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'Boot Camp' kept under wraps

Bad sign — Fox won't screen the show for critics

I can't tell you exactly what the new Fox series "Boot Camp" (tonight at 8 on Ch. 13) will look like, because the powers that be at the network didn't screen it for critics.

I can, however, tell you what that means — Fox programmers didn't want critics to see the show because they didn't want an avalanche of negative reviews burying the thing before it goes on the air.

Not that such and avalanche would necessarily hurt "Boot Camp." After all, "Temptation Island" premiered to nearly universal critical scorn and that show went on to good ratings and a pick-up order for a second season.

(And, by the way, Fox insists that "security reasons" kept it from showing critics "Camp." But the network did show us most of the first episode of "Island" and part of a second before it premiered, despite similar concerns.)

However, it might be wise to keep "Temptation Island" in mind when contemplating "Boot Camp." We are, after all, talking about the latest "reality" show from the network that not only led contestants into "Temptation" but has a long history of shameless exploitation and sleaze, ranging from "When Animals Attack" to "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire."

And, if that's not the case with "Boot Camp," well, why wouldn't Fox show it to critics?

At any rate, the premise for this now show is that 16 "ordinary" men and women compete for a $500,000 first prize by undergoing "extreme mental and physical challenges" over eight weeks.

(These "ordinary" people seem extraordinarily good looking. But then this is Fox.)

Four former U.S. Marine Corps drill instructors attempt to "break them down, build them up and change their lives."

Yadda, yadda, yadda.

This latest attempt to rip off "Survivor" features tests and challenges every week, with one "recruit" voted out by his or her peers each episode.

Oh, but it's not a total "Survivor" rip-off — the one voted out gets to take one other recruit with him. "There's no room for alliances in this battle," Fox assures us.

Yadda, yadda, yadda.

In the eighth and final episode, the two remaining contestants will "compete in a grueling 48-hour trial — The Gauntlet."

I'm reminded of a comment that "Survivor" producer Mark Burnett made about the onslaught of imitators: "If it's done well, and it's compelling and dramatic and has the right kind of pacing each week, people will stay with it. . . . And I don't think any bad copycats of 'Survivor' will harm us."

Maybe "Boot Camp" is a good imitator. But, if so, don't you think Fox would have shown it to critics?


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com