Salute Your Shorts is easily my favorite ’90s Nickelodeon show. It became synonymous with the summers of my childhood. Watching Nick In the Afternoon and hoping that Stick Stickly would announce it up next was perhaps the most anxious my life got at such a young age.
It ran from 1991 to 1992, but Nickelodeon syndicated it well until 1998, to where it was even among the top 15 highest-rated regularly scheduled basic-cable series in 1996, according to Nielsen, despite not having aired a new episode in four years.
The show wasn’t necessarily the most flashy or slick, but it was definitely one of the most unique. Down to the often-odd camerawork and perhaps the best opening credits/theme song of the entire decade. When the writers weren’t using unique story lines, they were at least throwing twists into old sitcom tropes to give them fresh perspectives.
Salute Your Shorts is the benchmark for all summer camp shows. It gives us characters who feel real, to the point where we imagine them now, some 25+ years later, grown up somewhere in life, having learned from their experiences at Camp Anawanna. It gives us characters who go beyond the cliched archetypes–but never unrealistically. As someone who grew up at camp myself, there were always kids who fit the personalities of the ones in the show.
Michael was my favorite character growing up. The everyman who’s friends with everyone, but never stands out too much on his own amongst this group of kids with unusual idiosyncrasies. I related to him the most. But what made the show so great is that I could also see a little bit of myself in every character. As an only child, little-kid Me saw them as my friends whom I could hang out with every summer afternoon. I’d go back to school in the fall and then join them again in June. There weren’t a lot of episodes, but I probably never even noticed. Either way, we didn’t get tired of each other. And I learned at camp as they did.
For a show with only 26 episodes, it feels so big. The show ushered in the ’90s with fart jokes, flannel shirts, and ghost stories about plumbers. It covered so much ground with its characters that we felt like we got to know them for 100 episodes.
Sure, there are some weaker episodes, but even in those ones there are some bright spots.
I’ve taken the time to diligently rank each episode in the series. I didn’t really use any specific criteria. Mostly what felt right. Taking into account entertainment value, character depth, humor, maturity, and a variety of other things.
If you haven’t checked out this show, please do so. If you’re a fan of it already, then you probably skipped my little intro here.
So, without further ado, I give you my ranking of every Salute Your Shorts episode ever:
26. Dina and the Rock Star (Season 2, Episode 4)
Dina lies to everyone at camp when she says she can get rock superstar Jamie Mallot Jr. to play at their dance. Jamie does end up getting to camp, but then everyone there acts like fools when he shows up. The only person who doesn’t get starstruck is Pinsky. It’s the first episode that really shows his likability. As literally no one else is likable in this episode. The premise is catalyzed by a lame motive and propelled even further by the unrealistic behavior of its characters.
Budnick: Hey, where’s Jamie?? I wanna give him this demo tape! I got 5 songs with the word “tongue” in the title.
25. The Cursed Skull (Season 2, Episode 5)
Budnick finds an animal skull in the Sacred Caves that Z.Z. says is the infamous Cursed Skull. “Bad things” start happening at camp–like people spilling their drinks on themselves, or getting dirt accidentally tossed onto their shirts. It’s a forced concept that ends up with a corny resolution. And even though this episode captures the essence of camp and embraces that experience, it fails to entertain us.
24. The Environmental Party (Season 1, Episode 13)
While its message is noble, its preachiness is a little out of character for Salute Your Shorts. Z.Z wants to get the camp to recycle more and be more aware of the environment, but no one is interested so she tries to think of ways to motivate them. It’s kind of all over the place. And there aren’t as many laughs as normal. It’s also Michael’s last episode and he doesn’t get any sort of sendoff, which has always irritated me.
Sponge: Hey guys, there’s nothing in here except a bunch of dirty old magazines!
Budnick: Dirty OLD magazines, or old DIRTY magazines??
23. Cinderella Play (Season 1, Episode 10)
It’s the obligatory camp play episode. Dina gets the lead role in Cinderella and initially lets it get to her head, but then soon realizes she has stage fright. It’s good for its relationship building between Dina and Sponge–an unlikely pair–but it’s a little more silly and cliche than we’ve come to expect–albeit with a Salute Your Shorts flair.
Ug: I’m very proud of you, Dina. That shows initiative and stick-to-it-edness
22. Telly and the Tennis Match (Season 2, Episode 1)
When Telly can’t beat Scotty Rex with her old tennis racket, she tries everything to get a new one. Budnick, in homage to The Godfather, gifts her a top-of-the-line racket in exchange for a favor to be named later. After taking in bets for the tennis rematch, Budnick realizes that he’ll be unable to pay anyone back if Telly wins, so he asks her to throw the match. It takes a somewhat boring premise and makes it entertaining, even when the humor isn’t quite as prominent. .
