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‘Brat Camp’ makes kids face up to their messes

Even seasoned reality-TV viewers may find "Brat Camp"  rather cringe-inducing. By Linda Holmes
/ Source: contributor

What was ABC to do with the former "Dancing With The Stars" slot? Another frothy, celebrity-filled romp? Perhaps this time John O'Hurley could learn to play the pennywhistle.

No, the spot went to "Brat Camp" (Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET), which follows nine teenagers sent to a boot-camp program to recover from the sins of youth, from drugs to compulsive lying. Guided by counselors and purified by eating unadorned oats for breakfast, the kids brave November in the Oregon wilderness and learn about getting up early, cleaning up after themselves, and a "no low talking" rule.

In Wednesday's premiere, each camper was introduced with cheesy and unconvincing "candid" debauchery footage. To remind viewers who "Steals From Mom" and who has the "Violent Temper," captions are provided, just as "Pharmaceutical Representative" or "Waiter" is listed under the name of a "Survivor" contestant.

Even for a seasoned reality-show viewer, this "Extreme Makeover: Juvenile Delinquent Edition" premise is squirm-inducing. But perhaps no single moment was stranger than the discovery that someone had failed to use the latrine as directed, instead leaving … well, a health hazard lurking in the bushes.

The hunt for the culprit led to a somber moment in which all the kids were gathered together to stare at the evidence. Say what you will about accountability and respect — a bunch of kids forced to form a circle around someone else's "phantom dook," as the counselors labeled it, is … weird.

The counselors would say their point was made when Jada ("Compulsive Liar") owned up. But still, it was likely not lost on the audience that there was a creepy metaphor in the revelation that maybe standing around in a big circle and staring at other people's messes isn't the healthiest thing any of us could be doing.

Linda Holmes is a writer in Bloomington, Minn.