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The Best Nickelodeon Character Bracket: The Sweet 16

As the ‘Avatar’ kingdom falls, juggernauts from shows like ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ and ‘Rugrats’ start to take over

Adam VillacinHarrison FreemanCharles Morales

Thirty years ago this week, a rising, but not-yet-ubiquitous kids network by the name of Nickelodeon launched its first original animated series. Introduced on August 11, 1991, under the brand of “Nicktoons,” Doug, Rugrats, and The Ren & Stimpy Show would quickly become hits and change the course of animation, television, and popular culture at large. To mark the anniversary, The Ringer is looking back at Nick’s best-ever characters and the legacy of the network as a whole. Throughout the week, we’ll be publishing essays, features, and interviews to get at the heart of what made Nick so dang fun—and now so nostalgic.


On Tuesday, I noted how the first round of The Ringer’s Best Nickelodeon Character Bracket emphatically winnowed the pool of Nick shows we hold closest to our hearts. That trend continued in Round 2. After the first round cut the number of shows represented in the bracket from 38 to 19, the second round went even harder—now, heading into the third round, only eight shows remain in the running.

Of those eight shows, three are likely hanging around simply off the strength of their representative: Marc Summers from Double Dare, Kenan Rockmore from Kenan & Kel, and Rocko from Rocko’s Modern Life. The other five, meanwhile, are clearly the top of the top in regard to Nick programming: SpongeBob SquarePants, Rugrats, Doug, The Ren & Stimpy Show, and Hey Arnold! This bracket is on its way to selecting Nickelodeon’s greatest character—but it’s already outlined Nickelodeon’s greatest shows.

Now, after they diced through the competition (mostly in convincing fashion), these animated icons will have to contend with each other. Welcome to the Sweet 16:

Voting on the second round is officially open. Remember: You can place votes here, on Twitter, and on Instagram until 6 p.m. ET.

Bikini Bottom

A Farewell to Avatar

The second round officially marked the end of the road for Avatar: The Last Airbender and its spinoff, The Legend of Korra. All three remaining entrants bit the dust: Korra fell to Ren Höek, Zuko lost to Patrick Star, and most shockingly, Avatar’s protagonist Aang fell to Doug’s Skeeter Valentine—to this point, the biggest upset of the tournament.

No one loves Avatar more than my colleague Aric Jenkins; that passion is a huge reason this entire Nick Week even exists. And so, on this sad day, it only felt appropriate to cede the stage to him:

“The Earth Kingdom … has fallen.” That was the final line of dialogue uttered at the end of Avatar: The Last Airbender’s second season. It marked the lowest point of Team Avatar’s journey throughout the entire series, a period of despair that would go unmatched until—that’s right—all four of its entrants in The Ringer’s Nickelodeon Bracket were knocked out before the Sweet 16. How could this have happened? It’s hard to recall another animated series that has been dubbed by so many as one of the greatest shows in television history. When The Last Airbender reemerged on Netflix in the spring of last year, it leaped back into the public’s consciousness and spent a then-record 61 days on the streaming service’s top 10 chart. With the series and its spinoff The Legend of Korra fresh in the minds of many, some of us at The Ringer expected the franchise’s characters to romp into the later rounds. But ultimately, it seems, nostalgia is more powerful than novelty. Aang, Zuko, Korra, Katara, and Iroh simply don’t have the ’90s sentimentality of Skeeter, Patrick, Ren, Olmec, and Patti Mayonnaise, respectively. Maybe in another 30 years, after the new Avatar Studios is well established, the next generation might feel differently.

We’ll miss you, Avatar. But … the show goes on.

The Matchups

Poll

Which Nick character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 71%
    1. SpongeBob SquarePants, ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’
    (9301 votes)
  • 28%
    4. Marc Summers, ‘Double Dare’
    (3662 votes)
12963 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which Nick character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 57%
    6. Chuckie Finster, ‘Rugrats’
    (7277 votes)
  • 42%
    7. Skeeter Valentine, ‘Doug’
    (5348 votes)
12625 votes total Vote Now

Hillwood

Can a Midrange Seed Win?

