Degrassi Junior High “The Great Race” (part 4 of 4)
In the hallway after class, Joey teases Melanie some more, saying he “can’t wait to see you in that bathing suit!” Melanie is humiliated once again, and she runs off. I think we can all see where this is headed.
L.D. catches up to Melanie, and talks about how half the girls on the swim team bailed on Friday’s match. It seems they came up with all sorts of bogus excuses, ranging from “I’m on my period!” to “I don’t want the boys to see me in my bathing suit!” But she’s glad they still have four girls ready and willing to swim, including Melanie, right? Right?
Suddenly, Melanie insists that she, too, won’t be swimming. She doesn’t give a lame excuse, but her rationale should be obvious to anyone paying attention.
Melanie and L.D. are outside now, and L.D. is still putting pressure on Melanie to show up for the race. L.D. again references her brothers, who have always told her things like, “L.D. can’t do it, she’s a girl!” and “L.D.’s dumb, she’s a girl!” and “L.D. can’t be the Republican nominee for Vice President, she’s a girl!” Well, maybe not that last thing.
L.D. says, “This is my big chance!” Yes, you read that right: Somehow, L.D.’s big dream is for someone else to win against the boys. But Melanie talks about what happened in class, and how everyone laughed at her, and how very much it was like the prom scene in Carrie. She says, “It’ll be even worse when they see me in a bathing suit!”
Melanie insists that her bra “shapes me, that’s all”, but she can’t wear it under her swimsuit. So if she shows up at the swim meet she’ll be flat, and people will laugh at her. And she really, really doesn’t want to be laughed at.
Cut to the boys soccer team behind the school, kicking the ball around. Jason appears with Snake, and announces to everybody that he “spoke to the coach… Snake’s on the team!” Just like that, huh? They couldn’t even bother to go through the motions of making him try out?
Wheels suggests they do some “warm-ups”. Asian Kid kicks the ball over to Snake, telling him to pass it back. Snake kicks the ball back, and it goes a bit astray. In fact, it immediately flies directly up into the stratosphere. At that altitude, it has a good chance of entering the same orbit as the baseball hit by Clark Kent.
Snake immediately has second thoughts about joining the team, but Jason insists he only needs “a little bit of practice, that’s all!” And if he can bend the rules of space-time so that soccer fields are vertical instead of horizontal, that would help a lot, too.
Cut to a corner store. It’s a real craphole of a store, but it bears the name DE GRASSI GROCERY. This is an actual grocery store, or it used to be, and it was also the setting for a few episodes of Kids of Degrassi Street. And yet, despite all the free national exposure, the place was torn down a few years back to make way for a townhouse.
Arthur and Yick are across the street from the De Grassi Grocery, sneaking around behind parked cars, and Arthur even has binoculars. They’re spying on Snake coming out of the store, trying to zero in on what he just bought. Arthur peers through his binoculars and finds a candy bar in Snake’s hand. “It’s a Super Crunch Delight!”
Arth-Yick run into the store, and Arthur’s VO says, “20 Super Crunch Delights, please!” And then he adds, “Because I have a prostitute that only accepts payment in the form of Super Crunch Delight bars!” Okay, maybe I made up some part of that, or all of it. I’m not sure.
Cut to the school as a new day dawns. It looks like this is the big day of the race, because Jason and L.D. are on the front steps talking smack to each other. And then Jason reaches over and pats Snake on the shoulder, revealing that he’s now on the soccer team. L.D. is outraged, and yells that he’s “stacking the team!” See? Even L.D. picked up on that right away.
However, Jason has just the right response prepared: “Says who?” Uh, anyone with a brain? Regardless, L.D. is stunned in the face of this comeback, and simply storms off.
Cut to the hallway, where a group of boys are taking bets on the race. Does it come as a shock that Joey is one of them? I didn’t think so. Joey even announces that Snake is swimming, and he’s therefore giving 3:2 odds on the boys. Unfortunately, he’s unaware that the girls have Melanie’s character arc on their side, so the odds are really like ∞:1 in their favor. Melanie somberly watches this tableau, and then walks away.
There’s a shot of Snake sitting on the front steps, eating a Super Crunch Delight bar. He doesn’t look too delighted, but this brief cutaway does serve to transition us to the entire school gearing up for the Great Race. In the pool area, students are already taking their spots on bleachers. The cheerleaders are chanting, “D-E-G-R-A-S-S-I! Degrassi! Degrassi! Degrassi Junior High!” Uh… they do realize that only Degrassi students are competing today, right?
