Hi friends, and welcome back to the Nightcrawler Experience!
Summer's nearly over (At the school where I work, the school year has officially begun already), but since August still has a few days left, it's technically still summer, and I have a summer- themed entry on the Nightcrawler Experience for all of you.
As you know, summer is the time when, among other things, kids and teens nationwide head off to summer camp! Admittedly, most camps cancelled everything last year due to the pandemic, but now that that's on its last legs, many reopened this summer!
To that end, I'll be looking at a pop- culture offering which takes place at a summer camp!
When I was a kid, there was a TV show on Nickelodeon that I liked a lot which dealt with summer camps, and I had been reminded of it recently due to my Instagram friend and fellow 90's nostalgia devotee Brett Wilson celebrating its 30th anniversary: It was called "Salute Your Shorts."
While it only ran for two seasons, it was aired in reruns for quite a few years after that, and was a very entertaining show remembered fondly by most people of my generation.
It takes place in a summer camp known as "Camp Anawanna," and centers around a group of young campers there and the various exploits and misadventures they have. While the kids were almost all cliched characters, they were nevertheless funny and likable. They included sports- obsessed tomboy Telly, smart- mouthed bully Bobby Budnick, gentle hippy girl Zeezee, the tubby but generally good- natured Eddie "Donkeylips" Gelfin, and hyperintelligent nerd Eugene "Sponge" Harris, among others, all under the watchful eye of authoritative head counselor Kevin "Ug" Lee (Ug- Lee, get it?). The show's title comes from the fact that Budnick likes to "Welcome" new male campers to the camp by hoisting a pair or two of the new guy's underwear up the camp flagpole.
(Hey, most camps have their strange traditions and hazing rituals; Credit for this image goes to the user ThrustSSC on the Nickelodeon wiki at https://nickelodeon.fandom.com/wiki/Salute_Your_Shorts?file=SaluteYourShorts.png)
I recently rewatched an old episode that I got a lot out of, called "Donkeylips and Sponge Weigh In."
In this episode, the two title characters both sign up for a big wrestling tournament held among the various camps in the area, in which the champions get a trophy AND a free lobster dinner at a fun seafood restaurant (Considering that the camp's normal food is practically inedible, that's an especially tempting prize). The others at first mock Donkeylips and Sponge seeking to do this, with Budnick referring to the two of them as "Moby Dick and Captain Wuss" respectively, but we quickly see that they actually are suprisingly good contenders; Sponge is able to use his brains and speed to take down anyone in his weight division, and Donkeylips' strength, endurance and sheer bulk make him practically unbeatable.
There's a big problem, however: The two of them may not be able to qualify for the wrestling tournament, as Donkeylips is five pounds heavier than the maximum weight limit, and Sponge is five pounds lighter than the minimum weight limit.
They refuse to give up, though, and the other campers do what they can to try and help Donkeylips lose enough weight and Sponge gain enough weight for them both to qualify. Meanwhile, Budnick pressures the duo into picking up a big food order for the other campers from a nearby burger joint so no one will have to eat the repulsive camp dinner, and they nearly get caught by Ug several times in the process. It all leads up to the final weigh- in and a genuinely heartwarming ending.
While not my favorite episode of the series (That distinction would go to the hilarious yet also surprisingly scary episode "Zeke the Plumber"), "Donkeylips and Sponge Weigh In" comes in at a close second. It really had a lot going for it:
First, there's the fact that Sponge has always been my favorite character on the show (He's the character I could relate to the most, especially when I first saw the show as a kid), and Donkeylips is pretty high up there too, as he tends to have most of the funniest lines and scenes in the series. So, an episode largely centering around the two of them is guaranteed to be a winner in my book.
This episode also sticks out in a very good way because it is a real turning point for Donkeylips. Up to this point in the series, he was usually just portrayed as the token fat guy and Budnick's goon; Here, though, we see that he is a much more complex character than that. He points out that he wants to enter and win the wrestling tournament not so much for the lobster dinner (Though he brought along a cool monogrammed claw- cracker for it), but more for the trophy. See, we learn that his parents are generally disgusted with him, and he only really impresses them when he brings home trophies, and wrestling is all that he's currently good at. With that kind of a home life, it's unsurprising that he is so desperate to qualify for the tournament. He also shows he has ambitions, as he at one point tells Sponge that he dreams of one day becoming a football player and having his face on cereal boxes.
As is usually the case for the show, there's a lot of humor in this episode. There's a funny recurring joke in which Donkeylips and Sponge high- five, then the small- framed Sponge loudly says "OW" at how hard the high- five was. There's also an amusing scene when Telly attempts to help the boys get into shape through a regimen in which Donkeylips must run a mile around the camp grounds, while Sponge sits in the bunk and eats twenty bananas. The sight of Donkeylips lumbering around camp as fast as he can (which isn't saying much) while Sponge forces down bananas is made even funnier by the silly, clownish music played in the background during this scene.
Another bonus to this episode is the surprising amount of action/ tension it has. This particularly shows during the segment when the duo have to pick up the other campers' burgers from the food stand and run into various major challenges. First, they nearly lose half of the money to pay for the order due to Donkeylips having a hole in his pocket. Then, they almost get nailed by Ug, who has a VERY strict "No outside food" policy and is the sort of jerk who practically leaps at the opportunity to punish the campers for any infraction (In season 2, Ug thankfully softens a bit, cuts the campers a little more slack, and becomes a funnier, goofier character in general). The whole scene really will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Lastly, it's also quite nice to see the genuine friendship that the two boys develop with each other, in spite of how different from each other they outwardly appear to be. They work together as a team to achieve their goals, look after each other, and encourage each other when things look bleak. It's a friendship that I'm happy to say they seem to keep through the rest of the series, as the episodes after this one often show the two of them getting along much better than they did in the episodes before it.
