This was one of my favorite episodes of this show, so I remember lots of things about it. Harry the Hippo. Telly's "I gotta get outta this ball" nightmare. The creepy Zeke mask. "I can smell your fear." Donkeylips wandering around in a jack-o-lantern mask that he can't see through. Ug hanging upside-down from a tree. This show as a whole was so much cooler than my experience with camp, which was just a Girl Scout day camp I went to for two weeks when I was eight and nine.
Sponge is walking through the woods with his video camera, narrating what appears to be an educational video about camp. He comes across Budnick, who is carving "Ug Lee is a loser" into a tree. Ug catches him, but unfortunately has not caught him in act and cannot prove that Budnick did it. Ug knows that all the proof is on Sponge's camera, and he chases after Sponge as Budnick warns him not to give the tape to Ug.
Cue opening credits. I'd comment on the awesomeness of the themesong, but I'm sure everyone still knows it word-for-word to this day.
That night, Budnick is going to tell Ug and the group a ghost story about Zeke the plumber. Donkeylips points out a spider crawling on Budnick, and Budnick freaks out because he hates spiders. How foreshadowing. Zeke used to clean toilets at camp, but the smell didn't bother him because he had his nose bit off by a parrot in the Philippines while in the army. One day, Zeke hits a gas pipe while digging a hole, and he of course can't smell the leaking gas. He lights a match (OK, first off, why was a janitor digging a hole, and secondly, why would he randomly light a match?) and becomes, as Budnick says, "a human party-popper." All they ever found of him (besides his upper lip) was a toilet plunger, which Budnick passes to a skeptical Telly, who thinks it's lame. She passes it to Michael, who agrees. Budnick tells them that Zeke's plunger has a curse on it and that anyone who touches it will be haunted by Zeke at night.
Back at the girls' bunk, Dina is spreading a ring of toothpaste around her bed because a book called "A Girl's Guide to Ghouls" recommends toothpaste to ward off ghosts. ("It's something four out of five doctors recommend.") Telly asks, "Which doctors?" to which Dina responds with lame pun #1: "Exactly. Witchdoctors from from the islands of Lombago." Dina totally has a New York accent when she says the word "haunted." Telly and Z.Z. (who by the way was also DJ's friend Kathy Santoni in this episode of Full House) laugh at her and go to bed, but a minute later they are up spreading toothpaste around their beds too, claiming that they want to ward off ants. Umm, wouldn't that attract ants? They could at least make their lies believable.
Over at the boys' bunk, Michael is having a nightmare. This is the part that really creeped me out as a kid. I was 9 when this episode was first on, and masks have always freaked me out for some reason. So, in Michael's nightmare, Zeke the plumber is in his bunk, wearing a creepy mask with a bloody bandage where the nose should be, plunging a phantom toilet. I never could figure out as a kid whether Zeke was supposed to be wearing a mask or whether that was his real disfigured face, but this time I noticed that Budnick mentions that it is in fact a mask, because his real face was burned in the fire. But then, as one of my friends pointed out, why would he have a nose bandage over the mask? That bandage was freaky. Anyway, for some reason, ghost stories that involve getting visited in your dreams always scared me more. I swear I was more creeped out by Zeke than by any episode ever of Are You Afraid of the Dark. Zeke pulls a ratty, wet animal from the toilet and asks Michael if he knows what it is. It is Harry the Hippo, Michael's stuffed animal he has embarrassingly brought to camp. Michael asks Zeke where he got it, and Zeke says he got it from inside Michael's head, where he keeps all the things he doesn't want anybody to know about. Michael tells Zeke that the kids at camp can't know that he has a stuffed animal and "used to" suck his thumb, but Zeke pulls out a bullhorn and announces, "Attention, everybody! Michael Stein sucks his thumb, and he has a stuffed animal at camp." He points the bullhorn right at Michael and adds, "You baby!" ha. That was pretty awesome, even though I always sympathized with Michael here because I so would've been the kid with my stuffed animal hiding in my sleeping bag. Zeke wants to see what else Michael has inside his head and leans his dirty, wet plunger towards Michael's face, and umm, ewww. That in and of itself is nightmarish enough. Michael wakes up suddenly and finds Harry the Hippo and tosses him into the trash. Now that has always bothered me. I felt so sad when he threw away Harry. And also, logically speaking, Budnick or Donkeylips could very easily see Harry in the trashcan. He was better hidden in Michael's bag.
