Despite the iconic opening lyrics to his theme song, it seems that our favorite animated underwater fry cook, SpongeBob SquarePants, may actually live in more than just a pineapple under the sea. For years, fans have heralded a popular theory arguing that the reason behind Bikini Bottom's hijinks-loving sea creatures, dramatic explosions, and perpetual penchant for “nautical nonsense" is much darker than meets the eye, stemming from the residual radioactive effects of nuclear testing at Bikini Atoll. After all, how else would an everyday, ordinary sea sponge develop the complex sentience needed to lead what is definitively the greatest halftime performance in all of recorded history? Widely speculated to be the inspiration behind Bikini Bottom, Bikini Atoll is a very real location in the Marshall Islands known for withstanding several United States nuclear tests between 1946 to 1958, its residents still grappling with the radioactive aftermath of the atoll's atomic past, a reality some fans claim carries over to the area's purported cartoon inhabitants. 

A theory long confined to the pages of Creepypasta, YouTube explainers, and fan forums, it seems the show's speculative nuclear origin story has made its way offline and into the hallowed halls of Nickelodeon, finding acknowledgment – and even in some cases, acceptance – among members of the SpongeBob team, Cracked can exclusively confirm. According to one member of Nickelodeon's creative promotions department who spoke under the condition of anonymity out of fear of professional retribution, the highly-popular Bikini Atoll theory is unofficial canon, functioning “as well-accepted fanfic” and finding “casual mentions" in discussions between colleagues working on or adjacent to the show. 

“Within my team, it's generally known about but not often talked about -- mostly because we promote all the shows and don't have much time for enjoying ourselves at all," they joked, quipping that among their duties, speculating on the nuclear roots of SpongeBob is placed “deep down” -- perhaps even at the “rock bottom”  – of their to-do list.  

Having first discovered the show's proposed atomic connection while presumably perusing the bowels of Reddit, Twitter, or possibly Tumblr long before their Nickelodeon tenure, the staffer says they bought into the SpongeBob conspiracy as much as they did other fan theories. "It definitely seemed legit at the time,” continued the employee, who says they still believe in Bikini Bottom's connection to Bikini Atoll. 

First emerging on Reddit approximately nine years ago, according to ScreenRant, fans have cited several pieces of evidence in arguing Bikini Bottom's status as a radioactive hellhole. As some armchair sleuths noted that the show's undersea residents often sport 1940's fashions and mannerisms, traits that may hint at the time period in which the radioactivity began kicking in, others referenced an unverified script purporting to be the series's pilot featured on SpongeBob's Fanon Wiki. “Welcome, one and all, to Bikini Atoll,” read the first line of the alleged script. “It's a bit boring, but I guess everything in the human world is boring.” Because as we all know, nothing says ‘total snoozefest’ like grappling with nuclear fallout – just ask the eight million people who watched HBO's Chernobyl

The most explosive evidence hinting at this conspiracy, however, stems from a 2001 episode entitled “Dying for Pie.” Centering around detonating delicacies, the episode ends with a bang – literally – as our leading sponge presents Squidward with an explosive pastry from a pocket of his world-famous square pants. “Oh, you mean this pie!” he says with a grin. “I was saving it for us to share. Let's eat!” As he hands the pie off to his panicked pal, tragedy strikes when SpongeBob trips over a rock and tosses the pie into Squidward's terrified face, prompting an explosion so grand, it warrants its a live-action cutaway to what appears to be vintage footage of an atomic blast. 

Upon a closer examination, the mushroom cloud looks eerily familiar, closely resembling a photo of an explosion at Bikini Atoll from the National Security Archive and footage from an unverified video claiming to depict the “Baker" test, which marked the first time a nuclear weapon was ever detonated underwater. 

From left to right: The explosion from Dying For Pie, a photo of a Bikini Atoll nuclear test from The National Security Archives, and a screengrab of a video claiming to depict the 'Baker' test.

Despite this resemblance, a representative for Nickelodeon seemingly quashed this theory, reiterating that “the show is set in Bikini Bottom" in an emailed statement to Cracked. Even in the face of official denial, it seems fans -- and the promotions team member in question -- remain undeterred in their nuclear convictions surrounding the beloved cartoon. 

“I think every strong fan base comes up with their own explanations for things that are left open-ended, either intentionally or through negligence,” they said. “SpongeBob has one of the most loyal and wide-ranging fanbases around - I’m sure there are tons of theories we’ve never heard about."

The show's consistency, too, also likely lends a hand when it comes to this type of speculation. "Another thing about the world of the show is it’s very forgiving - though crazy things happen to the characters in each episode, life remains relatively stable in Bikini Bottom. For this reason, I think any theory (no matter how far fetched) becomes somewhat believable."

One of these far-fetched, somewhat believable theories? Rock Bottom, the bizarre city where SpongeBob gets lost after riding the wrong bus home in the show's first season, infamous for its iconic glove hats, language mostly consisting of blowing raspberries, and seemingly eternal darkness isn't just weird – it's a radioactive wasteland. “One thing I’ve heard that really sold me was that Rock Bottom, according to this theory, is a huge nuclear crater - which definitely offers an explanation of the creatures there,” the staffer explained, adding that the nuance ranks among their “favorite specificities to the theory."

Despite the excitement of falling down a conspiratorial rabbit hole – or, well, in this case, a very deep nuclear crater – the SpongeBob team member asserts that even if the theory was officially confirmed, “it’s not in the best interest of the show” to go full Adventure Time and openly address the rumors. “I think it’s more fun to imagine that it’s true than to know it for sure,” they explained. “If one day they decided to address it in an episode, that would be a different story. And a news-worthy one at that.”

While the show's officials will likely remain tight-lipped when it comes to the series's speculated nuclear backdrop, there is one theory the SpongeBob team has embraced with open arms -- the, erm, strange relationship between Patrick Star and SpongeBob's pet snail, Gary. “I would encourage all interested parties to look into Patrick’s family tree," they said. “Generously put, it’s a mess. A beautiful, loving, slimy mess.”

Regardless of what the future holds for SpongeBob's many conspiracies – his possible nuclear origin included -- there's one thing the mystery staffer (a.k.a the Bikini Bottom equivalent of Watergate's Deep Throat) says they know for sure –  "SpongeBob will live forever - whether he’s radioactively immortal or not!"

Top Image: U.S. Military/Nickelodeon

For more internet nonsense, follow Carly on Instagram @HuntressThompson_ on TikTok as @HuntressThompson_, and on Twitter @TennesAnyone.

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