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.
After more than 2.5 million votes cast across 63 rounds of competition, the winner of the Best Nickelodeon Character Bracket is clear. Or is it?
Throughout the final round on Friday evening, SpongeBob SquarePants and Tommy Pickles were locked in a tight battle across social media. On Instagram, the former marginally led the polls by roughly five percentage points. On Twitter, Tommy inched dangerously close to narrowing the gap, with the vote nearly split at 50-50.
SpongeBob SquarePants and Tommy Pickles are battling for the #NickCharacterBracket championship!— The Ringer (@ringer) August 13, 2021
Are you siding with the beloved yellow sponge or everyone's favorite 1-year-old baby? #NickCharacterBracket
But around 7:30 p.m. ET, with the polls set to close in 90 minutes, we began to notice something peculiar: Tommy was running riot in our website poll.
Now, it certainly isn’t abnormal for our web page poll to vary somewhat from those on Twitter and Instagram. Different demographics favor different voting methods; anecdotally, I would assume younger voters feature more prominently on social media, while older generations—those who grew up with Rugrats—might have more of a presence on the website.
But given the shocking lead Tommy had built over the tournament’s odds-on favorite, who was winning—albeit meagerly, but still winning—on two out of three voting platforms, we knew something foul was afoot. That disparity, combined with the fact that the poll had registered more voters than total page views on the post, raised red flags. Additionally, we had seen this suspicious activity occur in a bracket before: Those who were around for the Best TV Character of the Century Bracket are well aware of the Gob Bluth Debacle, in which a hacker clearly engineered bots to rig the election for Gob over Ron Swanson. We had a precedent for this type of scandalous behavior, and just like in that instance, we had to make a big call.
That call, after careful consideration, was to throw out the website votes. And with the winner of the social media polls settled, we can now announce the champion: SpongeBob SquarePants is the Best Nickelodeon Character of all time.
Clearly, as was typical in Rugrats, ol’ Stu and Didi Pickles weren’t paying attention to their son. With Grandpa Lou asleep and maybe Angelica—bitter about her defeat by Rocko in the Sweet 16—whispering sinister encouragement into Tommy’s ears, he hacked the bracket. That’s what happens when you leave kids unattended; they’ll wreak havoc.
But a baby’s gotta do what a baby’s gotta do, and in this case it was doing whatever it took to have any hopes of defeating SpongeBob. Among all this bracket malfeasance, let us not forget how challenging of an opponent the Bikini Bottom resident was always going to be. Tommy may have kickstarted the Nicktoons revolution, but SpongeBob is the modern-day king of Nickelodeon, whose reach transcends international borders and language. That was on full display in this tournament, as he opened with a complete domination over CatDog and Cosmo and Wanda in the first two contests. SpongeBob then fended off Double Dare’s Marc Summers and Tommy’s best friend, Chuckie, averaging 77 percent of the vote through four rounds. The Sponge then faced his most daunting test to that point in the Final Four: Arnold Shortman, a fellow 1-seed. But in the end, the Hey Arnold! hero was no match for SpongeBob, who prevailed with an overall score of 59-41.
Congratulations to SpongeBob SquarePants. He stepped up to this competition, looked his challengers in the eyes, and said, “I’m ready.” And in the end, he now takes claim to being the greatest character in the history of Nickelodeon.
Despite the controversial final, I’d like to thank everyone who voted (fairly) in our bracket. It was a week full of joyous nostalgia, fond remembrances, and entertaining, friendly debate. In this tournament, we truly learned the power of generational divides. But once we reached the conclusion, we were all in agreement that no matter when you were born, where you were from, or what you preferred watching, Nickelodeon left an indelible mark on us all. Thanks for participating. We had a blast.