Ug: Geez, you should join Abba-Zaba anonymous.
21. Bunk Chief Elections (Season 1, Episode 5)
Most famous for its pie fight scene, this episode’s main plot surrounds Telly and Dina competing to get elected chief of their bunk…of three people. The best part of this one is the subplot with the boys getting punished for putting a goat in Ug’s bunk. Overall, it’s a middle of the road episode that gets a little too sappy at times.
Budnick: Ug is such a Gomer.
20. Ellen Comes to Camp (Season 2, Episode 12)
Dr. Kahn’s niece, Ellen, comes to visit camp and is a complete brat. She destroys all the campers’ belongings and even attempts to injure some of them. Her mindset is that she can do whatever she wants and get away with it since her uncle is Dr. Kahn. The whole episode is spent trying to get revenge on Ellen. Budnick even empathizes with her hostility and attempts to clean her up a bit, but to no avail. It’s great seeing the whole gang get together for the same cause, but Ellen is just too obnoxious and never truly gets what she deserves in the end.
Ug: Boy, getting a raise is costing me a fortune.
19. Anawanna, Inc. (Season 2, Episode 13)
This one’s kind of an odd episode, even down to the way it’s shot in a couple of scenes. The kids have an idea to start a company making birdhouses. It’s a silly concept and makes you wonder why they think birdhouses will make them all rich, but it ends on a good note. One of the best moments is Ug stealing people’s stuff right out of their hands for the time capsule that he and Sponge are making.
Ug: Hey! *steals hat from kid* Confiscated for the time capsule!
18. Goodbye Michael, Hello Pinsky (Season 1, Episode 2)
We finally get a sendoff for Michael. After he leaves camp with the chickenpox, Pinsky comes to take his place. Budnick is obviously not happy. He’s sad about the departure of Michael, who’s become his only true friend at camp. And he doesn’t like how Pinsky’s charisma makes him liked by everyone else even though he’s just as rebellious as Budnick. As an audience, we feel for Budnick. It’s a subtle, but profound closure to his and Michael’s relationship. We miss Michael too. Pinsky isn’t as likable as Michael, even though Blake Soper’s performance as Pinsky is impressive. Plot-wise, nothing really happens in this episode, but it’s more of what the episode represents in the development of the series. It’s not a great episode due to what they tried to make Pinsky become. Michael was the everyman. The assumed protagonist. Was Pinsky now the protagonist? In fact, with this episode he seems like more of an antagonist. He doesn’t have that adolescent awkwardness like the others–he’s almost too adult. Too savvy. This episode makes us not only miss Michael more, but miss the dynamic that he helped create.
Donkeylips: How come you got a jockstrap on your face?
Donkeylips: I guess I don’t understand how jockstraps work.
17. Budnick Loves Dina – Part 2 (Season 2, Episode 7)
In this followup episode, Budnick and Dina are now dating, and Budnick has changed his image from the camp bully to an overly-polite old man. Dina becomes annoyed, wanting the old Budnick back. We don’t blame her. But instead of just telling him this, she believes the only possible solution is that they have to break up. It’s a shame because you could actually see the two of them working as a couple if this situation was handled with more maturity and practicality. The episode is pretty memorable, but its annoying plot hole keeps it from becoming a better conclusion to the first episode–even with its nice final moment.
Budnick: I brought you the paper, but I kept the business section for me to read. That way I can have conversations with your dad about the bear and bull markets. You know, before we met, the only time I used the word “bull” was followed by another word.
16. Mail Carrier Mona (Season 1, Episode 12)
This is a pretty memorable episode for Salute Your Shorts fans. It introduces Mona and begins her relationship with Ug after his long-distance girlfriend breaks up with him. It’s entertaining with great lines, but doesn’t necessarily set the world ablaze, so it sits here on the list.
Dr. Kahn: This is Dr. Kahn. Due to Ug’s sudden “sickness”, all activities for the day have been cancelled.
15. Sponge Goes to the Movies (Season 2, Episode 8)
Pinsky acquiescently joins Sponge’s computer club and discovers that it allows for them to contact the “outside world”. He then sets up a double date for himself and Sponge with two girls at a neighboring camp. It goes about at a fairly even pace the whole time, with a pretty famous final scene featuring the gang avoiding Ug at the movie theater. However, its memorability might be greater than its entertainment value. Though it’s nice seeing the kids in an environment outside of camp for once.
Ug: Where am I gonna take Mona? A two-for-one at Salad City! She likes croutons!