In short, "Donkeylips and Sponge Weigh In" is simply a great episode of a classic Nick show, well worth a watch. It should be available to watch on Youtube and Dailymotion, as well as on the streaming site Paramount Plus (Though there the episode's listed under its alternate title of "Cheeseburgers in Paradise"), check it out.
At least a couple Scriptural lessons occurred to me during a recent rewatching of "Donkeylips and Sponge Weigh In." The first is relating to loyalty and the difference between a false friend and a true one.
As I said earlier, one of the episode's main strengths is the really nice friendship that Donkeylips and Sponge develop with each other. This is in marked contrast to the MUCH more toxic "friendship" Donkeylips occasionally has with Budnick. That is one with Budnick pretty much always calling the shots, forcing Donkeylips to aid him in his assorted scams, pranks, and all- around meanness, with Donkeylips often ending up in big trouble as a result. A dialogue exchange in this particular episode as Budnick is trying to coerce Donkeylips and Sponge into picking up the burgers for him exemplifies this:
Budnick: "(To Donkeylips) Do you remember the last thing I did for you?"
Sponge: "(To Budnick) He got busted by Ug, and you ran!"
Budnick: "Yeah, well, this is different! If I don't get those burgers into camp by tonight, you're gonna be ground beef!"
See, Budnick is very much a "user," the sort of person who feigns friendship with others, but really only sees them as pawns to help himself get what he wants without caring how his actions affect them. Then, as we see here, when he gets called out on it, he shows his true colors by next resorting to outright threats.
Sponge, on the other hand, proves to be a true friend genuinely concerned with Donkeylips' well- being. He does all he can over the course of this episode to help Donkeylips keep his spirits up and focus on his weight- loss goal, acting as a great source of encouragement for the big guy. One scene that especially drives this home is near the episode's climax; After the incident with the burgers, the other campers then threaten Donkeylips and Sponge into ALSO helping to take out their garbage from it, like the wrappers and things. While they are walking to the dumpster, Donkeylips' bag gets snagged on a tree branch and tears open, with the wind scattering its contents all over the ground. Seeing this, Donkeylips miserably says, "GREAT! Just when things are going my way, I get this! GARBAGE! ALL MY LIFE IS GARBAGE!" Undaunted, Sponge calmly says, "So, pick up your life and stuff it back in its trash bag." Rather than let Donkeylips wallow in self- pity, Sponge did what a good friend should do under the circumstances, convince him to chin up and do what needs to be done. Because of that, they were able to pick up all the spilled trash just in time to once again narrowly avoid being caught by Ug.
Then, in the very end of the episode, when Donkeylips learns he made the weight limit and qualified for the wrestling tournament after all (The scale was off, and led him to initially think he didn't lose enough weight), he joyously says, "I get a trophy, AND the lobster?" Sponge then happily adds, "AND a good buddy to go with you!" Both boys came to realize that the true greatest prize of their efforts wasn't the trophy, the lobster dinner, OR getting themselves into better physical shape: It was the friendship they developed with each other.
I'd say these two contrasting friendships (The false friendship Budnick offers, and the true friendship Sponge shows) are a great demonstration of Proverbs 18:24, which says that "One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." We all need to try and recognize and keep away from manipulative false "friends" who just want to use us and lead us into trouble, and instead seek out true friends who will look out for us, encourage us, and help us become better followers of Jesus, and whom we can do the same for.
Another strong Scriptural lesson that can be taken from "Donkeylips and Sponge Weigh In" relates to determination, resisting temptations that could lead us astray or hinder us in achieving our goals. Since the previous lesson used Sponge as an example, it’s fitting that this one in turn should use Donkeylips. See, near the episode's climax, when Donkeylips and Sponge manage to get the other campers their food orders, the gang doesn't have long to enjoy them: Ug is soon seen walking in the direction of the bunk where they're at (That guy REALLY gets around). Budnick frantically tells the other campers to eat the evidence, so they all begin rapidly stuffing down their food. One of them gives Donkeylips a burger so he can help with this, but he refuses and says, "Not after all this hard work!" Considering that Donkeylips is a guy who LOVES food, for him to turn down a tasty burger, even when eating it would help save himself and others from getting in trouble, showed amazing restraint from him and determination to meet his weight- loss goal. That's a really good example for us as Christians. 1 Corinthians 1: 13 tells us that "No temptation has overtaken you except that which is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." There are times when we can all be tempted to sin in various ways, or be distracted from doing good work. However, just because temptation emerges, doesn't mean we need to give in to it. Just as Donkeylips was able to resist the burger, so we too can resist the temptations that come our way, as the Lord Jesus loves us enough that He will always provide us with a way out, if we can only keep our eyes open to it.
In short, this episode not only is a lot of fun to watch, it can also show us as Christians the importance of avoiding fake friends and seeking true ones, and showing us how we can have determination even when tempted to go astray. I'd say those messages are as beautiful as a shiny wrestling trophy, and as savory as a lobster dinner!
That's all for this edition of the Nightcrawler Experience. Keep your eyes open for new entries I have in mind for the near future (i.e. My annual Halloween entries, I have some good ones I'm thinking of). Until then, stay safe and healthy, and may God bless you all!