Dr. Kahn morning announcement: "This is Dr. Kahn. Due to a slight mix-up at the dairy this morning, please discard all milk cartons labeled 'Expiration date: 1983.'" hee. I was a little one-year-old then. In the common room, Michael is exhausted, and Budnick says he heard him whimpering about Zeke and Harry the Hippo last night and how he's a wuss for being afraid of a silly ghost story. I blame this episode for my use of the word "wuss" throughout the early-90s. Telly is also tired and falls asleep at a table while Budnick whispers "Zeke the plumber" into her ear. In her nightmare, Zeke claims to be a custodian who grants wishes. Telly's wish is to play professional ball. (Oh, Telly, don't you know from that Are You Afraid of the Dark episode that you're supposed to be 100% specific in your wishes or something will go horribly wrong?) Zeke, of course, twists her wish around and sends her to a (dance) ball, complete with a frilly white dress. The ball is empty except for Telly and Zeke, and Telly says balls are for sissy little girls. Zeke quite awesomely replies, "But you are a sissy little girl, aren't you?" Telly tries to escape and finds that the doors are locked and she is stuck there for the rest of her life. As Zeke dances with his plunger in mechanical movements that are really creepy, Telly repeats, "I gotta get outta this ball..." over and over until Michael wakes her up.
Michael and Telly compare nightmares and realize that Zeke seems to know what they're most afraid of. That is some crazy 1984 shit going on there. Back at the boys' bunk, Sponge tells them that because Budnick created such a strong mental image in his story, they both ended up with the same guy in their dreams. They want to get Budnick back for all this, but he walks in at this point and teases them for being scared little babies. Budnick was always such an ass. Michael challenges Budnick to spend one night out in the clearing where Zeke died. They bet that if Budnick chickens out, he has to stand up in front of the whole camp and admit what a big wuss he actually is; if Budnick wins, Telly will wear a dress for a day and Michael will carry around Harry the Hippo (that part of the bet always made me happy because it meant that Harry would be rescued from the trash). Telly gets off kind of easy, doesn't she? Yeah, she hates wearing dresses, but big deal. It's nowhere near as humiliating as walking around with a stuffed animal if you're a teenage boy.
Everyone is gathered at the spot in the woods where Zeke supposedly died, and Donkeylips brings Budnick some food he'd asked for. Budnick flips out that the potato chips aren't ruffled, so Donkeylips pretty much tells Budnick to fuck off, saying he had been planning to stay out there all night with him but has changed his mind. Budnick calls him a "ten-ton traitor tuna." Everyone leaves Budnick alone in the clearing, and they head back to the bunks to plot how to scare him. Ug wants in, and even Donkeylips swears that he wants to get Budnick just as much as everyone else ("cross my heart, hope to die, stick a pizza in my mouth"). Ug has his own special plan in mind, and Michael and Sponge plan to use one scare tactic and have the girls use another. They give Donkeylips a big jack-o-lantern mask to wear so that he can run at Budnick screaming. These sound like pretty lame scare tactics so far. Donkeylips can't see a thing through the mask, and as they all leave the bunk, he wanders behind blindly bumping into walls. And this is what I never understood--why couldn't he just take the damn mask off until it was time to scare Budnick? It's not like it was stuck on his head or anything. That annoyed me so much as a kid.
Meanwhile, Budnick is using his food and soda cans to make alarms and traps. I do agree that ruffled chips would have much better sound quality for an alarm. The other kids try to sneak over to where Budnick is staying, but he hears them crunching on the potato chips he's sprinkled around. The girls run out of the bushes screaming, and that's supposed to be scary? Startling for a second, maybe, if he hadn't already heard them coming, but not scary. Fail. Budnick ends up having the last laugh because he stuck his head inside his shirt and put a melon where his head should be. The girls try to shake him awake, and they scream as the melon falls to the ground, of course prompting lame pun #2: "I always knew he was a melon-head." Budnick apparently took the time to draw a smiley face on the melon. Telly calls out that Budnick should learn that he can't scare them with a stupid little trick, but oh wait, I think that's what he just did. Sorry, Telly. Budnick jumps out of the chair as the girls run away screaming. He raises his arms triumphantly and proclaims that he is the master of the universe. No, Budnick, that would be these guys. Then Michael and Sponge with some weird sort of sheet-on-broomsticks "ghost" contraption run out of the other side of the bushes, also screaming. Now, I give them points for the sheet, because that can be a little creepy in the dark, but the screaming? How is that scary? He knows their voices. The "ghost" itself without the screaming would've been far more effective. The boys trigger the shaken-soda-cans alarm and end up with soda all over them.
