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Episode title: “I’m Just Trying to Be a Leader Here”
Awarded the gold star: Sophia, green team
Left town for home: Jimmy, green team
Episode favorite: Jared, red team
Days elapsed this episode: 4
Total days elapsed: 4
Remaining residents: 39
Kid Nation‘s first episode, “I’m Just Trying to Be a Leader Here,” covers the first four days out of forty and follows forty kids, ages 8 to 15, who are stuck in a ghost town called Bonanza City and are working to make the town not die (again). According to the town council’s “book,” the town was originally founded in 1885 but failed because the residents lacked willpower and leadership.
The town council consists of Anjay, Laurel, Mike, and Taylor, who lead the blue, green, red and yellow teams (respectively). Each team represents a class in the town: red team is upper class and earn $1 per day for doing whatever they want; blue team members are merchants and earn 50¢ each day for running the (root beer) saloon, the dry goods store, and candy store; yellow team cook (and clean the dishes, supposedly) and earn 25¢ per day; and green team members are the laborers (cleaning the outhouses, washing the laundry, etc.) and earn only 10¢ a day. All “wages” are paid in buffalo nickels; candy and games at the stores cost anywhere from a nickel (a couple of pieces of butterscotch, for example) to $3 (an old-fashioned bicycle) and beyond.
The teams didn’t get their classes arbitrarily, however. A competition consisting of finding “black gold” via manual pumpjacks and filling the teams’ respective bottles with said liquid (actually just colored water). The first team to fill their bottles and get their pump back over the finish line won the privilege of being upper class… and so on down the line. Plus, if all the teams finished in an hour or less, the whole town got a communal prize. Red team came in first, blue next, then yellow, and finally green (with just seconds to spare under the hour mark). Upon winning their prize, the town was informed they’d have to choose between seven more outhouses (thus far they’d dealt with only one for all forty of them) OR a television. The town council decided on the outhouses (a smart, but less fun, choice). So, now the ratio of residents to outhouses is 5:1 (instead of the yucky 40:1)… but no TV. Ah well, you win some, you lose some.
So, at the end of the episode, a town meeting was held in which concerns/complaints were heard, the kids were asked if anyone wanted to go home (one said yes and is no longer a part of Bonanza City), and the council awarded a solid gold star worth $20,000 to the most deserving resident. The star and money are for the real world, not Bonanza City, so the kids have college money or whatever. The cool thing is, a gold star is awarded at every town council meeting, so the council (who collectively decide who should receive the star) has a chance to spread the love. No one is ever “voted off the island”–someone only leaves when and if s/he wants to, but once s/he leaves, s/he can’t go back.
Before the first episode aired, there was a lot of controversy over things like child labor laws, etc. etc. What if one of the kids gets hurt? What if they end up hurting each other, a’ la Lord of the Flies? Who’s going to make sure they eat right and sleep well? Or… eat and sleep at all? I even received an unsolicited email asking me to sign a petition to have CBS (the show’s network producer) pull Kid Nation from it’s autumn line up completely and stop recruiting for the second season. (CBS stuck to it’s guns and backed the show and has not stopped accepting applications for the second season.) Whatever the intentions of the naysayers, they only succeeded in creating more advertising for the show; there’s no such thing as “bad press,” after all.
I’m of the general opinion that kids can (and, more often than not, will) choose for themselves in most cases, maybe even all cases. “What were those parents thinking?!” many people have been asking. Well, I’d like to know, “Has anyone asked the show’s participants what they think?” After just one episode, it’s obvious these young people have opinions and aren’t afraid to share them. Technically, yes, it was the parents’ decision to “let” their children be a part of this experiment, but the kids had to have some say in the matter–they’re the ones on the show, after all. This all boils down to age of consent, really. I mean, it’s like saying, “Whatever happens behind closed doors between consenting adults is none of my/your/anyone’s business.” Here, the line between “consenting adult” and “child labor law infraction” is blurred. These young people are consenting persons, even if they’re not “of age” according to some arbitrary law created more than a hundred years ago.
In any case, we’ll see how this thing pans out. I’ll be tuning in next week.