And I have to say, if Melanie thinks she’s flat-chested, she should really spend some time with these cheerleaders, who both look like boys. No wonder the soccer team always loses.
Jason Cox walks into the boys’ locker room, and for some reason, the only people in here are Wheels and Asian Kid. It seems all the other boys bailed on the race, but it’s never explained why. I hope they didn’t also claim they were all on their periods. That would be just a tad bit suspicious.
But the real issue is that Snake is a no-show. The boys look panicked, so Jason runs out to track him down.
Over in the girls’ locker room, they’re facing a similar dilemma, with there being no sign of Melanie. Just then, Steph enters in one of my favorite ensembles, the pink bustier with the turquoise miniskirt, the same thing she wore for Photo Day.
Steph also has a clipboard, and she reads off the speech she prepared: “It’s a big day for the girls swim team, blah blah blah.” That’s verbatim, by the way. She actually says, “blah blah blah”. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it actually said blah blah blah on her clipboard. Voula’s not around to write her speeches for her, so she has to improvise.
L.D. asks Steph why she’s disappointing the ephebophiles of Canada by not wearing her “hot pink wet look bikini”.
“Are you kidding?” Steph scoffs. “Have you seen how many people are out there?” Because deep down, she’s really a very shy and demure girl. At this mention of the huge crowd outside, the girls look even more terrified.
Cut to the Swank Gym, to check on Arthur and Yick for (thankfully) the last time in this episode. They’re both hanging from bars, trying to stretch themselves into getting taller. They talk about how they were sick all night from eating Super Crunch Delight bars, which apparently was not the desired outcome. Yick complains that his arms hurt, so Arthur declares, “No pain without gain!” Wait, I don’t think that’s how the saying… oh, never mind.
Then Arthur proceeds to state the obvious, about how it takes more than diet to get tall, and “stretching” is also important. And that ties a neat little bow on this stupid subplot, I hope, so I can immediately forget about it forever and get on with my life.
Meanwhile, Jason runs around the school looking for Snake. He runs into Melanie, and asks if she’s seen Snake. Several beats pass, and Jason finally remembers that Melanie is in fact one of the girls he’s supposed to be swimming against. Her stone faced demeanor reveals the truth: she won’t be swimming today.
Jason is overjoyed at the news. As he heads down the stairs, he even jumps in the air and taps his heels together. I swear. I’m surprised he doesn’t also break into song. Melanie just stares after him, disgusted. And then we spend half a minute watching Melanie walk down a hall, because this script has a pretty low page count, if you get what I mean.
In the boys’ locker room, Jason shares the good news about Melanie not swimming. The other boys wonder why, so Jason explains, “She knows we’re gonna win! She’s chicken!”
Cut to Melanie leaving the school, where she encounters Snake on the front steps. And it appears he’s still eating that same Super Crunch Delight bar. It’s the candy bar that lasts an extra long time! Like, 6 or 7 hours, at least!
They look at each other, each surprised that the other has decided not to swim. Snake says he’s not swimming because it’s just not right. And he also admits, like it’s some deep dark secret, that he’s not really on the soccer team.
He says he was good at soccer once, but “since I got tall, my feet don’t always do what I tell ’em to anymore!” Well, what do you know? There actually is a dark side to being tall. Are you listening, Arthur and Yick? I’m sure they are. In fact, I’m sure they’re hiding inside his backpack right now.
Snake asks why Melanie’s not swimming. She goes, “I bought this b—”, but then thinks better of it, and simply says that she doesn’t want Joey to laugh at her, because again, she’s one of those weird people who hates being laughed at.
And now it’s time for Snake to drop the moral of the story on us. “Everyone hates being laughed at! You can’t let that stop you from doing stuff! Especially stuff you want to do!” Right on, Mr. Simpson. He says Joey laughs at him, too. “What should I do? Hide?” No, not from Joey per se, but you may want to consider staying out of sight of your two very short stalkers.
Speaking of Joey, he’s now walking into the pool area with his Tom Sawyer hat on, raising his hands in the air and declaring that “boys are number one!” The girls emerge from the locker room, and disembodied voices sing the Degrassi School Song. What are they now, five for five? Five episodes in a row we’ve heard the Degrassi School Song? I give up. It’s in every episode. Now leave me alone and let me be.
There’s a mix of cheers and boos at the girls, and Joey renders his verdict with two downturned thumbs. And then the boys enter. Strangely, a girl (soon to be known as Alexa) actually stands up and cheers for the boys. What the hell? A traitor to her own gender much?
