It’s finally here! The show that I have been reluctantly looking forward to since I signed up to recap it. I say reluctantly, because after reading some reviews of the show and seeing some previews on ABC, I was not so certain this was going to be what I thought it would be—i.e. a chance to rail on bad parents who nonchalantly allow their bratty, self-important kids to do whatever they want and run all over them, and to snark about how said bratty kids need to learn some manners and grow up. On the other hand, after I did see some scenes in a preview commercial, I realized this is right up my alley. I LIKE drama and emotion—if you can’t laugh and cry and love and be outraged a little every day, how can you truly know you are alive? I like seeing life changes, I like seeing people help kids to become better people as they grow into adulthood and the real world. That said, I also believe that we inherently change what we observe. Perhaps these kids aren’t as bad as the first few minutes of the show would have us believe. Perhaps they are acting up because there are cameras around. I know that if I were a teen, and I had a camera in my face, I wouldn’t be saying anything about getting drunk, or doing drugs, or beating someone up, or telling my parents off. Then again, I am a pretty boring subject on film.
Brat Camp is actually a wilderness camp for troubled teens called Sagewalk in the central Oregon desert. Desperate parents send their teens that are too hot to handle to this therapeutic camp for at least 40 days, sometimes a lot more. The exceptionally trained counselors/guides, the harsh conditions, and the strict rules and discipline will hopefully turn these teen terrors into young adult angels.
There are nine supposedly spoiled, totally troubled kids arriving at Sagewalk today. Some of them are fooled into coming on the trip, thinking they are going on vacation, others are told where they are going, but believe it is only for a week. Let’s meet the kids, their parents, and hear about their situations, shall we?
Shawn is 17 years old, and his show appointed moniker is “Steals from Mom.” He is adopted, and it seems from the home footage that his family is pretty well-to-do. Shawn actually seems like a normal teen, rebelling against his parents and whatever he can think of to rebel against. His parents do seem pretty concerned about him, and it does feel like they probably stay interested in their son. Although they think the only drug he has ever done is pot, Shawn has actually tried many other drugs, including cocaine and mushrooms. Shawn’s parents think the fact that he is adopted is making him extra angry.
Lexie is also 17, and her nickname is “hostile outcast”, which leads me to instantly think she might have been able to be on Survivor: Pearl Islands if she wasn’t so young. I get a weird vibe from her parents, although I can tell they are truly concerned and frightened for their daughter. Lexie used to be a bright girl according to her mom, but lately she has been getting D’s and hanging with a tougher, nastier crowd. She often runs away from home, and you can actually see her formulating a plan to run away from Sagewalk. The reason ABC put “hostile” as part of her label is quite apparent when she starts yelling and demanding an explanation as to the legality of all of this.
Derek is 14 and is clearly hyperactive. He was also diagnosed with ADHD when he was in kindergarten. Apparently, Mike Judge used this kid as the model for Beavis on a triple espresso because believe me…spitting image! Derek’s parents look to be about 65, and I’m not sure if that’s because raising Derek has taken that much of a toll on them, or if they just had him later in their lives. They cannot control this kid…he has more energy than a nuclear reactor, and he is all of 98 lbs soaking wet. Derek decided to stop taking his meds so he can grow some more(do these drugs stunt growth?!? How can we just give this stuff to kids?), and since his parents let him run all over them, there’s nothing they can or will do. His father is often on the road, his mom is sick of trying to discipline him all by herself, and Derek is happy being the brat that he is.
Heather is a 16 year old habitual runaway. When she arrives at Sagewalk, she is actually HUNG OVER and has hickeys on her neck from the night before. It’s not a good feeling, is it Heather? Heather is also adopted(2 for 4 so far), and her parents started to really notice her misbehaviors when she just didn’t come home one weekend. Heather tells us what happened, saying she stayed over at a friends house getting high and drunk. I’m wondering why her friends aren’t with her at camp? She doesn’t think her friends are dangerous, even though they carry knives and brass knuckles around with them. Eh, doesn’t everyone? Heather’s adoptive mom is actually her aunt. Her birth mom was a drug addict, and died from an overdose when Heather was very young. Her parents seem very determined that she not go down the same path as her mother.