With nearly every top seed still standing—for the last time, I apologize to the Avatar fans—it’s looking more and more likely that we’re headed toward a mostly chalk finish. But a few dark horses are still in the running. Two of them reside in this region: The 5-seed Patti Mayonnaise has now taken out Iroh from Avatar and Dora the Explorer—two big names—with an average of 57.5 percent of the vote. Squidward has dominated even more—the lovable curmudgeon had 83 percent of the vote versus Pete & Pete’s Artie in Round 1 and then coasted by Clarissa Darling in Round 2. Patti and Squidward are facing off against Arnold and Ren in the Sweet 16, respectively; that’s no easy task. But after Monday and Tuesday, why would you bet against them?

(The other dark horse, if you’re wondering? Skeeter Valentine. That son of a gun took down Aang—he’s capable of anything.)

The Matchups

Poll

Which Nick character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 73%
    1. Arnold Shortman, ‘Hey Arnold!’
    (9223 votes)
  • 26%
    5. Patti Mayonnaise, ‘Doug’
    (3356 votes)
12579 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which Nick character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 54%
    6. Squidward Tentacles, ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’
    (7554 votes)
  • 45%
    2. Ren Höek, ‘The Ren & Stimpy Show’
    (6204 votes)
13758 votes total Vote Now

Bluffington

A 1-Seed Shall Fall

Honestly, I put a little bit of money on Mr. Krabs taking out Doug in the second round. (Where am I placing bets on a bunch of online polls? You don’t wanna know.) That didn’t end up happening, but it feels like Doug will definitely fall in the third round.

There are two particularly vulnerable 1-seeds: Arnold is facing off against the aforementioned, strong-willed Patti Mayonnaise in Hillwood, and in Bluffington, Doug finds himself pitted against another SpongeBob character, this one even more daunting than the last. Patrick Star has destroyed everyone in his path. In the first round, he defeated Krumm of Aaahh!!! Real Monsters with 81 percent of the vote; in the second round, he wiped out Avatar’s Zuko with 76 percent. (Man, I promised I’d stop talking about Avatar, but it just keeps coming up!) The starfish is getting stronger, and Doug may not be enough to stop him.

The Matchups

Poll

Which Nick character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 54%
    1. Doug Funnie, ‘Doug’
    (7145 votes)
  • 45%
    4. Patrick Star, ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’
    (5942 votes)
13087 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which Nick character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    3. Angelica Pickles, ‘Rugrats’
    (5743 votes)
  • 54%
    2. Rocko, ‘Rocko’s Modern Life’
    (6774 votes)
12517 votes total Vote Now

Reptarland

The Last of the Live-Action Heroes

Marc Summers and Kenan Rockmore—after two rounds, those are the only two actual humans remaining. (For context, the bracket started out with 20 humans.) I mean, it’s only right that a bunch of animated characters dominate a bracket that was made in honor of the launch of Nicktoons, but at the same time, I find myself rooting for these living, breathing things. (If we’re being honest, though, Summers got the easiest two matchups out of anyone in the final 32.) They were able to emerge from a mostly animated landscape and carve out their own place in Nick’s history—Summers as the emcee of the weirdest family game show of the ’90s, Kenan as an affable, goofy teen on an unforgettable show. If this round is the last we see of them—Summers is probably done; Kenan versus Gerald Johanssen might at least be close—then I salute them (and their shorts).

The Matchups

Poll

Which Nick character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 72%
    1. Tommy Pickles, ‘Rugrats’
    (9192 votes)
  • 27%
    4. Stimpy Cat, ‘The Ren & Stimpy Show’
    (3450 votes)
12642 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which Nick character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 66%
    3. Kenan Rockmore, ‘Kenan & Kel’
    (8271 votes)
  • 33%
    2. Gerald Johanssen, ‘Hey Arnold!’
    (4111 votes)
12382 votes total Vote Now
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