Ah, perfect! You’ve arrived just in time. I’ve been trying to hang this rather large picture of myself, and I’m finding that the weight of the thing is simply too overwhelming. I had hoped to tempt Fate and hang the thing before you arrived, but I knew I’d require your assistance. I’ve been stuck in this position for quite some time, actually, so if you could just grab a corner, I would really appreciate it. Quickly, please. My back is starting to give way. Right on that hook...there. Ah, whew! Thank you very much! What do you think of the picture, now that you have a chance to actually appreciate it? I think it looks perfect right above the giant wicker chair like that. The likeness is uncanny, don’t you think? Right down to the golden turban and the raised left eyebrow. I think we could do without the index finger curled around the chin look, but I have to admit that it does make me look a little more mysterious. Well, now that I’ve caught my breath, I think it’s time to discuss this week’s episode of Survivor. Please pull up a cushion and relax. You may even close your eyes, if you wish. Leave me the job of interpreting the images from my cracked crystal ball. You see, already I am reading a hazy image. I believe it’s the title for this week’s episode. Yes, it’s

Squirrel Powder

It’s late evening of Day 6. The women of Jaburu trudge back into camp after a draining evening at Tribal Council. They’re hungry, tired, and cold, but Jaburu Camp offers no comfort in any of these areas. The fire went out while they were gone, and it will take a while to scrounge up some firewood and kindling to ignite with their torches. The shelter, of course, is non-existent. There are a few rickety planks which could serve to raise two or three women to a more comfortable eating level for a passing crocodile, but the “roof” to the shelter is laying in a pile nearby. Whoever chooses to endure a wobbly evening on the raised platform will probably want to cover themselves with some of these fronds to generate the illusion that they’re passing the evening in a robust one-foot-tall shelter.

As Deena and Jeanne venture off into the dark jungle to gather firewood, the three members of the Hot Chicks Alliance, along with Joanna, gather on the platform to chat. Christy, cut off from the rest of the tribe for the evening, curls up on the ground near the cold fire pit and goes to sleep. Jenna pops open the jar of fish bait and pulls out a gooey handful before passing it on. Once everyone has had a few minutes to gnaw on the rubbery mystery flesh, Jenna speaks. “I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve had my fill of Christy, especially after she went off on all of us at Tribal Council.”

Joanna nods vehemently, which causes a tiny piece of fish bait hanging out of her mouth to bounce around hypnotically. The other women stare in silence at the floppy piece of meat until Joanna rapidly gulps everything down and sings out, “Amen, sister!” She claps her hands twice and snaps her fingers. “I want her Immunity Idol-worshipping self out of here at the next vote! Praise, oooh, praise! Punch it in.”

Heidi shifts around uncomfortably. “Just to clarify, Joanna. The Immunity...Statue is very important to our chances in this game. You do realize that, right?”

Joanna’s eyes blaze fiercely in the flickering light of the torches. “Are you an idolater, too?” she cries angrily. “Must I cast two votes to rid this camp of the plague of infidels? By the power, my pen will not shirk from this duty, I swear to you!”

“What in the world are you talking about?” Shawna asks. “Do you even know what game you’re playing?”

“Three!” Joanna shouts, tossing her head back triumphantly. “Count them. Three non-believers! Ah-ah-ah-ahhhhh!” Quite unexpectedly, lightning flashes and a deep rumble of thunder echoes through camp.

Jenna rolls her eyes. “Geez, just forget it! You are one crazy lady. I don’t think we need you in the HCA.”

“One more time. What’s the HCA again?” Shawna asks.

Next morning, at Tambaqui Camp, the men are feeling absolutely great about everything. In the glow of their Immunity Challenge victory, their nonsensical swagger has returned. Everyone is shrilly congratulating one another and engaging in standard male I’ll-touch-you-but-I-want-us-both-to-be-clear-that-I-have-no-emotional-attachment-to-you back-slapping. The younger men discuss the beginning of “The Streak,” the briefly-interrupted string of Challenge victories that they expect to ride like a wave into the merge. Roger asks everyone to remember what it felt like to lose to a bunch of girls and urges everyone to raise the level of their game at the next Challenge. The other guys stifle yawns.

“More importantly,” Rob pipes up, “did anyone notice how totally hot Heidi was when she was answering questions and stuff at the Immunity Challenge?”

“Dude, shut up!” Daniel yelps, breaking into a spontaneous and uncontrollable bicep flex. “Without a doubt, Shawna was the hottest!”

“You are an idiot!” Rob shrieks. He grabs the Magic 8-Ball and rockets it at Daniel, where it caroms off the muscular man’s temple with a shocking thwock sound. Daniel drops wordlessly to the ground, face-first.

Dave, having calculated all the angles, effortlessly plucks the Magic 8-Ball out of the air and strides to the center of the group. Today, he’s wearing a plain black T-shirt that reads, “Brain surgery: it’s not rocket science.” He raises his hands in a calming gesture, lowering them only when everyone is quiet. “Gentlemen,” he begins, “I need all of you to join me in a place of order and tranquility. If we are to truly tear off a streak of dominating victories against the chicks, we must be coldly logical and unswervingly pure, like Maxwell’s equations.” He exhales the contented sigh of a man who has witnessed perfection. He lowers his head solemnly. “That is all.” Everyone else looks at each other in confusion.