Oh boy, it’s Frank. Frank is 16 and has a violent temper. I can see it in his eyes as he gets out of the car. He really seems like the type who talks with his fists, and is just angry at everything. His single mom admits that she hasn’t been the best parent for him and it’s kind of nice to see her confess to that. She seems like a gentle lady, and that she genuinely wants the best for her son. Frank started taking drugs and drinking at age 12, shortly followed by an increase in violence and fighting. He thinks of himself as a badass, and has even threatened to pummel his mother. When he arrives, you can clearly feel the tension in the room rise, as Frank let’s the greeters know he is going to need his bag for a few things—like scissors!?!?
Nick is another tough guy. He is 14, and tried to stab his twin brother!! Nick has dyslexia, and it upsets him that he is not as good as his brother in school. His mom appears to be a very warm and loving mother, while his dad doesn’t say a word the entire time and actually kinda looks like Barney Fife without the badge. Nick is also totally disrespectful to his parents and family, and seemingly everything. He pushes his mom away as she tries to say goodbye.
Lauren is self-destructive drug user. She is 17, and actually Lauren of all of the campers so far seems to have a grasp of her life. She knows her friends are lowlifes. She is honest about her drug use and destructive habits. Hey, I’m not saying it’s good, I’m just saying I’m glad she knows the score. She has been arrested for drunk driving, she has been arrested for shoplifting, and she drinks and smokes pot right in front of the cameras. Her father died unexpectedly when she was 11, and Lauren’s mom (now remarried) points out that Lauren really seemed to go downhill from there. Lauren has been hospitalized by her mother before, after mom found a website she had been visiting that listed good ways to commit suicide. Lauren is such a tough girl, she tries to sneak some pot past the counselors, but they find it, and take her out by the porta potty to destroy it.
Isaiah, who, right off the bat forces the old man in me to say “damn punk”, is 17 years old. He is the Angry Punk of the group. His looks scream goth, but his attitude is all anger. He drinks to the point of barfing, and likes to burn things! A great combo. He blames his mom for his parents’ divorce.
Finally we meet Jada. She is 15 years old, and is listed as a compulsive liar. She seems more like a drama queen to me, but what do I know? Her parent’s feel like the typical suburban, wealthy, hardly know what’s going on in our daughter’s life kinda folk. The dad doesn’t even know that his daughter hardly comes home sometimes! Jada admits to lying to get what she wants. And if it works once, why not do it again! Get the picture, parents?? She is openly sexually active(5 partners already?!?), and likes to drink and do drugs. She is obviously thinking she is going on some great vacation, but her parents tricked her, and she’s in for 40 days of hell.
Now let’s meet the counselors at Sage Walk:
Glacier Mountain Wolf
Yeah, sorry about that everyone, it’s not my fault. All of the counselors decided to forgo their given names, and use their “Earth name”, a name they earned as a special title after gaining experience with other campers. I’m thinking that if I were a camper, I would never be able to take that name seriously. But serious he is. GMW is our guide and narrator throughout each episode. He is also the operations manager for Sagewalk.
SG is the camp camping expert, and a head field instructor. He is a bigger, more burly guy, and he initially deals with Frank, because, you know, he could crush him like a fly.
Little Big Bear
Also a head field instructor, LBB is the camp greeter and guide. A real granola-y kind of guy.
MW is another field instructor. She is a very slow speaking, yet very caring woman with 4 years under her belt. Actually, every one of the counselors speaks slowly, clearly, and in a very non-threatening way. I have to believe that’s part of the program.
All of the campers have every single piece of their personal property stripped away from them—clothes, shoes, toothbrush, personal affects, jewelry—EVERYTHING! They are instructed on the rules for the camp, and loaded into vans for the trip to the backcountry. Next, they are blindfolded for the trip into the field—which I can understand as a form of disorientation against running away, but I know I would have been thinking this was the final leg of a huge, Punk’d style surprise on my gullible ass.