Budnick calls everyone out of the woods and celebrates that he has won the bet. They hear a noise in the woods, and Michael tells Budnick that since he's so brave he should go check it out. Budnick does, continuing to mock them. He turns around and is face to face with Ug dressed as Zeke. Budnick tries to play it cool, providing us with lame pun #3: when Ug/Zeke demands Budnick's head, Budnick replies, "Sorry man, I'm kinda attached to it" and then unnecessarily adds, "in more ways than one." Budnick runs away from Ug/Zeke and toward one of his traps. Ug/Zeke catches up to him and makes the mistake of saying, "I can smell your fear," which clues Budnick in on the fact that this Zeke is a fake, because the real Zeke of course does not have a nose. When I was little I'd get annoyed here because I took "I can smell your fear" to be an expression that you shouldn't take literally. But I guess it could be argued that someone without a sense of smell wouldn't think to use an expression that involved use of the word "smell." Budnick triggers his hanging-tree trap, and Ug/Zeke is thrown upside-down, hanging from the tree by a loop around his ankle. Budnick goes all Scooby-Doo on us with his "now let's see who you really are" and is shocked to see that it is Ug. Ug is pissed that he's hanging upside-down from a tree, and Budnick heads off to get a knife to cut him down.
As he heads back celebrating, this really creepy music that sounds like a broken jack-in-the-box starts to play as Budnick finds himself walking straight into a path of spiderwebs. Spiders, as you will remember, freak him out more than anything, and he panics. Seriously, the music here is disturbing. Budnick calls for help, offering things like his stereo and tapes (woo cassettes!) to anyone who'll help him, and the other kids hear him but laugh and wait for him to start giving away the really good stuff like the portable TV. Budnick offers to be their slave forever, and the kids come out to "rescue" him. Budnick tries to weasel out of the bet, but Telly is not having any of that. The kids all shove their stuff they'd been carrying into Budnick's arms and tell him to enjoy carrying it back to camp.
The next morning, Ug is still hanging upside-down from the tree (that can't be safe or good at all), and in the light he notices the "Ug Lee is a loser" carving in the tree he is hanging from. ha. He hears footsteps and thinks that it must be Budnick finally returning with the knife, but it is only Donkeylips, still wandering around blindly with the jack-o-lantern mask on. Ug screams in frustration as we head to the closing credits.
-Did Sponge's video camera thing last more than the first few episodes?
-I so didn't realize till college that the actress who plays Telly is named Venus DeMilo. When I was thinking back on the show I thought I must have been making that up until I confirmed it online.
-Old laptop!!! Sponge's early-90s laptop is gigantic. And why the hell does he have it at camp? You couldn't do much more on them than type back then, right? What use would it be at camp, even to a nerd like Sponge?
-During the closing credits, my copy has a voice-over ad for Marc Summers' Mystery Magical Special, airing as part of Nick-or-Treat!!! (Tagline: "Marc Summers unexplains it all," which really doesn't make a whole lot of sense.) But remember Nick-or-Treat? Where they'd call you on Halloween and you had to answer the phone with "Nick-or-treat" and you could win a prize? I assume you had to send in a postcard with your contact info to enter (the good old days of "send in a postcard for your chance to win..."). I never entered because I was scared they'd actually call, and in those pre-caller ID days I was not about to embarrass myself by answering the phone with "Nick-or-treat" only to have it be one of my brothers' friends. I used to wonder whether you could at least say "hello" first or if that would disqualify you. And remember that Marc Summers special? It was on every year for a long time. I wonder if it's floating around online somewhere. It would make a fun Halloween recap.