Alex coughs slightly before approaching Dave and pulling him off to the side. He looks earnestly at Dave before speaking in a low voice. “Listen, man, could you just ditch the inspirational talk? You’re really starting to alienate the rest of the guys. I helped you the first time, but I’m not going to do that anymore. I refuse to put my neck out for a Boy Scout fortune cookie generator. You gotta shut up, all right?”

Dave looks hurt. “I thought everyone was on board with my pep talks,” he whispers. “I even hauled out Maxwell’s equations today. You telling me that didn’t fire you up?”

Alex gawks at Dave incredulously. “You’re kidding, right? Hear me now, Rocket Boy. You are the only person in this entire rain forest who gets a rise out of physics. Do. You. Understand?”

Dave nods sadly as Butch trots over. “Hey, fellas. Time to start believing in yourselves. I just ran over to Tree Mail, and we have to leave right now for the Reward Challenge!” Daniel is sitting up groggily now and stumbles along with the rest of the group as they prepare to depart camp.

The two tribes arrive at Challenge Beach and glare at each other threateningly. Well, the women glare threateningly at Rob and Daniel, who are staring dreamily at the objects of their affection. Their eyes appear to be spinning in their sockets, and their heads bob with the breeze as they try to inhale the women’s scent from several yards away.

“Welcome to your next Reward Challenge!” Jeff loudly thunders. It looks like he’s been drinking. “I happen to know that neither of you have done particularly well at finding food here in the Amazon. Don’t try to deny it, Daniel.” Daniel slowly lowers his hand. “So, anyway, it’s obvious that we’re going to have to do something to keep all of you alive. We had some pretty neat creature comfort Rewards lined up, but they’ve all been scrapped in favor of preserving your lives. Now I want to go on record here as a strong opponent of this new sissy strategy. Mark is, too, for that matter, but we’re on strict orders from CBS to try not to kill you. And I think that’s a load of crap!” His voice rises angrily at the end of his tirade and he shakes his fist while looking into the camera. Then he sighs. “Well, anyway, today’s Reward Challenge is called Egg Toss. It’s really just your standard egg toss.” He shrugs. “I need one person from each team to sit out. Everybody else pair off and grab an egg. On my go, you’ll throw the egg back and forth one time. If the egg breaks, that pair is out. If it doesn’t, you step back to the next marker and try again. Last tribe with a team left in the game wins. Also, if anyone on your team tries to eat any part of the egg during the competition, the entire tribe loses. Winner wins all the remaining eggs in the Challenge, as well as this extra carton of a dozen eggs. Understood? All right, everyone pair up.”

Joanna sits out the Challenge because she’s uncomfortable with egg worship, while Matthew takes a seat for the men on the grounds that he is two-dimensional. “Survivors ready? Go!” In the first round, Roger bobbles Butch’s return throw and drops the egg. Everyone else is successful. As the others move to the next marker, Roger slaps his forehead repeatedly and curses himself for losing to the girls. Round two sees two Jaburu teams drop out: Deena throws too hard to Jeanne and Jenna underthrows Heidi. As the teams step back to the next marker, Daniel’s mouth and nose are starting to quiver. He’s looking like he’s not all there, possibly because of the mini-concussion incurred at the hands of the Magic 8-Ball. He throws successfully to Alex, but on the return throw, he drops to his knees and catches the egg in his mouth, crunching it luxuriously with his eyes closed.

Jeff shrieks, “HEY! No egg-eating, Daniel! Tambaqui is out of the contest. Jaburu wins the Reward!” As the women excitedly congratulate each other, Jeff turns and whistles into the jungle. A burly bouncer-type guy charges out of the trees and peers alertly at Jeff, who points at Daniel. The bouncer races over and subjects Daniel to a series of mammoth Heimlich maneuvers. Daniel jerks and roars in the bouncer’s arms and eventually disgorges all of the egg and the little fragments of shell. The bouncer tosses Daniel to the side and kicks dirt on the egg particles and grinds everything into the ground with his heel before sprinting back into the trees.

On the joyous walk back to camp, Christy hangs back with Jeanne and Deena to discuss the current situation at Jaburu Camp. “I think both Jenna and Joanna have it in for me. If they recruit Heidi and Shawna, the two of you could be next. We need to team up and decide which of those two to go after. And if we can get Shawna or Heidi to help, we can be in charge around here.”

The older women exchange glances and nod appreciatively at Christy’s grasp of the strategy of the game. Deena murmurs, “I think we should go after Joanna. I know she’s physically strong, but she might wind up costing us Challenges if she doesn’t want to have the Immunity Idol in camp.”

“All right,” Jeanne says. “I’ll approach Heidi and Shawna with that proposal, but I won’t tell them that we’re in league together. We’ll see what happens.” The three wink knowingly at each other, then rejoin the group to discuss the planned afternoon eggs-and-boiled-underwear feast.

