It’s been said that once you step back onto the bus as a camper for the last time you can never truly go back to summer camp but Mikey “Benz” Benzaia and 15 other adults came pretty close to that as contestants on the new USA Network reality show Summer Camp.
“The minute I walked off that bus I was in my glory, I was so happy,” the 27-year-old Middletown, N.Y. native said in a recent phone interview. “It was like I went right back into that mindset of being 15 years old where I was like I don’t care if I have a license, I don’t care if I have a cell phone.”
The big difference for Mikey, who earned his real-life nickname courtesy of Sean Astin’s character in The Goonies in his first go around as a camper, were the TV cameras and a chance to share in a $250,000 grand prize competing in Color War type games.
“At camp when I was 14 years old I was sneaking beers and now I’m getting them,” he said. “That and the women are all basically models.”
Debuting on the cable network on Thursday, July 11, at 8 p.m. eastern time – a day after NBC debuts its own scripted summer camp show Camp – the reality competition show offers a slightly new twist on what has become a predictably mundane concept of pitting adults with fame starved camera-enlarged personalities against each other, forcing them to live together and compete for money.
“This isn’t seven people living in a house,” he said. “This is nostalgic, something everybody wants to do and I got to do it so I’m grateful for that.”
The show was dreamed up by Emmy®-Award winning producer Allison Grodner and Rich Meehan (“Big Brother”) and the host, Matt Rogers, is a former competition show star who competed on American Idol. It was filmed on location at a lakeside resort in Big Bear Lake, California.
Mikey, whose fast-talking New York demeanor and habit of speaking first and thinking later earned him “The Smart Ass” descriptor with his profile on the USA Network website started attending day camps in elementary school and went to soccer camps in middle school before becoming a counselor at a Boys and Girls Club camp in the Town of Wallkill that included a sleepaway component in the Catskill mountains.
“I’m true to myself,” he said. “I don’t hold back.”
For Mikey that meant recreating some go-to pranks from his counselor days – he cites removing the mirrors from the girls’ bathroom the night of the social and cellophane on the toilet bowl as two of his favorites – and tapping into his competitive, trash talking side honed from sports camp and his time on his high school soccer team.
The contestants range in age from 23-41 and hail from 13 different states. Their descriptors run the gamit from “The Country Girl” and “The Sci-Fi Nerd” to “The Yogi” and the “Bayou Bodybuilder.” The PG-13 drama plays out over eight episodes.
Mikey, who lives with two friends he met at camp in Brentwood, Calif., has had a brief encounter with TV before. He appeared on George Lopez’s short-lived dating show Take Me Out, and he’s from the same hometown as the star of another new USA show, Graceland‘s Aaron Tveit, but listening to his enthusiasm talking about his camp days it’s not hard to see why producers gave him a call back. In the most recent sneak peek video, he can be seen even when in the periphery of the shot, making a funny face with a feather duster or pumping his fist in the background, having the time of his life.
“I want America to see how much fun summer camp is,” he said with an excitement in his voice that is contagious even for a fellow summer camp enthusiast who hasn’t watched a reality show with any regularity since Real World was in San Francisco. “It was the best time of my life.”