Welcome back Marriage Boot Camp Reality Stars campers. Anyone else besides me have a few humdinger nightmares after last week’s creepy little dance with death? Tonight’s outing begins with a couple of our couples discovering new faux tabloid covers plastered on their doors and featuring headlines relating to what went down in the mock morgue.
Kevin and Traci get a load of theirs first: “From Walking Out to Making Out.” They agree the night’s, well, happy ending was worth the day’s drama.
Gretchen and Slade’s reads “Gretchen Dies, Slade Cries: but his disconnect might be their demise.” Though neither has seen the door just yet, Slade remains curled in the fetal position under the covers and informs Gretchen that he is utterly crushed and therefore will not be coming down. Gretchen heads for the kitchen without him and talks over their death-exercise outcomes with Jenni and Roger. Roger and Gretchen decide that their shared devotion to total truth-telling makes them the Biker and Barbie of Honesty.
Outside, at the Breakfast Nook of Discussion, Jim, Elizabeth, Ilsa and Bobby talk over today’s exercises, which will be all about revealing and working through character flaws.
They decide that Jenni shuts down while The Biker of Honesty continues to give 110-percent. Slade has deeper issues that they’re going to have to uncover if anyone’s going to get anywhere with those two. In fact, we’re so troubled by Honesty Barbie and her pouting Ken that we decide to ditch talking about anyone else and go check on them immediately.
In the interim, Slade has managed to get dressed. And his next interaction with Gretchen should be agonizingly familiar to all of us whose partners (or children, which is what Slade currently looks like with his furrowed brow, crossed arms and little blue tennies) have completely screwed up but found what they’re certain is a foolproof way to turn it back on us. Which is, you know, all of us, pretty much.
Essentially, Slade tells Gretchen that his “thousand-yard stare” should indicate to her how traumatized he is from seeing her pretend dead, especially when things are so tenuous with his son’s medical condition. And still she demands more emotion from him. He calls coming to camp a bad decision … on Gretchen’s part. Uh, dude? Even though you’re talking about your son, you’re still not showing a shred of genuine emotion, because even your anger reeks of manipulation. And you were unshackled and giggling away in the back of the limo when it pulled up to Boot Camp Central. She didn’t bring you in on a leash.
Also, for those of you who — like I — are unfamiliar with the term “thousand-yard stare,” here’s the wiki definition: “The thousand-yard stare or two-thousand-yard stare is a phrase coined to describe the limp, blank, unfocused gaze of a battle-weary soldier, but the symptom it describes may also be found among victims of other types of trauma.”
Our Slade is a battle-weary solider, people.
Gretchen tries valiantly to keep her composure and talk rationally with him about the potential positive outcomes of camp, but he refolds his arms, looks accusingly at her and just shakes his head. This soldier isn’t marching into another battle for which he might findhe is improperly armed, no siree Bobby. Or Jim. Or Elizabeth.
But the latter two are going to try, anyway. Let’s talk.
Gretchen says that every blasted time they have a disagreement, his repsonse is “Go find someone else.” Slade says that’s because he feels like the only way for her to be happy is if she does that. Jim points out that it is also a very handy weapon to use against someone you know really loves you and wants to make your relationship work. Then the conversation takes an interesting turn. Asked what she really wants, Gretchen says Slade makes her happy in every way except one. And it’s actually not about being able to cry when she plays dead. It’s contributing to the household wealth. Slade immediately cries foul.
Let’s review: “I give you no emotion and no financial stability — for God’s sake, woman, what more do you want from me?” Got it.
Elizabeth cuts to the chase and asks Gretchen to suppose that Slade helping her manage her brand is the best she can hope for in terms of his career ambition and financial contribution to their life. What then? Gretchen admits it’s a tough question. Though she doesn’t say so, it’s pretty reasonable to imagine that this smart cookie sees that the reality-TV gravy train may possibly have reached its caboose. And though she seems comfortable with the idea of trading that for motherhood, it would mean turning over breadwinning responsibilities to the traumatized solider. Who is clearly not about that at all. Elizabeth notes that there are unspoken issues on Gretchen’s behalf, as well.
In an aside, Slade says he knew that if he left camp, Gretchen would feel like he was abandoning her instead of the process and that was the only reason he was sticking around. Gretchen thinks that’s very nice. I think Slade doesn’t want to have to find a new sugar mama just yet.
Then the Carrolls gather the troops and lead everyone outside, then through some plastic sheeting and into yet another creepy space, this one filled with hazmat accoutrements for a challenge called “Toxic Reality.” The campers are to pretend that the U.S. is under chemical attack and their hazmat tent has a leak. There are but three gas masks for 10 people and the group will choose whom the lucky survivors are.
