By Lanford Beard
Updated August 26, 2011 at 01:30 PM EDT

Salute Your Shorts was like The Breakfast Club of ’90s Nickelodeon. You had a brain (Sponge), an athlete (Telly), a basket case (Z.Z.), a princess (Dina) and a criminal (Budnick). Ug stood in as the irascible Dick Vernon. And as for Donkeylips… well… what kids’ show doesn’t need a character named Donkeylips? As fate would have it, I started going to camp the summer before Salute Your Shorts premiered on Nickelodeon. For two of my 10 years at camp, I was even a counselor. So I wondered: Looking at it from both sides now, how does the show stack up?

Let me start off by saying there is, indeed, a Bobby Budnick in every bunch. I was not that kid. I was somewhere between Z.Z. and Sponge. Though I didn’t get my underwear strung up any flag polls like Michael, my first week away from home was incredibly difficult. By the end of my three-week session, I had come into my own, learned to ride a horse, and even picked up a few awards along the way (Tidy Teepee 1991, suckas). That fall, the Anawanna Eight became a Saturday afternoon, pre-SNICK fixture. Since I was subject to the exhausting rigors of life in fourth grade (another book report? long division?) during the week, I welcomed weekends for that momentary return to camp and my fun summer.

When I was younger, the show was a peek at my future. The kids at Camp Anawanna were a little bit older than me, so it was easy to escape my nine-year-old existence and put myself in the campers’ way-cooler shoes. Never did camp infirmary look so fun as when Budnick and Michael sat around all day eating ice cream. Never did being smart seem so lucrative as when everyone helped Sponge win a radio trivia contest (even if Ug did confiscate the $1,000 prize). The gang even snuck out to the movies one time for criminy’s sake! Since the show only lasted two seasons — the televisual equivalent of a summer camp romance — I had to navigate my own way through adolescence without the wit and wisdom of Donkeylips. Then, the unthinkable happened…

In hindsight, I suppose it was inevitable that I would eventually transition to that bucket hat-wearing galumph known as Ug (though I like to think I was a slightly prettier version). As a counselor, I learned a few things. First and foremost, 11-year-old girls are devil spawn. Having once been one, I apologize to all who were affected. But I also learned that, as much as the campers rile you up, they also kind of love you. Pranks and sass aside, the kids were there for Ug (and each other) when the chips were down. They formed memories together that were much more than the sum of a campfire and s’more-sick stomachs.

So I look back on Salute Your Shorts fondly. Perhaps it wasn’t always the most realistic depiction of life at camp (see: the great movie escape), but when it came to the bond that forms when you’re stuck in the woods with no TV and bucketfuls of bug-juice to go around, the show will always linger in my heart like that popsicle-stick bird-house in the back of my childhood closet that I’ve never had the heart to throw away.

So, Popwatchers, did you go to camp, too? If so, how did Salute Your Shorts compare to your experience? Or did you watch the show enviously? If you’d like to relive those sweet summer days, Salute Your Shorts: Volumes 1 and 2 can be purchased from iTunes. But before you go, take our poll. As for your answer? Get it right or pay the price!

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