Oh, uh, hi. You’ve caught me at sort of an awkward time. Please ignore these filthy rags you see me wearing. I’ve been forced to explore other revenue options recently due to that infernal week off taken by the Survivor people. Let me get you your fries, and I’ll see if I can take my break while you eat. Yes, it appears that I can sit with you for a few minutes. I knew it! I have my cracked crystal ball in my duffel bag back in the break room. Go find us a booth, and I’ll be right there. OK, yes, here we go. See the little flashes of light in my cracked crystal ball? They’re leaping together, forming the words of this week’s Survivor episode. Let’s see. It’s a long one this week! Looks like

A Pig Surmise...And Its Brother

It’s the morning after Penny’s dismissal at Tribal Council. It’s not quite sunrise, but the promise of the coming sun makes the sky almost seem to glow. Sitting by himself in the semi-darkness at the water’s edge is Jake. He’s staring at the waves from under the brim of his hat. He strokes his beard pensively. Finally, he nods to himself and comes to his feet. He glances at the cave entrance and mutters, “It’s time for the gloves to come off.” No trace of an accent at all. He grabs the machete and heads into the jungle.

Hours later, Jan and Helen emerge from the cave and stagger down to the ocean for the morning rinse. They pass a pile of algae on the beach, which prompts Jan to burst into inconsolable tears. “Poor little bull kay-elp,” she wails. “They’re all day-ed. I’m going to hold a funeral.”

Helen’s head jerks robotically in response to Jan’s comment. “Actually, Jan, I’m not at all sure we’re looking at bull kelp. That particular algae - whose scientific name is Nereocystis leutkeana, by the way - grows primarily in rocky subtidal regions. And did you know that bull kelp can grow up to two feet per day, making it the world’s fastest-growing plant?”

Jan tearfully gathers the algae and heads off to her densely-populated animal cemetery. It’s not clear that she heard anything Helen said. Like everyone else in camp, Jan has learned how to block out Helen’s voice. As Jan disappears into the jungle, Helen continues, “Bull kelp are actually asexual. Amazingly, a single plant can produce trillions of spores!”

Back at the Cemetery for Beach Creatures Who Died of Natural Causes, Jan is carefully weaving through the mine field of little stick crosses that mark the locations of the seventy or eighty bodies she’s buried. One plot of recently-turned sand bears no cross marking above it, and Jan doesn’t recognize it from the day before, when she’d buried a bird feather and some of her own chewed-off fingernails. Jan begins to dig in that region when suddenly the background music flares up in a very sinister manner, causing her to stop. She looks around nervously, listening to the jarring music hum almost imperceptibly at the periphery of her consciousness. After a moment, she returns to her digging, burning with curiosity to see what’s in the hole. The background music is very unsettling now, piercing the otherwise still morning air with dramatic shrieking high notes which contrast sharply with the ominous bass rumbling that increases in volume and intensity every time Jan’s hand plunges into the soft, sandy earth.

Finally, she reaches her hand deep into the hole, leaning sideways as she wiggles her hand around in the hole’s dark recesses. Suddenly, something grabs her arm and jerks her body to the ground. Her eyes seem to erupt from her skull as she mouths a soundless scream and passes out from fright. Soon after that, the ground begins rumbling and shifting as a shape pushes its way out of the ground. Two hands reach up, and a shadowy male figure, covered head-to-toe in sand, pulls itself out of the hole. Sand cascades off the person as he stands over Jan’s still form, then pads off into the trees.

Back at the beach, Helen is winding down. “The stipe of the bull kelp has dozens of fronds, which act like solar panels by gathering light and - ”

A voice whispers from the jungle. “Six skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into half-inch strips.”

Helen’s head swivels around in the direction of the voice. “Hello?” she calls.

The voice continues: “One egg, beaten. One cup buttermilk. One and a half teaspoons of garlic powder.”

Helen rises slowly to her feet, powerless to resist the siren call of the recipe. “Breaded chicken fingers?” she asks in excitement, her voice shaking. “One cup all-purpose flour.”

The voice hisses in delight, then sends the countersign: “One cup seasoned bread crumbs.”

Helen squirms in excitement and breaks into a trot as the voice begins to retreat further into the jungle. Soon, she is nowhere in sight. Only the ghostly voices of the food-loving pas de deux can be heard, but soon even those sounds fade. “Pour mixture into bag with chicken. Seal and refrigerate...”

The beach is quiet for a few more hours before The Three Amigos wake up and lurch out to the fire pit to lay down. “Where is everyone?” Brian asks, more out of a feeling of responsibility that the question should be asked than for any feeling of actual concern for his three missing tribemates.

Ted shakes his head disinterestedly. Clay does the same.

It’s very quiet. The guys hold a yawning contest. They take a short nap. By midday, though, they’re starting to feel a little depleted. “Well, boys,” Clay squeaks. “We’re going to need something to eat and drink today. Looks like everyone else up and ditched us.”

