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Brats on the Loose

After returning from vacation, I held my own TiVo marathon to catch up with ABC’s hit summer reality show, Brat Camp, and am suitably hooked. It throws nine disturbed, hostile or otherwise problem-causing teens into a harsh wilderness therapy program — the Oregon-based SageWalk — where the rigors of outdoor subsistence get them to face their issues. The show feels honest and is unexpectedly moving — the pain these kids are in is heartbreakingly palpable — but what sticks out is what the producers don’t do: throw emotional basket cases into an elimination scenario with trumped-up drama. I was reminded of what bugged me about NBC’s The Biggest Loser, which worked as hard as a treadmill rat to set up its overfed and fed-up participants as sympathetic weight-loss hopefuls, only to crudely graft onto the already dramatic situation a Survivor-ish competition in which people vote each other off, whether they’ve made progress shedding pounds or not. A whole show about abandonment issues could be formed from such ousted contestants alone. Brat Camp certainly has a tension element: Will Jada curb her obsessive lying? Will Frank control his penchant for violence? Will nine sets of parents get a more focused, less self-destructive child at the end? But at least a viewer can feel secure that Brat Camp isn’t out to strike fear into a troubled soul that there’s one more group they might be ostracized from.


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