And it gets even better. They have to march up to each of their fellow campers and tell them flat-out why they think they deserve to live or die. Jim says the idea here is to be open and honest, not plain old mean.
Poor, emotional Traci has to go first. She tears up confronting Tanisha, but tells her she needs to be softer and think about others. No mask for you. Tanisha takes it predictably well. Clive doesn’t get one either, because Traci says he loves himself more than his wife. He simply tells Traci he accepts her decision.
Ryan gets Traci’s first mask. She tells him that he has much to offer not just his wife, but the whole wide world. Ryan thanks her somberly, as Trista beams. Until Traci denies her a mask for not being supportive of Ryan’s arduous and time-consuming job.
Roger and Jenni don’t get masks either. They need to be kinder to one another. Then Traci saves her husband, getting wildly emotional in the process and necessitating Elizabeth to tell Tanisha to hush.
When Traci tells Slade that he has so much he needs to show to Gretchen, he switches the thousand-yarder to a death stare and says he’ll “consider” her opinion. Gretchen gets gassed, too, but only because Traci thinks she couldn’t make it without Slade. It should be a touching moment, but Gretchen clearly wants to live no matter what. She’ll consider Traci’s opinion, too, but not very happily.
Oh wait. I get it. We were told we could either accept or consider, but not deny. Or talk back.
Jim asks Traci to tell him why she chose to accept a mask for herself. As tears run down Kevin’s face, she says she wants to spend more time with Kevin and she’s too selfish to let that go.
Gretchen goes next. She starts with Slade, giving him a mask without much emotion and telling him it’s because he would give the shirt off his back for anyone. Nothing about how she would do anything to save the love of her life. Two things about this. For one, he looks at her like she just gave him a linty cough drop from the bottom her purse instead of a second shot at life. And is anyone else creeped out by the prospect of Slade being tasked with repopulating the nation? Although, I see what you’re doing here, G. If that’s what he’s charged with, ain’t no way he’ll deny you a baby or eleven. But your third mask better go to someone who can reverse a vasectomy.
Or maybe not. Traci and Trista get her last two masks, because Gretchen says she feels that they are loving just like she is. A clearly unimpressed Jim wants to know why Gretchen didn’t keep one for herself. She says she’s too much of a people pleaser for that; he says that just reeks of low self-esteem. Low self-esteem cloaked in pride and narcissism. Gretchen thinks he’s a jerk and that she showed empathy and selflessness. Jerk.
Even though she’s out of masks, Jim trots Gretchen over to Tanisha and tells her to stop trying to make herself look good by saying nothing bad. Gretchen tells T she has a chip on her shoulder about life.
Then we have Bash Tanisha Fest. Jenni says she needs to work on herself. Trista says she doesn’t believe in herself. Roger tells her that her loud, overbearing persona is just an act and she needs to get in touch with who she really is. Tanisha simmers, but doesn’t blow.
Then we’re all over the place. Ryan doesn’t give Roger a mask because he’s too stubborn. Tanisha says Roger is also selfish. Trista says Jenni is selfish, too. Tanisha tells Jenni that not everything has to be public. Jenni starts to respond to that, but is told she can only accept or consider. No backtalk.
The Carrolls remind us that the idea here is that we tend to ignore our spouses when they try to address our flaws, but we might take them seriously when the critique comes from others.
Trista calls out Kevin for infidelity. Roger, too. Ryan sees things a different way. He gives Kevin a mask and says he has the rare combination of wisdom and compassion, even if he isn’t perfect. You’re not a failure because you failed once, says Ryan. Kevin is speechless.
Roger tells Gretchen she’s too much of a flake to score a mask. Ryan says she’s conflicted. Tanisha says she struggles with the truth.
Jenni and Trista give Ryan a gas mask for the same reason Traci did — he’s kind to everyone. Tanisha says she’s inspired by his openness and honesty and calls him one of the most incredible people she has ever met.
Gretchen and Slade think it’s really because he’s a fireman and can save everybody. Uh, kids? This isn’t real. They know he isn’t going to have to save them save them.
Jenni tells Slade he needs to figure out a way to be the man Gretchen needs. Roger says Slade seems incapable of doing that. Clive says he clearly has something to hide, dude. Privately, Clive says Slade’s expression reminds him of The Grinch. Tanisha keels over sideways laughing. You be the judge.
And that is that. Jim and Liz tell everyone that even though it is hard to receive criticism, they need to really think about the things they were told and then we will all start to work on our flaws.
Tanisha asks Gretchen if she and Slade are in a better place and Gretchen gives a trio of unconvincing yesses, then asks Tanisha to clarify her comment about the truth. Did she mean Gretchen has a hard time telling it, or just hearing it? This will require some sitting down.