Brian and Ted grudgingly stand up. Ted agrees to take the boat out for water, while Brian searches for food. Clay will stay at camp and keep an eye out for the missing tribemates. He might even take a nap or two to keep the trio on track for reaching their daily quota.

Ted pushes off into the water and heads over to the cove. After arriving, he grabs the water container and lopes into the jungle to fill it and get out of here. The sooner the water’s safely back at camp, the sooner he can get back to reclining on the ground. Soon after he leaves, a hand emerges from the water and grabs the boat, pulling it back out to sea. When it’s well away from shore, a small hole opens in the middle of the boat as a giant drill bit grinds its way through the hull. A geyser of water shoots up in the middle of the boat. Soon the interior is flooded and the vessel tips up on an end and then glides quietly to the bottom of the ocean.

Meanwhile, Brian is wandering along the beach looking for any bits of slime or sludge that could possibly be eaten. He has some crunchy sand balls in his pocket, just in case he strikes out completely. With his head down as he patrols the beach, he is startled to happen across a pile of palm fronds. He looks up and sees a large mat of the fronds spread out before him. And on the other side of the mat, sprawled out invitingly in a giant spread-eagle position, is -

“Chuay Gal!” Brian whispered. “Wow, how ya been, Baby?” His eyes dance in excitement. He licks a hand and runs it through his hair. He wishes he’d thought to shave or wear a shirt. On the bright side, he’s wearing his itsy-bitsy bathing suit, which always seemed to make Chuay Gal happy. Her dull, sightless face stares up into the blue sky as Brian grooms himself. Finally, Brian smiles broadly and steps out onto the mat. “Come ‘ere, Chuay Baby,” he begins before suddenly letting out a cry and plunging into the deep hole beneath the mat.

Back at camp, Clay’s getting nervous. Nobody’s back yet, and it’s going to be dark soon. That’s when all the hungry critters come out, and they’re always interested in a little appetizer like Clay before commencing their nightly hunts. Usually, Brian or Ted are on-hand to frighten away the aggressive little sand crabs or carnivorous beetles that continually try to wrestle Clay away to their sandy lairs for future consumption. But not now. It’s been hours, and neither person has returned. Nervously, Clay retrieves the makeshift jungle flashlight the group assembled the week before and edges out away from camp and into the gathering gloom. “Brian?” he peeps, playing the flashlight beam in all directions but never long enough to actually see anything. “Ted?” The jungle taunts him with unexplained noises. A cracking branch. A heavy thump.

Clay’s breathing is fast and labored. Rivers of sweat course down his tiny face, fogging his glasses. All he can think to do is call names and wave his flashlight around. Where is everybody? “Helen? Jan? Jake? Magilla?” A howl from the trees. Something coughs. Clay stops in his tracks and plays his flashlight in the direction of the coughing sound. Nothing. He takes his glasses off to wipe them dry. Suddenly, a butterfly net swooshes down and captures him. He shrieks in terror and reaches desperately for the rim of the net, but it’s too far away. It’s hopeless. He’s caught. Foiled once again by his diminutive size. He can’t see his kidnapper in the darkness. He settles into the net and resigns himself to his fate as he’s carried off into the jungle.

Hours later, Jeff wanders into camp, wearing an expression of combined outrage and confusion. The camp is quiet. The fire is burning, though, and someone’s sitting next to it. As Jeff draws nearer, he sees that it’s Jake, scribbling away in his journal. “Hey! Jake! What’s going on?”

Jake looks up in confusion. “What are you talking about, Jeff?” he inquires politely.

Jeff does a double-take. “No...no accent?” He shakes his head as if to clear it. “Anyway, nobody showed up for the Reward Challenge. What’s going on?”

Jake slapped his forehead. “Wow, Jeff, completely spaced that one. See, everyone else has turned up missing, and I never even thought to check Tree Mail. What’d we miss?” He grins at Jeff amiably.

“They’re...missing?” Jeff asks blankly. “Hm, this is odd.” He thinks for a minute, then hands Jake a bag he’d been carrying. “Well, I guess these beans are yours then. Not sure what we’re going to do about the rest of the game.” After a bit more thinking, Jeff’s eyes narrow suspiciously, and he snatches the journal out of Jake’s hand. He reads aloud: “'My only chance at this point appears to be having someone airlifted out of the game for medical reasons. All them Chuay Gahns are tighter than a can of sardines and just as stupid.'” Jeff lowers the journal and glares at Jake. “Threatening the other Survivors is forbidden, Jake. What’d you do with them?”

Jake holds his hands up and shrugs. “Honestly, Jeff, I haven’t done a thing with ‘em. I don’t have any idea where they are.”

Tipping his head back, Jeff issues a complicated whistle signal. Immediately, hundreds of on-duty Red Berets emerge from the jungle and the ocean. “Find them!” Jeff growls. Within minutes, all five of the missing Survivors are carried to the beach by a Beret. Apart from a shivering Ted and a dazed-but-happy-looking Helen, they all appear to be in good health. None of them clearly remembers what happened to them or who did it.