14. The Pinsky-Sponge Gazette (Season 2, Episode 9)
For a Pinsky-centered episode, this one’s pretty good. Sponge starts a newspaper, but no one is reading it because the stories are boring. Until Pinsky comes on board and turns it into a tabloid of sorts, making up stories about kids at camp and exaggerating the truth. It makes you detest Pinsky, and it’s frustrating that if this were Budnick doing the same egregious acts, no one would be able to forgive him. But it’s still very entertaining and fast-paced, and doesn’t talk down to its audience when an episode like this easily could have. .
Donkeylips: I wanna be the opinion editor.
Pinsky: Do you have any opinions?
Donkeylips: Yes. I think waffles are great. And red is my favorite color. And pollution–bad news if you ask me.
13. Park Ranger Mona (Season 2, Episode 11)
Ug’s girlfriend, Mona, gets a new job as the park ranger. But when she comes to camp, she starts taking her job too seriously and writing up Camp Anawanna for every violation possible. Tension rises between Ug and Mona, and the kids try to figure out ways to fix their relationship. Any episode that revolves around Ug is a pretty good one, plus Mona is always so well-written and such a great character. This one feels like a 1st season episode as far as tone and character dynamics. The story flows so fluidly. Even the montage is entertaining. And it still has the more even pacing of the 2nd season.
Sponge: Anawanna has to meet the forest service standards for summer camps.
Budnick: Are you kidding?? This place won’t even pass the government standards for a gym locker.
12. Toilet Seat Basketball (Season 1, Episode 6)
It’s not as engaging as other stories, but it’s actually pretty funny. Telly, the team captain, is trying to get her team to take the basketball tournament seriously, but they’re unrealistically cocky and think they don’t have to practice because they’re going to win anyway. The basketball scenes are ridiculous, but Telly has some great moments.
Ug: If you wanna be a winner, you hafta learn the four F’s of leadership: fearlessness, fairness, firmness, and control.
Telly: Control isn’t an “F”.
Ug: Well then it’s three F’s and a C.
Telly: Sounds like Donkeylips’ report card.
11. Budnick Loves Dina – Part 1 (Season 2, Episode 6)
In one of the funniest episodes of the second season, Budnick realizes that he likes Dina. It starts off as a sort of satire on how, at that age, we don’t ever have good reasons for liking the people we like. It’s witty and entertaining. But it eventually, though briefly, falls into the trap of painful corniness. Fortunately, it gets saved by other things going on. One by one, everyone at camp is needing crutches after hurting themselves. Also, Sponge and Donkeylips’ friendship continues to grow as one of the best duos at camp.
Dr. Kahn: This is Doctor Kahn. Will whoever took the bingo balls I-16 and O-42 please return them to the lodge. Thank you.
10. The Treasure of Sara Madre (Season 1, Episode 3)
The Treasure of Sara Madre plays on a fun concept where the gang tries to find the buried treasure of a deceased dance counselor. The uniquely elaborate plot turns into convolution, and the episode relies too much on unrealistic gullibility of the characters and perhaps too many montages, but the payoff is great. The punchline ending with Ug caps it off brilliantly and is the undeniable highlight of the entire story.
Budnick: I’ll file him under “D” for “Dead Donkey”.
9. Capture the Flag (Season 2, Episode 10)
Any episode with Donkeylips as the main storyline is going to be pretty good. He aspires to be an attacker in camp’s epic capture the flag game. He’s usually a flag defender–a role typically given to the weakest members. His story here is inspiring and you’re rooting for him all the way. It’s not typically as funny as this show can get, but you also love the extremes that Ug and the campers take the capture the flag game to–reminiscent of how we perceived these activities as a kid. The ending always gives me goosebumps.
Budnick: Hey! It’s the Rhinestone Chowboy!
8. Counselor Budnick (Season 2, Episode 3)
It’s the classic role-reversal sitcom trope. In this version, Budnick and Ug switch roles at camp. Budnick acts as counselor for the weekend, making a bet with Ug that the campers are going to think he does a better job at it. In the meantime Ug becomes one of the campers, which is a lot of fun to see because he is having such a great time doing it. It’s the best episode of the 2nd season. It’s really funny and entertaining, and the final outcome is satisfying.
Dina: But Budnick why don’t you just go swim in the lake??
Budnick: Because fish fart in it!
7. Donkeylips’ Crush on Dina (Season 1, Episode 11)
After a series of miscommunications, Donkeylips thinks that he’s Dina’s secret admirer. It shows a nice turn for Dina as a character, and proves that Donkeylips is one of the true stars of this show. He’s magnetic every time we see him on screen, and his subtleties are golden. The dichotomy between the two characters makes for amazing television.
