knapsack that done her in.

Come to think of it, there is something to watching these two suffer. What would be really great is if they fell in love, split the prize money and decided to "pursue a relationship with each other" on UPN. They could call it "Boots of Love."

But we digress. Whitlow is devastated, so Rosenbaum tries his drill instructor best to cheer her up.

"Just because you jumped down first doesn't mean you're less of a recruit," he tells her.

Aw, Sarge.

But there's no sleep for the wicked.

The next event is called "Coddington's Course," in honor of recruit Coddington, whom we're afraid we have only dim memories of. It's a two-mile obstacle course -- on sand, of course -- followed by a kayak race. The race seems unfair to Whitlow, but whatever. Cue the action music! Wolf takes the obstacles easily, but Whitlow has a tougher time. (Cue the mood music.) Wolf beats Whitlow by a country mile.

McSweeney then informs the exhausted pair that the reality TV gods have merely allowed the two to set their own times! Tomorrow, they will run "Coddington's Course" again, and whoever beats his or her own record by the most amount of time takes Coddington's tags.

"I feel robbed," snaps Wolf in his machine gun lilt. "I mean, I'm a little dis-kay-raged."

Wolf doesn't think he can go much faster than he did today. "I mean, I peaked it out. Did you? Did you peak it out?"

Whitlow replies affirmatively to whatever he just asked. She whinnies like a mare and rolls her eyes.

"Uh, ma God. Uh, yeah."

The next event is "Haar's Heartbreak." The good news is we get to see that clip of Haar sprinting those last 3 feet to the finish line after that time she jogged for a mile and a half. Hello, mucus cam! The bad news is it's more running. This time, Wolf and Whitlow must beat the times they set in their initial strength test, all those action-packed episodes ago.

(Could someone be testing the waters for a 24-hour jogging channel?)

So there's running and musing in voice-over. Wolf beats his own time by two minutes, but, more impressively, does the mathematically impossible by giving "110 percent."

Whitlow -- who is playing, remember, "from the heart" -- beats her own time by several seconds more. In drill instructor Taylor's opinion, Whitlow accomplished this by "putting a little bit of Haar's soul into herself." This, also, is very impressive.

Now that Wolf and Whitlow are tied 1-to-1, Fox's voice-over man reminds us that they cannot win the game without the votes of the discharged recruits.

One by one, their former game-mates reveal that A) they knew Wolf and Whitlow had a pact, and B) they hate both of them.

"I don't know what's worse," Moretty says, "being the ringleader -- like Wolf -- of the whole thing, or being his lame assistant."

Everyone else's sentiments exactly. Ours, too.

The third challenge, "Park's Peak," requires climbing up a tower, rappelling halfway down it, memorizing a quote written on a sign halfway down the tower, then rappelling to the bottom and writing down the quote verbatim.

The quotes are by Gen. George Patton, President John F. Kennedy and recruit Shawn Yaney.

The first quote, a sentence or two from Patton, takes Whitlow eight rappels; Wolf does it in three through the miracle of acronyms. The second quote takes Wolf one rappel; it takes Whitlow five!

We blush to say that the quote is: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

But, in fairness to Whitlow, she's operating on her second day without sleep.

The Yaney quote -- as enigmatic as the man-child himself -- proves the biggest challenge for Whitlow. By now, she is bashing her head against the tower as she rappels down.

"You're not bleeding or anything are you?" a D.I. asks.

"NO, SIR!"

"Too bad."


(But kissing the ass of authority is forever!)

As could have been predicted, Wolf takes home the gold. Then the two are driven back to the eerie disco room where Yaney once danced with balloon animals. Their brief moment of rest is interrupted by screaming drill instructors only moments later -- there's no time for us to get a nap in.

Luckily, the next event involves sitting. The challenge is called "Moretti's Memory." Wolf and Whitlow will be shown a series of slides for 15 seconds, and then will be asked questions about what they contained.

It's all making us feel like we haven't slept in 48 hours.

We won't spend much time describing it, because let's face it, we can't remember a damn thing. Neither can Wolf and Whitlow.

"At this point in the gauntlet," D.I. Rosenbaum explains, "the recruits are literally smoked." And here we swore they were Honey-Baked.

Either way, Wolf is beating Whitlow 3-to-1.

It's Hour 29 of the gauntlet (which began, remember, late at night in the first place) and the W's are performing their "morning tasks," which involve listlessly dragging rakes behind them in the sand. One of the drill instructors is there, his dark silhouette stark against a Quonset hut.

"The gauntlet is the best thing we've ever done, right?"

Whitlow: "Yes, SIR!"

"Better than lying on the beach?"

Whitlow: "Yes, SIR!"

"Better than protein shakes?

Wolf: "Yes, SIR!"

"Better than selling soup?"

Whitlow: "YES, SIR!"

This strikes Whitlow as very amusing. She starts to giggle.

"Whitlow. Is your mind gone?"

"Recruit Whitlow has lost her mind, sir."

Here's where we admit we have no idea which drill instructor this is. The three men have blended together in our minds into a single entity. Whoever he is, he starts talking about gerbils.

"I always considered their brains were running on a gerbil on a wheel inside their brain. And you can see the gerbil wasn't on the wheel no more."

At this point, we fear our gerbil may have departed as well. He's hit the road with a little bundle tied to the end of a stick.

"Where's the gerbil at right now, Whitlow?"

Whitlow is giggling uncontrollably. Her gerbil is cooked.

On Day 30, 6 a.m., Wolf and Whitlow have been competing for 30 hours. It has been 47 hours since they last slept. Whitlow is still laughing.

"I'm not myself," she says. "I'm ... giddish."

Ultimately, however, it doesn't matter who wins the most dog tags. Victory will be determined by the votes of the discharged recruits. Seen from this angle, Wolf and Whitlow are in a dead heat for least popular "Boot Camp" recruit.

As they speculate about who will support them in the final moment, the discharged recruits bite back.

Whitlow thinks Hutak will vote for her, for example, but Hutak's feelings are lukewarm at best.

Wolf hopes that Pupo ("Poo-pow") will vote for him by virtue of being a fellow Philadelphian. Pupo doesn't care who wins.

All in all, though, Whitlow scores the least popularity points with the booted recruits.

Moretty-with-a-y sums up their feelings best: "He was openly a weasel, but she was like a weasel in disguise."

(No word yet from her gerbil.)

To be continued ...

-- Carina Chocano

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By 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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