“All right,” Jeff barks. “Let’s get some sort of Challenge on film today, shall we?” He glares at Jake and snarls, “We’ll finish this later, Jake. Come on, everyone.”

The group travels to Challenge Beach, where six colored doors are standing. Each door has a big number on it. Next to the doors are a couple of video monitors. Jeff steps up to the monitors and describes the next Challenge. “OK, folks, today’s Challenge is for Immunity. I’m going to ask you a series of trivia questions about Thailand. Your answers will take you to one of the different doors. When we’re done, if you’ve answered all of the questions correctly, you’ll be standing in front of the right door. If not, well...” Jeff grins evilly and turns on one of the video monitors. The image on the screen is that of a ferocious, drooling wild boar. It appears to be trapped in some sort of long kennel. “You’re looking at Titus,” Jeff explains. “He’s a particularly ill-tempered specimen that we captured a week ago. He’s hungry, he’s scared, and he’s itching for a fight. If you guess – or surmise” – a quick cheesy grin to the cameras – “incorrectly, he could be waiting for you behind one of the doors.” Jeff flicks on the other video monitor. Sitting docilely in a similar kennel is a merry-looking pig wearing the Immunity Necklace. “This is Titus’ brother, Magnus. He’s exceedingly well-behaved. He loves people, and he’d gladly give you the Immunity Necklace from around his neck. If you answer the questions correctly, he’ll be waiting on the other side. If more than one of you pick Magnus’ door, you’ll need to physically fight each other to be the first to remove the necklace from his neck. Everybody understand? Survivors ready? Go!”

Nobody moves. Jeff blushes. “Oh, yeah, right. The questions. Hold on.”

After a series of dull, boring questions, the tribe is lined up like this: Jake and Helen in front of Door #1, Clay in front of Door #3, Ted in front of Door #5, and Jan and Brian in front of Door #6. One at a time, the doors are raised into the air by ropes and pulleys. Jake and Helen flinch and scream when their door is raised, but the kennel is empty. Ted’s door is randomly chosen next. He closes his eyes and howls as his door is raised, but it, too, is empty. Then comes Jan and Brian’s door. The two hold each other closely and sob in horror as the door comes up. They hear a grunt or snuffle as the door goes up. Their shrieking increases. When the door’s all the way up, Brian risks a peek with one eye and sees Magnus sitting there smiling at him, his little curly tail wagging beneath him. Brian shoves Jan into the sand and grabs the necklace. “Immunity!” Jeff cries.

Clay sighs in relief and heads over to Jeff. “Where are you going, Clay?” Jeff asks. “We still need to open your door.” He grins like a skull.

“But...but...” Clay whimpers.

“Shut it, Small Man!” Jeff cries. “Door Number Three, Shrimpy. Move it!

Clay cowers in front of the door. He’s curled up in a standing fetal position, whining like a tiny toy airplane. The door goes up, and a snarling, drooling thunder of hooves races out of the kennel. Titus’ eyes glow red, and he breathes fire from his snout. Amazingly, he completely straddles balled-up Clay as he storms out of his pen. His eyes light on Jeff and he gives chase, howling unearthly pig noises as he goes. Jeff’s eyes bug out and he sprints away, hollering over his shoulder as he runs, “See you at Tribal Council in a few days!”

Later, at Tribal Council, a bandaged and limping Jeff asks some pointed questions about the events of a few days ago. “So, Jake, if you didn’t kidnap everyone in an attempt to stay in the game, then who did?”

A shadowy figure walks into the Tribal Council area, eliciting a few screams from both the Survivors and the jury. As the shape passes by the fire, his face can be clearly seen. “Burnett?!?” the group cries in unison. The man nods sadly.

“Just a minute!” a voice cries from offstage. Another Mark Burnett emerges from the shadows and approaches the first one. “Much as I’d like to see all of these clowns suffer some painful game-ending injury, it wasn’t me. Let’s see who this really is!” He reaches out and tugs on the hair of the first Burnett. Immediately, a latex mask pops off, revealing -

Richard Hatch?!” the crowd gasps.

“Yes!” he growls. “And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn’t for those meddling Red Berets.”

“But why, Richard, why?” Jeff asks as he changes the dressing on one of his more ghastly wounds.

“My fifteen minutes are gone, Jeff. And Survivor’s ratings are suffering. I needed to do something to get people talking about the show and about me again. I just had to.” He begins sobbing.

“Come on, Big Fella,” Burnett says softly. “Let’s go get you a milk shake.”

Back to the voting, everyone says they’re going to vote off someone other than Jake. But, in the end, Jake is booted 5-1. Oo, what a big surprise...and another.

And now the visions are gone. On top of that, my break ended five minutes ago. The crew chief is going to be ticked at me. Maybe next week, I’ll have my parlor back. See you then!