Budnick: You don’t wanna seem too anxious…but you don’t wanna be aloof either.
Donkeylips: What’s aloof?
Budnick: A loof is a cross between a loser and a doof.
Donkeylips: I definitely don’t wanna be a loof.
6. Donkeylips and Sponge Weigh In (Season 1, Episode 8)
This is the first episode where Donkeylips is at the center, delving into him as a person. Giving him depth without ever feeling too forced. He and Sponge are both trying to get into their weight class for wrestling, but both are just outside of the qualifying weight. Like many Salute Your Shorts episodes, it’s a simple premise, but takes you on a journey. Sponge and Donkeylips become closer as friends here. They are two very opposite people, but realize that they may be more similar than they think. It’s funny and surprisingly suspenseful.
Dina: Either this is a type of sauce, or my bratwurst is sweating.
5. Zeke the Plumber (Season 1, Episode 2)
Every kid who grew up with ’90s Nickelodeon may still shudder at the name Zeke the Plumber. Enhanced by a chilling musical score, this episode is just as scary as most Are You Afraid of the Dark? episodes. It really showcases Danny Cooksey’s talents as Bobby Budnick while giving his character well-rounded depth in such a short amount of time. Even amidst the few obvious plot holes, Zeke the Plumber is perhaps still the most memorable Nickelodeon episode of that era.
Donkeylips: Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a pizza in my mouth.
4. Brownies for Thud Mackie (Season 1, Episode 4)
This is the first time we get solid camaraderie from everyone. After Michael accidentally squishes the camp bully’s brownies, said bully, Thud Mackie, threatens to beat him up if he doesn’t get him two dozen brownies by the end of the week. Since snacks are prohibited at camp, Michael has to find a way to sneak them in. The scenario brings Michael and his friends–and enemies–closer together, and we get our first taste of how well Salute Your Shorts handles these dramatic and sentimental moments. Also, the episode has some really fun subplots. It confirms Michael as our de facto protagonist and gives him the quasi-sendoff that he should have gotten at the end of season 1.
Michael: And Donkeylips, you can have half this candy bar. It melted in my pocket, but it should taste pretty good.
Donkeylips: Thanks. See ya dude.
3. Michael Comes to Camp (Season 1, Episode 1)
This is the perfect first episode. It’s funny, smartly written and establishes setting and characters without coming off as forced. The title is self-explanatory. Michael has his first couple days at camp and is building relationships while learning how to handle his new bullies, Budnick and Donkeylips. It gives us a great idea of what to expect from the rest of the series. And it introduces Awful Waffle into ’90s lexicon.
Dr. Kahn: This is Doctor Kahn. There’s no reason to run to breakfast. I’ve already taken the prizes out of all the cereal.
2. The Radio Call-In Contest (Season 1, Episode 7)
Sponge competes in a radio trivia contest for a chance to win $1000, but realizes that as smart as he is, he may not know everything. The episode really deals with the psyche of a character while developing the relationship between Sponge and Michael. Ug has some truly great moments, and the humor as a whole is very self-aware and mature. It also speaks to the usefulness of trivial information versus scholastic information. Showing that perhaps they’re both important in one way or another. It’s a great premise and a lot of fun to watch.
Ug: From this moment on, you are all on Double Permanent Confinement until I find out who hung up on my girlfriend!
1. Budnick and Michael Fake Being Sick (Season 1, Episode 9)
Budnick and Michael pretend to vomit in order to get out of instructional swim with Ug, but it turns out that Ug took the rest of the campers to the beach instead. Meanwhile, the aforementioned have to stay in the nurses office all day. After the nurse leaves for arbitrary reasons, the two of them turn a bad situation into something beautiful. It breaks down the psychology of Budnick’s aggression and shows him at his most vulnerable. A side saved only for this very moment in the entire series. Since Michael arrived at camp, he’s been the target of Budnick’s rage, but now we see Budnick confiding in him. The episode is more than just emotionally moving. It’s also chock full of amazing lines, showing how well-rounded this show truly is, and how rawly human it was compared to anything else on Nickelodeon at the time.
Ug: Ay, I hear lips flapping, Gelfen! Give me 20!
Donkeylips: But I can only do 8.
Ug: Make it 50!
There you have it! I tend to favor season 1 episodes more. The 2nd season has better paced episodes, which might make some of them seem better, but the 1st season is much more funny and entertaining. And it contains Michael (my favorite character).
Parts of the list may change over time, but the top 4 or 5 are probably set in stone.
Let me know in the comments what your own favorite and least favorite episodes are!