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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Kid Nation: Where's Bonanza, Dude?

Illustration for article titled iKid Nation/i: Wheres Bonanza, Dude?
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Illustration for article titled iKid Nation/i: Wheres Bonanza, Dude?

Not to sound like a complete sourpuss (yet again) about Kid Nation, but it occurred to me (yet again) while watching this week's episode: What's the point? By that I mean there's no competition, no "winner," etc. The show's original conceit was that these kids would really live a) alone, without adult supervision and b) as if it were 1885. Both of those things, it quickly became clear, were bullshit, and to be scrapped immediately in favor of more compelling television.

And that's fine, but the next level of conceit, the mantra for these kids, seems to be "We want to prove that we can make this town work!" Of course you can make it work, you don't actually have to do much. And every few days you get some ridiculous directions from a fake book, and there are clearly adults hiding behind every tumbleweed waiting to offer you a reward. If Kid Nation had been advertised as Old West Summer Camp, it would've been a little more truthful.

That said, the show–which wraps up next week–has offered some fun on a base level, just not the level it promised. Some of these kids are incredibly fun to watch–beast girl Taylor, uber-nerd Jared, 40-year-old-trapped-in-a-14-year-old's-body Sophia–and that's a saving grace. Most seem game for whatever, and few seem like aspiring actors, which is nice.

Anyway, dumb prefab constructs of this week: The council leaders were encouraged by the book to stray from the city, ostensibly because the original Bonanza settlers failed by never looking outside their own town. (How. The. Fuck. Did. They. Get. There. Then?) So the big boys went off to meet with genu-ine Pueblo people, who served them up some fresh, hot platitudes about life that they never could've gleaned from Whitney Houston: Offer support to people. Children are the future.

Meanwhile, the rest of the town had to tackle the challenge–moving "homesteads" across a field, just like the people in 1885 did–without their strongest friends. Of course, they made it, just in the nick of time, and in spite of the fact that they had to see host Jonathan Karsh in a cowboy hat. (Turns out this guy directed a documentary called My Flesh And Blood, who knew?) The choice of prizes this week: a giant stone monument chiseled with the Kid Nation accomplishments, or hot-air balloon rides for the kids. They chose the balloon rides, which makes sense, because at least one of them had to be thinking what I was: What are they gonna do with the monument if we reject it? Throw it away? No chance–that monument's going up no matter what.

Come gold-star nomination time, Zach and Jared are the stars: Zach breaks down and cries as he nominates himself for the gold star, then storms away–and eventually storms back–in a huff when Greg laughs at him, all the while muttering about "respect." Jared enters the room with his knit hat pulled over his head, and his glasses over the hat, because Jared is an amazing nerd.

And the gold star goes to… 9-year-old Alex, whose single adult tooth may be the breakout star of Kid Nation. Ever nerdy and pragmatic, Alex posits whether he should hang on to the star (because gold prices are going up). He also flatly states in front of the other kids that $20,000 isn't really that much money. It seems pretty clear when he calls his parents afterward that it really isn't a big financial deal for his family. Alas. Jared, a little bummed about not winning, speculates that when he wins a Nobel Prize (he's working on teleportation at the moment), it will be worth, like, 20 gold stars. The folly of youth–the only honest thing about Kid Nation!

Grade: B

Stray observations:

— Yes, Sophia was the sheriff. She was an even-handed leader, and it didn't amount to much.

— The nerds had another amazing conversation, this time around the skeleton of a cow.

— Next week's season finale promises "bigger gold stars," presumably also worth their weight in gold.

— Guylan: "My mom and dad were both elephant trainers, and we lived at various zoos."

— Zach, to the council: "You guys are the most terrible people I've ever met in my life."

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