Tanisha leads Gretchen to the love seat and tells her that she needs to recognize and acknowledge when something is not working for her. Gretch tears up and protests that Slade is such a strong, amazing guy and it kills her that he doesn’t seem to want to realize his potential. She admits it’s a hard thing for her to accept, because it means they won’t work out.
In the kitchen, Roger tells the Sutters that a lot of Jenni’s drive comes from her hardscrabble childhood, and he does feel bad sometimes when he razzes her about money. But still. Then he asks Ryan a hypothetical: If one of his guys made the same mistake for the third time, would he fire him?
Ryan says screwing up once is a mistake; after that, it’s a problem. Especially if there are lives involved. Roger tells them that Jenni has screwed up at least three times just since they’ve been in the house and that has left him dubious. Ryan says if she knows the line and still keeps crossing it, a tough conversation is in the offing.
Time to return to the boot camp room for an exercise designed to dig to the root of each person’s character flaws and then choke those suckers off.
Jim divides the gang into two groups once again. Jenni, Clive, Slade, Kevin and Trista are Team Jim and Ilsa. Ryan, Gretchen, Roger, Traci and Tanisha are Team Elizabeth and Bob. Each camper must talk about a time they were a victim of an injustice and the impact it had on them, Tanisha first.
She tells a truly rending tale about being five and left in the care of a woman who would allow her two teenage nieces to force Tanisha to physically fight with them. When she finally told her dad about it five years later, her father suffered his first heart attack. Jim and Elizabeth say that this is why she feels compelled to fight with everyone and everything.
Ryan talks about a catching a past girlfriend in bed with another man and says it has prevented him from completely trusting Trista because look where that got him the last time.
Slade says his parents’ divorce left him in the middle. Jim asks the rest of the team if they can see that being the root of him saying what everyone wants to hear instead of being authentic.
Gretchen says her parents never made her feel good enough — after every compliment, there was always a “This is how you could have done it better.” Now she always wants people to feel completely accepted, even if they’re letting her down something fierce.
Kevin’s dad was always incarcerated and that left him feeling like he has never had a strong role model to turn to for encouragement and advice. It also makes him feel extra pressure to be a good husband and father.
One of Roger’s friends was the driver in an accident that killed his sister. He recovered, married and had kids, but one day he called Roger and Roger was already in bed didn’t pick up. The next day, the friend put a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Since then, Roger is afraid to go visit the man’s family for fear that the sight of him will open old wounds.
Trista had a childhood friend who slashed her wrists in Trista’s bathroom, which has left her feeling that she has to be in absolute control of everything so nothing has the chance to go off the rails again.
Jenni got fired from a pizzeria when she was 13 and it’s left her always waiting for a negative comment. Huh. OK. The other campers call B.S. Jim looks bemused but tells her it’s a good start, anyway.
Break time, while the boot camp team prepares for evaluations.
Roger is steamed to find out about Jenni’s pizza story, given everything she told him about what happened in her childhood. Jenni says everyone already knows about that stuff, and plus, it doesn’t affect them. Roger says this is just about collecting a paycheck for Jenni and they should have never agreed to take part. Then he kicks a door.
Since they’re always the easiest, Trista and Ryan go first. Jim says Trista’s story in the second drill helped explain why she was so nice to everyone in the gas mask drill. But being nice all the time impedes real intimacy.
Tanisha and Clive are next. The Carrolls say that even though Clive has hearing loss, his comments in the gas mask drill indicate how perceptive he really is. Clive said both exercises made him realize that he can’t let his disability affect his ability to see himself as a strong man and a capable provider. Tanisha can’t believe her ears.
Traci and Kevin’s infidelity issues were front and center in the gas mask exercise, say the Carrolls, and Kevin says he realizes now how much he lets his dad’s absence affect his own actions and his own family.
Elizabeth still questions if beautiful, successful Gretchen is also too codependent to go after someone better for her than Slade. Jim says Slade needs to address his childhood issues if he’s ever going to come across as genuine and be the person Gretchen needs him to be. Even though he’s been handed a ribbon-wrapped excuse, Slade gives Grinch look again.
Roger can barely contain his anger that Jenni didn’t share a one of the real traumas from her childhood and Jim says they’ll address the pair in a separate conversation. Everyone else is excused.
Sitting down with Jenni and Roger, Jim asks Roger if he feels like he is giving far more to the program than Jenni is. Roger says yes. And that is upsetting. Infuriating, if you will. He reiterates his paycheck theory and makes Jenni admit she did told him she did the same thing on another show. Then he gets up and storms out of the room.
Next week — date night! With someone else’s partner!
New episodes of Marriage Boot Camp Reality Stars premiere Fridays at 9/8CT on WE tv.