Well, hello, there! Yes, yes, come in. Welcome to my new parlor! I reached the end of my rope with those idiot hamburger people last week and parted ways with them. The decision to end our association was entirely mutual: they were weary of all my emergency sessions with desperate clients, and I’d had enough of all those unpleasant, greasy hours hunched over the french fry vat. Look at my face even now! I’m still shining like wet pavement. How can people live like that? But enough discussion on that distasteful matter! You’re here to learn about the penultimate episode of Survivor:Thailand, and I have to admit that I’m rather curious to see how things turn out myself. Let’s find out together, shall we? Pull up a chair and gaze with me into my cracked crystal ball. Try to regulate your breathing; it seems to help. Ah, there we are. See the colored puffs of smoke swirling in unison? They’re spelling the title of this week’s episode. It’s

The Sides Are Burning

Early morning of Day 34 finds Jan up and out of the cave before anyone else. She burns a couple of minutes performing her morning ritual of half-hearted old folks calisthenics. She “works out” just long enough to convince herself she’s actually done something worthwhile for her frozen joints. It’s especially hard to concentrate on her grueling wakeup regimen today because she has a special mission in mind.

Taking a quick glance around the entire camp to ensure nobody is awake, Jan heads off into the jungle, humming a merry little tune of derangement. She hopes she can remember the way to her secret destination. She hopes the special cargo she’s seeking will still be there when she arrives. If she arrives. The undergrowth is formidable this deep in the jungle, and she’s not used to traveling alone. “Ah’m not a lay-der,” she mumbles aloud. Her voice is quivering, and the tears look like they’re not far behind.

And then, suddenly, she’s there. There are the two short benches. And there, just off to the side, is the long serving bar. She’s found it: the hidden location of the Loved Ones Gross Food Reward Challenge! Now if she can locate the contents of the bucket, she’ll have some very unique specimens to bury in her little graveyard. “Little scorpion bits,” she murmurs in excitement. “Maybe even a tarantula lay-eg.”

A voice interrupts her monologue: “I thought I might find you here.”

Jan’s head jerks up in surprise, and tears spontaneously spray sideways out of her eyes. She looks around in wild panic before finally spotting someone sitting at the base of a tree. It’s Bryan. He’s chewing on something and licking his fingers. “Brahn!” Jan cries. “What are you doing here?”

Brian slowly chews and swallows whatever is in his mouth. Then he smacks his lips and runs his tongue around his teeth. Finally, he speaks. “Your instincts serve you well, Jan. There were insect remains here. I knew you’d be unable to stay away. Unfortunately for you, they’re gone now. And they were delicious.” He flashes a dazzling what-can-I-do-to-get-you-to-leave-here-with-a-new-car-today smile before continuing. “The good news is that we have a few moments alone here to, uh, re-confirm our bond. Remember, Jan. I’m taking you to the final two.”

Jan’s face softens, and new happy tears pour out to replace the frightened ones. “Oh, Brahn,” she whispers softly before pulling him in for the kind of hug you don’t normally see elementary school teachers administering, at least not to their students.

Some time later, the two return to camp to discover Helen sitting alone by the fire. She’s rocking back and forth, mumbling something under her breath. As the pair approaches, they can hear what she’s saying: “Begun in 431 BC, The Peloponnesian War pitted the powerful Athenians against the Spartans, who were increasingly uncomfortable with the growing influence of the Athenians. They hoped that their 2-to-1 advantage in population would carry them to victory, but they did not count on the nautical superiority of the Athenians. They had no idea what role that advantage would have - ”

“Good morning, Helen!” Brian calls, waving his hand in a casual manner precisely calculated to inspire the maximal amount of trust and amity in Helen.

“Brian!” Helen cries. “How are you? I wondered where you’d gone. Oh. Hi, Jan.”

“Helen.” The two women stare at each other coldly.

Brian breaks the tension by clapping his hands enthusiastically. “Helen, what say you and I go retrieve some water? Get out and enjoy the fresh air? That sort of thing.”

“Of course, Brian. That sounds wonderful.” She glares at Jan. “Let’s go.”

The two launch Betsy II and slowly paddle to the water hole. When they arrive at Water Hole Beach, Brian leans forward and places his hand on Helen’s shoulder. “I’m so glad we found a chance to be alone,” Brian says softly. “Remember, Helen. I’m taking you with me to the final two.”

Helen turns to Brian and pulls him in for a fierce hug. “Oh, Brian!” she gasps.

A little while later, the pair return with plenty of water for the tribe. By now, Ted and even Clay have shifted out of the cave and are now laying side-by-side on the beach like an unconscious giant and his furry handbag. After mooring the boat and handing the water buckets to Jan so she can get things boiling, Brian trots down to the water’s edge and lays down next to Ted. “What is up, my brother?” he asks in a measuredly jovial tone of voice.

