Ah, yes, there you are! I was beginning to wonder if you realized you were going to be late. Not that it matters, of course. I knew to expect you at this time. I also happen to know that you rushed here without eating so I’ve prepared a Hot Pocket for you, which should be ready to remove from the microwave...now! So, please, settle into that pile of pillows over there and get comfortable. Pay no heed to any gurgles my stomach might make as we discuss this week’s episode of Survivor:The Amazon. The mere notion that I was cooking that Hot Pocket for myself is lunacy. Banish it from your mind! And now, as you munch - almost seductively - on that delicious microwaveable snack, I will look deeply into my cracked crystal ball, for therein lies truth. Total silence, please! Even the sound of your lips smacking pleasurably together may disrupt the mystic powers of the crystal ball. In fact, let’s put that Hot Pocket over here by me for the time being. Ah, yes! Now I see the arc of the future. It’s giving me a one-word signal, which I can only conclude is the title for this week’s episode. It’s


As the sun rises on the fourth day at Jaburu, a truly horrific scene is revealed. Scattered about the camp are the motionless bodies of all eight women, each in a frightening pose of distress. It appears that a wild animal of some sort has swept through camp, pulling blankets off everyone before eating them. It’s looking like a total disaster for this Survivor series because the show will air for only five episodes instead of thirteen, thereby missing Sweeps completely and denying CBS the major ad dollars they so richly deserve.

Then, miraculously, Joanna’s finger twitches. She rolls about on the ground in a restless manner before finally sitting up and rubbing one eye. She’s alive! She clears her throat and offers up a preliminary “Glooooory!” She claps her hands to the hidden beat in her head and blasts a more full-throated and confident “Praaaaise be!” Other women begin to shift around and push themselves into a sitting position until, eventually, each of the seven is mutely watching Joanna as she bobs her head, snaps her fingers, and sings variations of “Hallelujah!” It appears that they were all just sleeping on the ground and had kicked their covers off during the night.

Finally, Deena speaks up. “Good morning, Joanna,” she says wearily. “Any particular reason we should be thankful this morning?”

Joanna flashes a wide grin at Deena. “Every dawn out here is a bona fide miracle because it marks another evening without casualties in our completely shelterless camp. Can I get an ‘Amen, sister’?”

Deena sighs in frustration and nods slowly. “You are exactly right,” she says. “I keep expecting to wake up next to a bloated, woman-shaped anaconda. Ladies, we really do need to get a shelter together today. If we don’t, we could be in serious trouble.”

Jenna clears her throat. “Um, yeah, Deena. So just a couple of thoughts on that. First of all, my buff and my underwear are starting to smell like they’ve been pickled in a jar of my own sweat. I’m going to have to make a priority of getting them boiled today. And secondly, you’re not the boss of me, all right? So you can just cut the whole psycho drill sergeant routine. The shelter will get done when it gets done.”

The two women stare coldly at one another while their tribemates cough and shift around uncomfortably, trying to pretend nothing awkward is taking place. A snake rattles nearby, and a tumbleweed rolls gently through camp. Several of the women begin looking around in confusion, trying to figure out where a tumbleweed came from in the dark depths of the Amazon Rainforest. Christy suddenly yells, “Look!” and all the women turn in the direction of her pointing finger.

Mark Burnett has stepped out from behind a tree with another tumbleweed in one hand and a portable electric fan in the other. “Oh, crap!” he exclaims when he suddenly notices all the women staring at him. He drops the tumbleweed and dives back into the trees.

The tension broken, the women turn to getting themselves ready to start the day. The question of which task will be the tribe’s main focus remains, for the moment, unanswered.

Meanwhile, at Tambaqui Camp, the men have been hard at work since shortly before sunrise. Roger is standing on the second-floor observation deck of the shelter, a corn-cob pipe clenched in his teeth. The other men are scrambling madly around on the main level. “Matthew! Daniel!” Roger yells. “How’s my trench coming? I told you I wanted a six-foot-deep trench dug around the entire perimeter of our camp by lunchtime! If I have to come down there and do it myself, you’ll be sorry!”

Matthew and Daniel, who had been leaning on their handmade entrenching tools, choke down their planned bitter responses and resume digging the trench.

Roger leans over the railing and peers down at Dave and Butch, who are wrestling a door into place at the main entrance to the shelter. “Good work on that door, fellas!” he cries heartily. “Now that wasn’t rocket science, was it, Dave?”

Dave smiles and wipes his face with his forearm. “We were lucky, I guess, to find that circular saw in the supply box,” he says. “And to think, if we hadn’t eaten all those sardines and pulled the map to the lumber supply out of the box, we’d never have seen it!” He takes a deep breath. “Do you think the women got all the same things in their supply box?” he asks.

“Of course they did,” Roger says. “You don’t think Burnett would blatantly tip the scales in favor of the male tribe just because he’s a man, do you?”