Welcome to Freak Out
The campers are all gathering around the fire outside the camp teepee, as several more counselors greet them. They are welcomed, and LBB tells them the idea behind Sagewalk; strip the campers of all of the stress and stimuli of typical urban life—cars, phones, tvs, radios, school, and take them out into the desert to learn discipline, structure, and most importantly, who they are. Jada, the one who I expected to handle all of this pretty well, starts bawling like a 5 year old. But who can tell if she’s just putting on an act or not? She is a compulsive liar. She tells everyone that she’s scared that her hair is going to fall out. Yeah, fresh air and little pollution will do that to you. The counselors are able to calm her down enough to get her back with the group.
Early to Bed, Early to Rise
Suddenly, it’s time for everyone to go bed! The kids can’t believe it since it’s early compared to their typical party habits. But this ain’t no party!! They are made to remove their boots as they get into the teepee, so they won’t be tempted to run away overnight.
The next morning, the real fun begins. They will have the strictest of morning routines to teach them discipline and respect. The routine consists of doing all of their teepee and equipment cleanup, getting their clothes on, their boots on, rolling up their “burrito”(not their breakfast—it’s a tarp laid out with all of their gear inside it, and then rolled up like said Taco Bell dish), and sitting by the fire with their water bottles. Oh yeah, they have to get it all done in less than 5 minutes, or do it all over again. I couldn’t even wake up and be ready in 5 minutes if I only had to put on my underwear and a smile(is that too much info??). Yeah, the campers don’t make time, and they have to do it all over again—in perpetuity until they finally get it under the time limit.
Breakfast Fit for a Quaker
After their hygiene routine, the campers are treated to a breakfast they have probably never had before—simple, unsweetened, oatmeal. They are required by law to eat a minimum of calories everyday, so they must eat what they are given. Since most of these kids eat tons of sugar everyday(I love the stuff!), this bland diet will clean out their systems. Nick can’t handle the texture of the oatmeal, and boots behind a bush. He must now dig a hole to get rid of his barf as part of the “actions create consequences” teachings. A little bit after breakfast, Frank is busted for leaving the circle without permission. He is clearly an aggressive camper, and is going to have many problems controlling his anger given the situation. The counselors are very quick to separate Frank from the group and let him talk, yet you know he’s going to be volatile in the future when he says “I’m not knocking anyone out…yet.”
Gathered around the fire again, the camper’s are being engaged in one of the most important and ongoing activities in the camp—talking. The counselors are always guiding the kids through discussions about past behavior etc. Before now, the counselors have no idea why the kids’ parents sent them to Sagewalk. But now the counselors are going to deliver their “Impact Letters”. Basically, it is a letter from each teen’s parents where mom and/or dad get to be brutally honest with their kids, which for many is a first. Not only do the parent’s explain which behaviors led to their camp enrollment, but they also share their feelings of love and encouragement.
Most of the kids—especially the girls—get highly emotional reading their letters. Come to mention it, so did I. I flashed back to the time I got a similar letter from my mom. It didn’t include any words of anger, but it was the first time I truly understood how my mom and my dad—how any mom and dad—feel about their children—unconditional love.
Frank is the focus of the counselors’ concern. His anger and his past actions dictate that he could snap at any time. Frank is by far the most defiant and aggressive around camp. He violates the rules constantly by swearing, or leaving the group without permission. He even gets into heated exchanges with some of the other campers. MW points out that already there have been 10 incidents this morning where Frank was being rude. Frank’s rally cry of “Whatever!” goes off as he informs us that he doesn’t care about any of these people, and he especially hates the counselors. He really reminds me of someone, but darn it if I can figure it out.
40 Days and 40 Nights
Several more people are arriving at camp, and the kids are told that their therapists have arrived to camp. Mother Raven, Fire Bear, and Flying Eagle are all trained psychologists that will conduct one on one therapy with each of the kids, and will ultimately be the ones who decide when each teen will go home. Each child has personal goals that they need to achieve, and the sooner they get there, the sooner they go home. They are all shocked to learn that this is typically a 60 day program. Whoa! That gets me too. I can’t imagine 60 days out in the wintry desert. But most of their parents tricked them into coming to Sagewalk by telling them they’d only be gone for a week. And now it is hitting them all that they will be spending Thanksgiving and possibly Christmas away from home.
