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Fox-TV enters "Boot Camp" in its latest reality program.

Basic Training

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There's one aspect of boot camp that Fox-TV's "Boot Camp" will never be able to replicate: that feeling deep in a recruit's very core that the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marine Corps — whichever — have got you. That there's no escape, no backing out, no mommy-come-save-me in your future. As the drill instructors like to say, "Your soul may belong to Jesus, but your ass belongs to me."

If you screw up royally in week four, nobody's going to vote you off the island. What they do is send you back to the beginning, to start all over again. Back to when you were a "rainbow" troop, before they issued you a uniform that didn't fit. And if you screw up again, they send you back to the beginning again. Until what comes out the other end, like lumps of dough come out of an oven as loaves of bread, is a well-formed and indoctrinated soldier or seaman or airman or marine. The only way out is to become what they want you to become.

That's a sword that no TV show, not even "Boot Camp," can hang over your head. The contestants wouldn't stand for it, not even for half a million dollars, which is what the only recruit left standing at the end of "Boot Camp" will get.

In some respects, however, "Boot Camp" gets it close to right, if not precisely right.

Take "Boot Camp" DI Leo McSweeney, one of four U.S. Marines who were once real DIs and who are now playing DIs on TV for Fox. McSweeney is the one the contestants on "Boot Camp" seem to loathe the most. McSweeney was a Marine for 10 years, an infantryman who made it to up to the rank of sergeant before he was honorably discharged last year. He served in Japan, Africa, Australia and the Persian Gulf.

He's the contestants' worst nightmare, with a genuine talent for getting in their faces, screaming so loudly and with such abandon that his victims wind up coated with a fine spray of spittle.

Some people will put up with a lot if somebody dangles a half-million bucks in front of them.

"Boot Camp" began with 16 men and women who were promised that one of them would be left on "Dismissal Hill" at the end with a lot of money. To get there, they have to endure mental and physical challenges for eight weeks. Their number is reduced each week by two — one who is voted out by his or her fellow recruits, and another who is chosen by the contestant who has just been voted out.

"Boot Camp" approximates — and I use the word advisedly — some of the physical aspects of boot camp. But the mental side of it is another matter. "Save the drama for your momma and push," the DIs say. But contestants can always say, "I've had enough" and walk away. One did in the first episode.

When I was in basic training, the only recruit who managed to return to civilian life did it by slitting his wrists in the shower at 3 o'clock one morning. The fireguard found him sitting in a pool of his own blood, bright red against the shower tiles. He was discharged "for the good of the service."

As hard as Fox may try for reality, you won't see anything like that on "Boot Camp."

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