"No counselors. No inhibitions. No rules." Judging by the promos for USA's new reality competition series, this isn't your mom's summer camp. From the producers of Big Brother, Summer Camp (Thursday, 8/7c) follows 16 players as they compete for $250,000. Each week, there will be a camp socials, color wars and — like any good reality series — drama. TVGuide.com spoke with host Matt Rogers of American Idol fame to get the lowdown on Summer Camp.
How would you describe the show?
Its summer camp for young adults that get a chance to go back and relive the most magical times of their lives. Over nine million kids go to summer camp every year, so it's definitely relatable to the mass audience. But it's super cool because young adults don't really get a chance to do what these people did, so that's what makes it unique from any other reality show.
How will it stand out from similar reality shows like Big Brother?
The cast is unlike anything I've ever seen. We kept true to the summer camp theme, so you have a geeky girl, a nerdy guy, a cowgirl, a cowboy, supermodel girl, a firefighter poster boy. It's 16 different personalities and it's not one of those stab-you-in-the-back, make-you-feel-terrible cutthroat reality shows. It's summer camp, so it's upbeat and positive. These people really bonded, but at the end of the day, it was a game and there was a quarter of a million dollars on the line, so obviously some feelings got hurt. Tempers did flare. There were also some hook-ups and there are romances even outside of the show. If you're a reality TV show fan, you're going to love it. ... I've been a reality TV show host for nine years and this is the first time for me where I really, even when the show is over, like hanging out with the cast. They're good people and they're super fun.
How much time did you get to spend with the cast?
On the show, they call me the camp director. I tended to stay close to that title. I explain the challenges — what we call color wars — and also I'll explain the camp socials, which is a chance for these people to let their hair down, have some food, have some drinks, and we had fun at each camp social. ... But then I leave and I let them do their thing. They get a chance to be teenagers again, to do it over. For most of us, at some part in our life, we want a do-over. Even if you went to camp and you were a nerdy person and you didn't have a good experience, you might want a do-over. Or if you were the popular person, you would want to do it over again because you had such a great time.
There's obviously a lot of fighting and hooking up, so how much of that were you aware of as the show was filming?
You can tell just by reading people who likes who, who doesn't like who. In the first week, everyone is just feeling everyone out and then once you're at this camp, after two or three days, you start to feel comfortable with one another and start to bond. So by the third elimination, I've got people holding hands and kissing each other, so it's like, "Oh my gosh, you guys are so cute! It's like camp all over again."
Did you go to summer camp when you were growing up?
It's so funny too because I went to summer camp and winter camp every year from 8 years old to 16 years old, and the winter camp that I went to was literally 50 feet away from where we filmed this.
Do you have a best and worst moment from your own camp experiences?
Worst thing that ever happened to me was — and thank God I was wearing boots — I actually stepped on a rattle snake. That was a bad experience. I was always kind of the short, chubby kid, so I had those guys who were jerks to me and take the long way back to my cabin to avoid. But I had good experiences, like when I got to compete in certain games and I beat them and I had bragging rights over them. It's funny to give the adults the chance to go back and do it because I can totally relate to that.
I feel like that had to be a prerequisite for anyone thinking about hosting this show.
They definitely grilled me on that, so it was a good fit. When I heard about the show, I told my agents, "Dude, this is my show. I grew up going to summer camp. I grew going to winter camp. Let's push really hard for this." So I'm glad it worked out.
How will the show embrace some of those quintessential camp experiences?
In terms of camp socials, we have a sexy pajama party. We have a cruise around the lake, so some of the campers get to go on the lake and eat, drink and have a fun day on the lake. The twist is there is a camp counselor each week that acts as the leader for the camp and that person is saved from elimination. But they also have some critical decisions to make for their team, like who gets to go on the camp socials, and who gets to stay behind and wash toilets or do laundry or do dishes. It's a blessing and a curse to be the camp counselor.
Also, what's unique about this format is it's a battle of the sexes, so it's guys vs. girls and if your camp wins, all of you are obviously safe from elimination, but for the losing camp, the camp counselor has to pick two of their own campers to banish to the winners' camp and then it's up to the winners to decide who stays and who goes. That's different from any other reality show, but it's cool because you definitely want to make friends on the opposite team, but at the same time, you're competing against them. You have to walk a fine line within the game. Then, on top of that, positive and negative emotions come into play. There's a couple times where people would hook up and then they would have to eliminate the person they were hooking up [with] and it does not go well.
The battle of the sexes format is used on so many reality shows. Why do you think it works so well?
For this, it works in two cases: First, to stay true to the summer camp theme. Back in the day, when you went to summer camp you were 10 years old. I hung out with my boys during the day and then at night, I wanted to go look for some girls, so that stays true to this. The guys stick together and play together and then at night, that's when the tables turn. Also, if you lose, you have to banish two to the winners' camp, so it's interesting to see guys plead their case to girls: "Please keep me. Please keep me." And then girls plead their case to the guys. I've never really seen that in other shows.
Summer Camp premieres on Thursday at 8/7c on USA.