Boot Camp was an American reality television series that premiered weekly on the Fox television network. Scott Messick and Chris Penchin directed the show in the style of other reality and game show television series. The first and only season of the series aired in March of 2001, and was cancelled due to similarities to another reality television show, Survivor, produced by Mark Burnett who initially sued the series. The series aired for a total of nine one-hour long episodes, with the season finale being a two-part episode that aired on May 23, 2001. You can watch it online when you sign up for Time Warner Cable Internet Service.
Like most reality television series, Boot Camp challenged a small group of people to work with one another in order to win a grand prize at the completion of the series. In this case, there was a first-place winner, who would be awarded $500,000 and a second-place runner up who would be awarded $100,000.
The beginning of the series features a group of 16 civilian contestants who would each be participating in a real-life military boot camp for the entire duration of the show. This differs from other reality television series, in that the cameras are constantly filming every aspect of the contestants’ lives with 4 hard-ass drill instructors who cared very little if the cameras were rolling or not. The four drill instructors were responsible for putting each of the contestants through a series of physically and mentally demanding obstacles and activities that challenged them on both an individual and group level in order to prepare them for their upcoming “missions”, which is where the real fun of the game lies.
At the beginning of each week, the squad would elect a “Squad Leader” who was responsible for leading the team to victory over whatever challenge they were meant to face. Being the leader came with some very enticing rewards, such as being immune from elimination and being rewarded additional prizes upon successfully completing a mission. On the other hand, losing a mission or failing to complete a mission successfully meant being on the chopping block for dismissal, while simultaneously earning the whole of the team a punishment, as well.
Again, following in the footsteps of other game and reality television series, at the end of each episode there would be an elimination round, during which each squad member could vote for a recruit to be dismissed. The squad members would gather on Dismissal Hill and cast their votes. The formula was enough: The contestant with the most votes was dismissed.
To make the elimination round more interesting, however, the producers thought it would be interesting to give the dismissed recruit the ability to dismiss another of the other eligible recruits as a final blow to the squad’s overall effectiveness. To account for this, squad members would regularly adjust their voting strategies to avoid being eliminated by the recruit they dismissed.
After only two of the contestants remained, the series changed its episode format in order to truly challenge the last remaining contestants. In a two-part finale, the contestants Whitlow and Wolf engaged in seven physical and mental challenges (named in honor of the recruits previously dismissed) in what was known as The Gauntlet. As the name suggests, these challenges were grueling and pushed each contestant to their physical and mental limits. All of their training had been for this moment, however, and with so hefty a prize on the line, neither contestant would yield. At the end of the contest, Whitlow and Wolf returned to Dismissal Hill, where their former allies would cast their votes to determine who would win the grand prize.
Boot Camp offers audience members a deeper look into the necessary requirements for boot camp, while simultaneously demonstrating the cohesiveness of a team bred under the same conditions. Although the beginning contestants were civilians, each stemming from various backgrounds and shades of life, the boot camp instructors treated none of them any better or worse than their teammates. Stripped away of their individuality and the very aspects that made each of them unique, the contestants had no choice but to set aside their differences, put their faiths in one another and move forward towards the end goal, or be left behind and dismissed for failing to pull their weight. This rugged, unforgiving system created a close bond between all of the contestants that served to keep them together during the toughest, most grueling challenges. For those who failed to forge such bonds, the outcome was fairly straightforward: They were eliminated.
Although much of the struggle for the game may seem to be the physical challenges given to the squad members by the drill instructors, Boot Camp’s primary focus remains the individual contestants. A game show at its core most certainly, the show also offers a deeper look into the struggles and hardships people face while learning to overcome their own fears and shortcomings, while growing on an individual level alongside others who share in those fears and shortcomings. For some, it was a chance to grow and learn, while others merely saw it as a means to a very rich end. These varying mindsets pitted some of the contestants against one another very early on, and created rifts within the overall effectiveness of the team. Because the strength in the squad comes from the internal workings of the team as a whole, and how well they manage to get along, it became painfully obvious that in order to survive, certain members needed to be eliminated immediately.
For its single season, Boot Camp received generally mixed but positive reviews from critics, while audience members seemed more upset with the series short-lived run. IMDb rated the show a 6.4/10, while TV.com similarly rated the show a 6.8/10, each indicating mixed reviews. Audience members typically praised the show for its honest look at the necessary requirements for military training, especially seen as many of the contestants flailed under the demanding requirements of the weekly challenges and missions. Additionally, audience members and critics alike commented positively on the show’s demonstration of what men and women in the service are required to accomplish before even entering into the service.