South Park often covers ripped from the headlines events. They did a Terry Schiavo episode the week her feeding tube was removed, and a Passion of the Christ episode shortly after the film’s release. Sometimes, Trey Parker and Matt Stone draw from their own lives, as was the case in this classic season 3 episode. Often celebrities are involved, but Flea had a more tangential relationship to this one.
[Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for the South Park episode “Rainforest Schmainforest”.]
Parker and Stone told the story behind the episode “Rainforest Schmainforest” in the season 3 DVD. They blamed Flea for Parker’s negative attitude towards the rainforest.
Trey Parker really visited the rainforest before the ‘South Park’ episode
The South Park third grade class gets a visit from Getting Gay with Kids, led by Mrs. Stevens (Jennifer Aniston). Mrs. Stevens takes the class on a field trip to save the rainforest. Cartman, of course, complains the whole time. The rainforest proves him right when Mrs. Stevens gets kidnapped and attacked by jungle bugs.
“This episode was inspired by Trey’s trip,” Stone said. “Trey went to Costa Rica with him and his girlfriend at the time. He came back and he just hated it. That’s what I remember. I have never been to Costa Rica but Trey hated it and had a bunch of stories.”
Flea was the reason Trey Parker went to the rainforest
Parker lays the blame at Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea. Once South Park made Parker and Stone famous, they got to know more celebrities. Parker soon learned not to listen to all of them.
“It was actually Flea from Chili Peppers that told me I had to go there, it was such a great place and I would love it,” Parker said. “There were snakes everywhere. I’m not a big snake fan and there were snakes everywhere. It was just hot and dirty and smelly. I didn’t like it at all so I came back all pissed off and wanting to make this show. I was pissed off at Flea for lying to me.”
Stone, however, was grateful to Flea.
“But we got a good show out of it,” Stone said.
‘South Park’ satirized the rainforest
“Rainforest Schmainforest” aired in 1999. In an era of rising environmentalism, South Park had some fun with the harsh realities. The episode ends with a text citing all the deadly aspects of the precious rainforest.
“My favorite part about this show is the end where we come up with those things at the end that say this many people die in the rain forest,” Stone said. “Basically the rain forest is cancer, like colon cancer. It’s like a show about cancer.”
Parker just wanted to vent, but it ended up being good satire.
“So basically Cartman, everything he says in this about Costa Rica is just me saying that,” Parker said. “I really loved doing Cartman in this show because I was just getting out my anger. Like a lot of people, I grew up with Earth Day and hearing all this stuff about we’ve got to save the rainforest. I had never been and then I finally went to Costa Rica and I was like wait a minute, this place sucks. We don’t have to save this. F— this place.”
The anti-rainforest message was classic South Park contrarianism.
“That’s kind of the thing,” Stone said. “Most people who want to save this part of the world or do this have never been there. And if they did go there, they’d hate it. This episode isn’t about f— the rainforest. It’s f— the people who love the rainforest.”
With a few years’ distance from his trip and the South Park episode, Parker grudgingly conceded we should still save the rainforest. He just never wants to go there again.
“I guess we need the rainforest,” Parker said.