Meanwhile, over at Tambaqui, a pall has descended over the group of men in the wake of their defeat. Dave is despondent. “We’ve lost three out of four Challenges, guys. That’s...75%.”

Rob shakes up the Magic 8-Ball and peers inside. “You’re right,” he sighs.

Alex is making manioc pancakes for lunch...again. “Fellas, we have to win the next Immunity Challenge. That’s all there is to it.”

Daniel is laying on the ground near the shelter, holding his stomach with one hand and his head with the other. “That’s right, dude. It’s time for The Streak to start again! We’re not going to lose another Challenge the rest of the way, my brothers.”

Butch leans down and pats Daniel on the head patronizingly. “Shut up and go to sleep,” he says.

The next day’s Immunity Challenge is scheduled for the early morning. Jeff welcomes everyone and retrieves the Immunity Idol from Tambaqui. Joanna spits on it. “Ooookay,” Jeff begins. “Today’s Challenge will test your knowledge of and respect for the various dangerous animals here in the Amazon Rainforest. Certainly, we’ve told you many times about the ferocious creatures here, but until now, you’ve never been in direct competition with them.” Everyone’s eyes widen, and Jeff smiles excitedly. He licks his lips several times before continuing.

“The name of this Challenge is Piranha Rescue. And, by that, I don’t mean that you are rescuing piranha. No, you will be rescuing a tribemate from the piranha in the river.” Surprisingly, everyone appears to have at least one more wideness setting for their eyes. Jeff cackles briefly, but otherwise manages to suppress his glee. “Here’s how it’s going to work. Each tribe will pick a member of the other tribe to stand in the river with the piranha. This person will be in hip-deep water and will be wearing a couple extra layers of Kevlar pants. These pants won’t last long, of course. That’s where the rest of your tribe comes in. Follow me, please.”

The tribes venture deeper into the forest and discover two crocodiles, each napping next to a pile of dead squirrels. “Now don’t be too worried about these guys yet. They’re under heavy sedation. Thing is, nobody knows when the sedative will wear off. Your job will be to retrieve these dried-out squirrel bodies, one at a time, and run them back to the shore. There, you’ll find a hand-powered grinder. You’ll put the squirrels in the machine and grind them into powder. Then you’ll sprinkle the powder in the water as a distraction for the piranha who will at this point be gnawing away at your tribemate’s legs. Eventually, one of three things will happen which will end the game: either the crocodile will wake up and eat all the squirrels and maybe even attack one of you or the piranha will finally be satiated by the squirrel powder and will swim away from your tribemate or your opponent’s river representative will verbally surrender by shouting, ‘Please stop! I am weak!’ When the game ends...well, the winner will be obvious. Everyone understand? All right, pick the member of the opposing tribe who you’d like to see in the water.”

The women select Daniel to go in the water, while Tambaqui chooses Jenna. Once they’re both outfitted with their Kevlar pants, they nervously wade into the water, holding their hands high over their heads. The water immediately begins churning around both players, and little pieces of fabric start to float to the surface. “Survivors ready? Go!”

Alex is the designated runner for the men, and Heidi runs for Jaburu. They quickly retrieve one squirrel apiece and return to the beach. Deena and Matthew grind the squirrels into powder, while everyone else puts their hands under the grinder and catches piles of food to toss into the Amazon. Immediately, the churning water shifts away from the two Survivors in the river.

Amazingly, the race continues for nearly half an hour in this manner, with only a few isolated piranha plucking away at the Survivors’ pants. Things take a turn, though, when the crocodile guarding the Jaburu pile of squirrels slowly shakes its head. Heidi skids to a stop on her heels and watches in horrified fascination as the dazed crocodile begins munching on a dried squirrel. Meantime, the pipeline of Jaburu squirrel powder back at the beach dries up. “Hurry, Heidi!” Jeanne yells. “We need more squirrels now!”

The churning water drifts back to surround Jenna as Heidi gingerly reaches towards the pile of squirrels. The sedated crocodile take a half-hearted snap in Heidi’s direction. She yells and charges out of the trees. Simultaneously, Jenna lets out a shout and leaps out of the water, screaming something that sounds like what she’s supposed to say when she quits. As soon as Jeff yells Tambaqui, Daniel motors out of the water, too. His pants and Jenna’s look like grass hula skirts with little patches of skin visible beneath. Otherwise, they appear to be unscathed.

The men grab the Immunity Idol and high-tail it out of there, just in case the piranha figure out how to walk on land. The Jaburu women heartily congratulate Jenna on a brave effort. They are disconsolate, though, at having lost. Everyone, that is, except for Joanna, who breaks into an impromptu dance as the Immunity Idol disappears from sight. “Good riddance!” she cries.

Jeanne makes eye contact with Shawna, who nods her head in understanding. Joanna’s fate is sealed. At Tribal Council, the next night, she is booted in a modified 4-2 vote. Her own vote is nullified because it has every other tribe member’s name written on it. Jeff manages to get “The tribe has - ” out of his mouth before Joanna shows him the hand and strides majestically out of the game.

And now my crystal ball is once again opaque. Thank you very much for coming. I think I’ll gaze at my picture for a while now. See you next week!

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