The jungle is suddenly very quiet. The seven men stop working and exchange glances, eyebrows raised.

Finally, Dave shakes his head decisively. “Nah!” Everyone nods and goes back to work, and the sounds of the jungle resume in force. Sensing the need to change the subject, Dave says, “It is SO hot this morning.”

“Why don’t you take that shirt off?” Butch asks.

Dave looks down at his plain black T-shirt and smiles. The shirt reads, “Professional rocket scientist on closed course. Do NOT try this at home!” He shrugs and says, “Nah. I’ll be all right.”

Roger leaps on the fire pole and slides down to the ground floor. He opens the screen door to the mud room and enters the shelter. Rob is laying on the floor, gasping breathlessly. Roger’s face flushes red. “Rob! I told you to do pushups until I said to stop! By fury, if I don’t see you complete a hundred pushups in the next ten minutes, I will plant my boot so far up your tailpipe you’ll need a shoe horn to eat breakfast! Now get to it!”

Rob lifts his head wearily from the floor. “You really think I need this much work just to get Heidi to notice me?”

“Absolutely, son,” Roger says emphatically. “We need to get you toned up if you want her to give you even the time of day. If you’re serious about this, you’d better get to work!”

Rob sighs in exhaustion but readies himself to continue his pushups. As he struggles to complete the first one, Roger announces that he will be taking the scooter out to check Tree Mail. Rob gasps his understanding as Roger presses the button to open the garage door.

Tree Mail reveals that it’s time for the Reward Challenge, so the guys head off to Challenge Beach, where Jeff and the women of Jaburu are waiting for them. Rob and Daniel pant and howl excitedly while thumping their legs on the ground. The women ignore them. Jeff speaks up. “OK, folks. Welcome to your first Reward Challenge. This is your chance to win nice extras that can improve the quality of life at your campsite. Additional food, luxurious amenities, even valuable supplies can be yours simply by winning here.” He looks at the Tambaqui tribe and winks while holding a finger to his lips. “Today’s reward is absolutely terrific. You’ll want to win this one, especially you ladies. Wanna know what you’re playing for?”

Matthew smirks. “Beans, right?” he says.

Jeff’s eyes bug out and he points a quivering finger at Matthew. “You watch your mouth, Mister, or I’ll hold you in contempt!” He closes his eyes and heaves a deep sigh to collect himself. “This is the Amazon, not Thailand, so you can just forget about what you may have learned from the last series. We will not be providing beans for you this time, and I’m sure by the time this is over, you’ll wish we had! No, it happens today that you will be playing for...a person. Bob?” Jeff turns to a nearby tree, and everyone watches as Bob Vila emerges from behind the tree. “The celebrated handyman Bob Vila will spend a day in your camp and help you build a beautiful shelter. Isn’t that great?”

The women chatter excitedly among themselves, while the guys appear very confused. “Why would we need that?” Butch finally asks.

Jeff appears flustered. “Well, you know, maybe you guys could use a spiral staircase or something.”

Butch scratches his head. “Another one?”

“Well, if you win, you can figure something out, I’m sure,” Jeff snaps. “I need to describe the challenge now so just...shut up. This challenge is called ‘The Balance Beam.’ All you have to do is get your entire tribe across this fifty-foot-long balance beam. First team to do so gets Bob. Ladies, you can leave one person out so the teams are even.” The women point at Janet, who has been laying on the ground with her eyes closed the entire time. She may be dead. “Janet? OK, that’s a great idea. But remember, if she’s alive, she’ll have to participate in the Immunity Challenge tomorrow. All right. Survivors ready? Go!”

Daniel pipes up. “This isn’t fair! You already know from yesterday that I suck at the balance beam!”

Jeff feigns puzzlement. “Er, uh, I didn’t realize that. Besides, these challenges were in the books long before you guys arrived out here. Just get on the log, you whiner! The women are almost done!”

Indeed, the entire Jaburu tribe is nearly halfway across their log already. The men pile on their log and take off at a dead sprint. They nearly overtake the women when Jeff suddenly puts his foot up in their way. “Sorry, fellas. I need to tie my shoe,” he mutters as he fiddles around with his laces. Half the team falls off the log as they try to avoid stepping on Jeff and each other. “Back to the beginning!” Jeff cries. Meanwhile, Shawna slips off the log and touches the ground with one foot. “No touch, no touch!” Jeff shouts. “She pulled up in time. Keep going, ladies.”

The men roar in disapproval, but it really doesn’t matter. After their initial success on the logs, they’re back to their usual bungling selves on the balance beam. The women win the challenge easily. They cheer excitedly and carry Bob Vila off on their shoulders as they head back to Jaburu Camp. The men loiter for a while and ask Jeff what was going on, why the challenge appeared to be fixed. Jeff is nervous and looks around shiftily. Like a machine, he says in a practiced monotone, “The Survivor challenges are completely unscripted and planned well in advance. There is no truth to the rumor that we were worried about the poor living conditions at Jaburu. None.” Phhhhhbippp! A dart suddenly embeds itself in Jeff’s neck. He slumps to the ground, unconscious. The men wheel and catch just a glimpse of Mark Burnett disappearing into the jungle. When the men return to Tambaqui Camp, all of the fancy tools and supplies are gone. For them, the game begins now.