The next day is here, and the kids have no idea what’s in store. Instructed to pack all their gear in their backpacks and prepare for a hike to another camp, many start to grumble about the thought of hiking. Over the course their time at Sagewalk the campers will hike over 100 miles. The idea is that physical exertion brings out deep down emotions. Everyone dons their backpack and the group gets on its way. This first hike is one of the more difficult ones, and it really does take its toll. Derek is physically breaking down, which is a total contrast to his usual high energy self. At times he can barely breathe. But he works through it. Lexi is also having some problems breathing. She is emotionally beaten, and the group has to stop to wait for her. Finally she is assured that she can make it over the next hill, and it will be all downhill from there. She musters the strength to carry on.
Camping By Committee
After arriving at camp to the relief of all the campers, they have to set up their new home. Lauren tries to organize the group to more efficiently get the required tasks set up, but meets with some resistance from Frank. Oooh, you’re a tough guy Frank…you can bully a girl! But Lauren doesn’t back down. I like Lauren. She is the strongest of the girls out there, and in my opinion has the most potential in the group. As Frank and Lauren bicker, the counselors again step in to teach Frank a lesson in socializing. Frank needs to stop pushing issues under the rug and running away emotionally from people. “Whatever.”
Around the campfire that evening, Frank shares his impact letter with the group. His mom wants him to realize that fighting never solves anything. Frank admits that he has a problem with fighting and anger.
Next, Jada is sharing her letter with everyone. Her dad is upset that Jada begs for money from her parents and then spends it on drugs and alcohol. Hey Dad, howsabout you just stop giving your drug buying daughter cash? Ever consider that? Jada denies that she even drinks or uses drugs, but some of the other members in the group are world class liars too, and they can recognize their brethren a mile away. After she is asked about her cocaine use, she denies ever even using coke…oh wait, she tried it once. She is easily called out by the counselors who have her tox screen from just several days ago, which indicates very recent cocaine use. The other campers try to help Jada out by convincing her that she should stop with the lies and just be herself—the truth will set you free.
The Phantom Dooker
The next morning, one of the counselors discovers that someone has pooped outside, away from the latrine. I don’t understand why anyone would do that when you already have a latrine. Anything is better than going #2 without some sort of support. Anyway, this is a clear violation of Sagewalk rules, and really, it’s violation of natural law. So they gather the group around the pile, and try to get someone to fess up and be honest. At this point, I would be denying it to my grave. No one admits it, and finally the counselor has everyone put their head down with closed eyes, raise their hands, and asks whoever did it to just raise 1 finger. Not surprisingly, the culprit was Jada, and now she has to dig a hole and get rid of her mess. It’s her doody.
It is Thanksgiving, and everyone is still in the backcountry. After morning routines, the group gathers for one last impact letter reading before heading out. Lexi is going to read her letter for the group, and the letter reveals that she had a very traumatic experience in the past. She was really into horses when she was younger, and she would go over to a family friend’s house almost every day to ride and take lessons. The “friend” ended up using his good standing to molest this poor girl. The lowest of low, this guy took advantage of a young girl who probably had no idea what was going on, she just loved being around horses. I don’t know what her dad did when he found out about this, but I can think of 10 different things I would have done to the guy had it been my daughter. I’d get Medieval on his ass.
After an emotional impact letter session, it is time for the kids to pack up the camp and head back to base camp. Everyone is depressed about not getting to spend Thanksgiving with their families, and the thought of another dinner of rice and lentils really has them down. They all realize how far from home they actually are. But what is that smell? We’re getting closer to base camp, and something smells better than they remember. They come into camp to a foil wrapped feast of turkey, potatoes, stuffing and gravy!! Everyone is truly thankful for the meal, but still subdued about the fact that they aren’t with their families. As the emotional music crescendos, various parents share their feelings and hopes for their children. The group is starting to change already, and it is all for the better
Well, I for one really enjoyed watching Brat Camp. The name is a misnomer in my opinion, as there are very few actual “brats” in the group. When I think of a brat, I think of Paris Hilton or my next door neighbor growing up. Now he was a brat! I think this show is going to be an emotional roller coaster ride not only for the kids, but for us viewers as well.
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