Cut to the girls locker room. Melanie has had a change of heart, as we all knew she would, and is now standing in front of the mirror in her swimsuit. She turns to examine her profile, just like in the cold open, so once again, it has all come full circle.
Outside, the boys team and the girls team stare each other down. And then a triumphant Melanie comes out of the locker room, and the girls jump up and down with glee, while the boys look defeated.
And then Joey stands up, and delivers one of the most talked about lines in Degrassi history.
Cruel, but funny. Yet again. And I guess you can’t say this episode is completely without merit, because that’s one of the few specific lines anybody remembers from the entire run of Degrassi Junior High.
Some people laugh. Melanie looks wounded. And so, L.D. decides to get one up on Ron Artest by charging up into the stands, grabbing Joey, and pulling him down into the pool. The crowd goes wild, because honestly, who doesn’t love a good dunking? And the best part of this is how they’re supposedly in the same grade, and yet L.D. is about six inches taller than Joey. She must love Super Crunch Delight bars.
Joey paddles around in the pool, picking up his floating Tom Sawyer hat and shoving it back on his head. And now that he’s all done receiving his just desserts, we can get on with the actual race.
There’s an abrupt cut to Stephanie with the clipboard in her hand, giving her speech to kick off the race. Are you ready for Steph’s eloquent, heartfelt, carefully considered speech?
That’s seriously the whole thing. After this, she just tells the swimmers to get on their marks. Wow. She actually had to write that down? Geez. Don’t wear yourself out, Steph.
L.D. and Jason stand on blocks, staring each other down. Steph fires off a starter pistol. And she even fires the starter gun all sexy, like she’s auditioning to be a Bond girl. Lord almighty, this girl. But what concerns me more is that someone thought it would be a good idea to give her firearms.
And with that, the race is on. It goes like you expect. Melanie awaits her turn to swim, while L.D. says life-affirming words to her. Melanie dives on in, going head-to-head against Jason (of course). She easily beats him, and just like that, the girls win. There’s a freeze-frame of her head coming out of the pool with a big smile, and that’s our anti-climactic ending.
Yeah, that’s the whole episode. So Melanie was not only able to overcome her own body issues, but also soundly prove that men are not inherently better athletes than women. Just another typical week here at Degrassi Junior High.
I promised to talk about the other creepy real-life event that ties into this episode. Well, here it is: Sara Ballingal, the girl who played Melanie, had her own psycho internet stalker back in the late ’90s.
Here’s the whole story. Allegedly, some accountant in Australia was posting daily crazy messages about Melanie on his Degrassi website. He somehow got hold of Sara’s personal phone number and street address, and used it to send her and her family threatening letters. Reportedly, he liked to talk a lot about guns in these letters, and police would later seize a whole buttload of pistols, shotguns, rifles, and “detonation devices” from his apartment.
Also, he allegedly sent Sara a stuffed koala bear packed inside a shotgun ammunition box [!], and the koala was later exploded by a bomb squad [!!]. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.
The latest information I can find on the case is that it was dismissed, given that the stalking involved a suspect and a victim in different countries, and the Australian authorities felt they had no jurisdiction. I’m not sure what happened after that, but hopefully, that guy got help. I mean, of all the Degrassi girls, he decided to stalk Melanie? I could maybe see Caitlin, or Stephanie, or even Michelle (coming up later), but Melanie? Dude has some issues.
Oh, and since we’re speaking of the real-life fates of Degrassi actresses, I should point out that Nicole Stoffman (Stephanie) did not actually quit Degrassi after the first season due to unease with being Canada’s official national jailbait. I was actually way off base on that.
As it turns out, Nicole left to join the short-lived syndicated sitcom Learning the Ropes, playing the daughter of football player-turned-actor Lyle Alzado. The opening credits can be found on various video websites, and according to the show’s spoken intro, Alzado played a schoolteacher, vice principal, and single dad who secretly moonlighted as a pro wrestler. Why it only lasted thirteen episodes, I’ll never know.
And as to why Nicole didn’t come back to Degrassi once Learning the Ropes tanked… Well, that’s a question for the ages, much like the identity of Doris Bell’s mystery date.
And that’s about all I’ve got on this uncharacteristically dull episode of Degrassi Junior High. If you’re ever planning to introduce others to the Degrassi phenomenon, “The Great Race” is not the place to start. There’s far crazier stuff coming up very shortly, like the aforementioned lesbian episode, which is up next.