“Brian!” Ted exclaims. He extends his hand, and the pair rapidly execute a lengthy and complicated handshake.

“Want to grab some firewood?” Brian asks hopefully.

“You bet!” Ted bellows, scrambling to his feet.

“Mind if I tag along?” peeps Clay.

“Actually, Clay, why don’t you stay put?” Brian replies. “Maybe you and I can go grab Tree Mail later.”

“Sure, yeah, all right. That sounds great, Brian. Just great. I’ll be countin’ ‘em down. You boys hurry up now.”

Deep in the jungle, the two men assemble an imposing stack of three or four tree branches when Brian pauses and places a hand on Ted’s broad shoulder. “Nice to finally get some alone time, eh, Big Ted?” he asks. “Remember, Ted. It’s going to be you and me in the final two.”

Ted drops an armful of firewood and hauls Brian into a powerful hug. “Oh, Brian!” Ted sighs.

After a while, the pair return from the jungle with a few choice pieces of firewood, enough to last until Helen and Jan can get out there and find a bunch more to keep the tribe afloat for the rest of the day.

“Anyone seen Clay?” Brian asks, feeling a little worried. After the women shake their heads, Brian decides to go check Tree Mail. When he arrives, he pops open the lid of the mailbox to see two miniature feet sticking up in the air. “Clay!” Brian cries in horror. He pulls the limp little man out of the mailbox and lays him on the ground. “Clay!” he yells, tapping Clay’s tiny face lightly in hopes of reviving him.

Presently, Clay shakes his head groggily and squints up at Brian. “Brian! Oh, wow, am I happy to see you! I was just trying to check our Tree Mail, and I lost my balance and fell in. I - I - I - ”

“Shh, little fella,” Brian whispers soothingly. “You’ll be all right. Just rest for a while.” He stands up and stretches to relieve the soreness in his back from hunching over Clay. “In a way, it’s good that this happened. Gives us a chance to be alone.” He looks down at Clay. “Remember, Clay. We are the final two, you and I.”

“Oh, Brian!” Clay cries. He leaps up and grabs the bottom of Brian’s shirt, then pulls himself hand over hand until he can throw his arms around Brian’s neck and give him a big hug.

Not long after that, the pair return to camp with the clue for the next Reward Challenge in hand. Everyone throws on athletic clothing and tramps off to Challenge Beach. Jeff is waiting for them, leaning against a giant tarpaulin with something big and car-shaped underneath it. “Come on in, everyone. Find a seat.” After everyone’s settled, Jeff begins. “Today’s Reward Challenge is - ”

“Jeff! Jeff! Excuse me. Jeff?” Brian is waving his hand around excitedly.

Jeff is obviously peeved at the interruption. “What is it, Brian? Can’t it wait?”

“No, it can’t. I need a word with you in private.”

Jeff’s eyebrows shoot up, threatening to launch themselves off the top of his head. He frowns in thought for a second, then shrugs. “All right. Come on.” The two head off to a nearby shelter of trees, out of earshot of the rest of the tribe. “What is it, Brian? Everything all right?”

Brian places his hand on Jeff’s shoulder. “Just wanted a little alone time, friend,” he begins. “Remember, Jeff. I’m taking you with me to the final two.”

Jeff slowly reaches up and grabs Brian’s hand on his shoulder. “Oh, Brian,” he croaks. “I’ve been so alone.” He embraces Brian vigorously.

After a little bit, the two return to the group and Jeff continues his description of the Reward Challenge. “Today’s Challenge is actually going to be a little bit different from what we’ve done in the past. Because of the complexity and – indeed – the danger of this Challenge, we have decided to offer both a very nice Reward and Immunity to the winner.” The group murmurs rapidly among themselves. Jeff turns his head to the side and looks skyward, soaking in the fear and excitement generated by his minions. When they stop chattering, he looks back at the group. “In today’s Challenge, we will test both your knowledge of how to build a campfire and your commitment to winning, even in the face of certain death.” More chatter from the Survivors and even a few Jan tears. “First, you’ll need to get a campfire going. When the flames are high enough, they’ll burn through a supporting wire that’s holding a torch up in the trees. The torch will slide down and land next to you. At that point, you must ignite your torch and run to one of the five tunnel walkways that have been constructed behind you.”

The group turns and sees five metal tunnels about fifty feet in length. At either end of the tunnels stand 6-foot-tall archways made of reinforced steel. The two main archways are connected by more steel along the top with mini-archways every ten feet or so for added support. On each side of the tunnel is a sheet of canvas which extends from the roof of the structure to the ground and runs the entire length of the tunnel.