Over at Jaburu Camp, Bob Vila is a human whirlwind. The women, inspired by his mere presence, are all lending a helping hand. In just a few hours, they’ve built the essential framework of a functional yet exotic shelter which is also tasteful-looking, environmentally responsible, and deeply respectful of the surrounding culture. Joanna is leading the group in a few inspirational ditties, and Jenna is merrily stirring a bubbling pot of unmentionables. Everyone is happy. The tribe is unified, the shelter is coming along nicely, and if they are unable to find food, they can always eat their tender and spicy boiled underthings. Or Janet. They will be inspired and ready for the next Immunity Challenge.

Next day, the tribes reconvene for the second Immunity Challenge. Janet’s eyes are still closed, and she’s being dragged along by Heidi and Shawna, each of whom has one of Janet’s arms around her shoulder. It’s still very possible that Janet is dead. Jeff emerges from the jungle after everyone is assembled. He has bloodshot eyes and a giant bandage on his neck. “All right, everyone,” Jeff calls. “Gather around for your instructions. Today’s Immunity Challenge is going to test your ability to read a map and follow instructions. As most folks know, the primitive tribespeople who live in secrecy along the mighty Amazon are some of the world’s foremost cartographers. They also like shiny things. So, as usual, we’re honoring them, whoever they are. Anyway, we’ve buried literally hundreds of silver charms all through the jungle. The maps that you will be given in a moment provide the locations for each one of these charms. The accompanying list of instructions explains which ones are unique. You will also be given a bracelet on which to attach these charms. You have thirty minutes to use your map and your list of instructions to find as many unique charms as possible. You must stay together as a tribe. When I call time, you will return to me and show me your bracelet. The tribe with the most unique charms on their bracelet wins Immunity. The losers will see me at Tribal Council tomorrow night. Any questions?”

“Just one, Jeff,” Dave says. “May I have a moment to inspire my team, please?” Dave is wearing a plain black T-shirt with the words, “Don’t hate me because I’m a rocket scientist.”

Jeff rolls his eyes. “Whatever. Inspire away, Rocket Man.”

Dave turns to the other members of his tribe. “Just three words, men,” he rumbles. “Honor. Integrity. Physics. Let’s rip some heads, huh?” The jungle crickets drown out the enthusiastic responses of his tribemates. “OK, Jeff. We’re ready.”

“Survivors ready? Go!”

The next thirty minutes of competition are dizzyingly confusing. Dave is yelling the cryptic instructions at the top of his lungs while Roger studies the map and runs through the jungle, hollering “Come on! Come on!” over his shoulder. The women begin by laying Janet down and then sitting down together to study the map. They quickly develop a course they will follow to maximize the total number of charms they’ll acquire. They ignore the instructions in the hopes that gathering the most total charms will naturally lead to the acquisition of the most unique charms. Hoisting Janet back onto their shoulders, the women head into the jungle. Unfortunately, when they arrive at their first location, the men have already been there. Similarly, the men have been to the second site and the third.

“Reverse it!” Deena cries. “Start at the end and go backwards!” The women race off in a different direction, where they begin finding many charms as they work through their predetermined course. The men can be heard yelling at each other and running around like a herd of buffalo. It’s unclear what, if anything, they’re actually accomplishing.

“Time!” Jeff calls. The tribes return to the central gathering point and turn in their bracelets. The men have 18 charms, and each one is unique. The women have 33 charms, but only 16 are unique. “Tambaqui wins Immunity!” Jeff yells.

The next night at Tribal Council, the women wrestle Janet into place and light a torch for her. When Jeff begins to talk, however, Janet opens her eyes and sighs. “Don’t bother, Jeff,” she says. “Just let them go ahead and vote me out. I’m really not feeling well at all. I actually thought I’d get a free pass out of her by pretending to be dead, but I guess not. This is definitely the real deal. You guys are horrible.”

Jeff blushes. “Thank you,” he murmurs in embarrassment. “All right, ladies. You heard the request. It’s time to vote.” After tallying the votes, the final count is 7-1 to expel Janet. The one dissenting vote is for someone named Bernice. “Who’s Bernice?” Jeff asks.

“Oh, that’s my mom,” Janet says. “She loves the show.” Janet looks directly into the camera and waves wildly. “Hi, Mom!”

Jeff shakes his head sadly. “Just...get out of here,” he sighs as he extinguishes her flame.

But now the visions are gone. Oops. And so is that Hot Pocket. I must have devoured it while in my trance. So sorry. Come back next week. And bring some munchies, OK?

Your comments are welcome. E-mail paulie@fansofrealitytv.com.