Jeff continues. “You’ll take your torch and set fire to the canvas sheets on both sides of your tunnel. Then run to the other end and traverse the fifty feet through the tunnel. First person to emerge from the burning end of their tunnel is the winner. The canvas has been dried and treated with highly flammable chemicals. It will burn blindingly fast, and it will be unbearably hot. Make no mistake: this Challenge is insanely dangerous. But Immunity is at stake, as well as a fantastic prize that you can enjoy after the show.” He pats the tarp-covered, car-shaped thing. “And – hey – don’t forget to stay low when crawling through your tunnel. Most people die of smoke inhalation during a fire. I mean, yeah, lots of people burn, too. But the smoke inhalation part can be really nasty. All right. Everybody understand? Good. Survivors ready? Go!”

The group scrambles into action, gathering tinder and small sticks. By chance, a cluster of wild waterproof matches is growing nearby. Nobody stops to think why that might be, but it should be obvious that the producers don’t care who starts the fire first. The flaming tunnel traversal will obviously be the bigger ratings-grabber. In moments, everyone has a good roaring fire.

Ted’s fire burns through the wire first, and his torch sizzles down and lands next to him with a thump. Ted ignites his torch and races over to one of the tunnels. He touches the torch to just one canvas side of the tunnel structure, and it erupts into flame so forcefully it knocks him to the ground. Everyone else stops what they’re doing just to watch. Ted jumps up and lights the other side, then drops the torch and runs to the other end of the tunnel.

“Good, Big Ted!” Jeff yells. “The sides are burning!” He turns to the camera and delivers a phony grin with his eyebrows raised. “Now get through that tunnel and win this thing!”

By the time Ted gets to the opening of his tunnel, the other end has burned all the way down to the halfway point. The heat is oppressive. Sparks are flying from the chemically-treated canvas sides. Suddenly, two more of the tunnels nearby burst into flames from the flying sparks of Ted’s tunnel. Jeff’s mouth opens in surprise. The other four Survivors are huddled together behind a tree, their heads poking out just enough to witness the horror.

Ted pulls his shirt up over his mouth and dives into the sand. Another tunnel explodes into flame. The four flaming tunnels are burning so brightly they can be seen from outer space. Nearby trees are blowing back and forth. Ted begins a determined military crawl into the tunnel, whose sides are now nearly 75% immersed in flames.

Jeff and the other Survivors stare in bug-eyed terror as the last tunnel explodes. The air is wavy from the heat. There is no way Ted can survive. “Wow,” Jeff whispers. “We should’ve playtested this one.” He watches nervously as the minutes slowly tick by. It’s impossible to see into the tunnel, but Ted couldn’t possibly be enjoying the experience. Jeff is considering calling in the fire crew to extinguish the blaze and haul out Ted’s toasted remains when a mound of sand begins to form twenty feet past the exit to Ted’s tunnel. In a moment, a big hand punches its way through the top of the mound. Right behind the hand is Big Ted, who climbs out of the sand and unleashes a triumphant battle cry while pumping his fist repeatedly.

“Immunity!” Jeff shrieks in amazement. “And a terrific Reward!” As the Survivor fire crew races in to quell the blaze and the other four Survivors spill out from behind the tree to hug Ted, Jeff whips the tarpaulin off the vehicle behind him. “Congratulations, Big Ted!” he yells. “For your hard-earned Reward, you’ll get a visit from this truck every month for the rest of your life!” Everyone stops their celebrating and peers at the pickup truck behind Jeff. He steps aside, revealing a sign on the side of the vehicle: “Beans of the Month Club”.

Ted glares at Jeff, snatches the Immunity Necklace out of his hands, and trudges back to camp. “What?” Jeff said, holding his hands in the air in an exaggerated shrug. “What’s wrong with you? Beans every month for the rest of your life, my man! We’re talking cut green beans, baked beans, garbanzo beans, pinto beans. Come on, Ted! Give the camera a smile so we can get some nice celebration footage for the show. Ted? Ted?!?”

At Tribal Council a couple of days later, Brian gets the attention of each member of the jury while Jeff is talking. One at a time, he points at himself and a jury member and holds up two fingers while nodding reassuringly. Each person beams at him and gives him the thumbs-up. When the votes are tallied, though, Brian is booted 4-1. He sits in stunned silence while Jeff tries to get him to bring his torch to the front. “Uh-uh,” Brian says emphatically. “I’m going to the two. I’m in the final two. I’m taking everyone to the two. Me. Two.” The others help Brian to his feet and walk him to the front with his torch. After his flame is snuffed, they point him to the exit and give him a gentle shove in the back. He shuffles off to the boat dock, where the S.S. Loser is waiting to spirit him away to the camp psychiatrist. As he climbs on the boat, he looks at the captain and advises him he’s taking him to the final two. “Oh, big-haired American man!” the captain groans as the boat heads off into the night.

And that’s the end of the vision. Come back next week for the exciting, action-packed final precap for Survivor:Thailand!