Hello, there! Good to see you! I’m very sorry you had to contend with that huge line snaking around the block out there. And it’s so crowded in here right now. What a mess! You might’ve heard me on the radio last week. One of the local stations was having what they called “Freak Week,” and I was contacted as sort of an expert consultant. The name of the show was a bit sensational, I think. They were really just trying to understand people who exist on the fringe of society, so to speak. As I said, I was brought in to render my opinion and offer insight into these people’s lives. Oddly, they didn’t really ask me any questions. They sure laughed a lot, though. Being a radio DJ must be a very happy job. At any rate, I took advantage of my appearance on the program to announce today’s Open House. At the time, I thought I would need a hook to get people out here so I promised free Cheez-Its all day. Boy, has that been a colossal miscue! The first wave of visitors demolished a dozen boxes. I had to slip out the back and purchase many additional boxes. Somehow, I knew I’d be buying more. Ah, well. If even a few of these new faces set up an appointment with me, the Cheez-Its will pay for themselves...assuming all these guests don’t start stealing the furniture and levering my decorations off the wall, that is. Anyway, you’re here now, and I’m sure you’re excited to hear about this week’s episode of Survivor. Let’s slip into my private office so I can keep an eye on these jokers through the one-way mirror. I’d left my cracked crystal ball here in the office so it wouldn’t walk away with some unknown wacko. Ah, yes. I’m now seeing a title for this week’s episode taking shape within. It’s

Tower Gates

It’s almost noon on Day 31 in the Amazon, and Jacare Camp is eerily quiet. Normally, at this hour, the camp is abuzz with activity. Today, the only sound is the soft crackling of the small campfire. As Heidi and Jenna finally awaken and poke their heads out from the shelter, they glance at each other in confusion, a common exchange which can mean anything from “Are they making fun of us?” to “Today is Thursday.” Yawning, the pair climb out of the shelter and head to the campfire to eat any food the others may already have cooked.

As they approach the fire, they see the other members of their tribe lying on the ground. Butch, Christy, Matthew, and Rob are stretched out side by side, soaking up the sun’s rays. “Hey!” Jenna says. “What’s going on here?”

Butch opens his eyes and looks over at the two women. “Oh, we’re just sunbathing,” he says. “We’re in control now, and we’ve decided not to do any more work around camp.” The other three sunbathers giggle excitedly.

Heidi’s jaw tightens and her eyes blaze angrily. “Well, that’s just not fair!” she exclaims.

“More importantly, it’s stupid,” Jenna adds. “That means you’re expecting us to do the work.”

“That’s right,” Matthew says, grinning. “And I think we need some more firewood. Better get moving.”

Jenna lets out a single bark of laughter. “You obviously don’t understand the situation,” she says coldly. “Heidi and I don’t know how to do the chores around here.”

Heidi nods. “I wouldn’t know a load of firewood if it hit me in the face.”

Jenna smirks triumphantly. “If you guys are depending on us to keep the camp running, we should start taking bets right now on how we expect to die because we’re all gonna starve to death or dehydrate.”

The four sunbathers stare quietly at the two young women. The fire pops loudly and resettles. A bird in a nearby tree questioningly offers up a few notes, then falls silent. Finally, Matthew clears his throat. “Yep, you’re right. Let’s go, guys.” His body completely rigid, Matthew swings to his feet like a rake that’s been stepped on. Butch hops up and shrugs into his shirt. The others quickly follow suit.

As the group heads off to commence the daily chores, Jenna reaches out and taps Rob’s shoulder. “Hold on a second,” she says. “We need to talk to you.”

Rob’s face can’t decide whether to be excited or confused so it settles on a look of suspicion. After the other three have disappeared into the woods, Heidi speaks. “We need to talk about Alex,” she says. “Jenna and I had a discussion, and we think it must have been you that voted for him.”

Rob’s brow furrows. “No, I don’t think so. Deena and Dave were there, too, remember. It could’ve been one of them. Or Jeff. I saw him there, as well.”

Heidi casts a confused look at Jenna as she slowly digests this new bit of information. Jenna shakes her head angrily, as if trying to scare off a fly buzzing around her head. “Well, of course that’s a possibility, but I still think it was you. You’re just trying to catch us in one of those logic traps. It’s not going to work, you know.”

Rob nods slowly. “Tell you what. If the three of us go back to the shelter right now, I’ll tell you who voted for Alex when we’re done.”

Heidi looks to Jenna for instructions. “No deal!” Jenna growls.

Heidi swings her gaze back to Rob. “Yeah! No deal!”

“Fine,” Rob says, turning to rejoin his new alliance mates. “Then you’ll never know who cast that mystery vote for Alex.” He heads off into the trees.

“It was you, right?” Jenna calls after him. “It had to be! Why’d you do it, Rob? Why?! He was so cool.”

Christy is waiting for Rob, a stack of firewood in her arms. “Do what I do, Rob,” she says softly. “Just don’t listen to them. What you did last night was amazing. The rest of us would run through a wall for you now.”

Matthew’s head appears behind Christy’s shoulder. “She’s right, you know. You kept us in the game, and we won’t forget that.” Unnoticed by the others, the head drifts off, apparently in search of its body.

Rob nods sadly and shoves his hands in his pockets. “Well, thanks,” he says. “I guess I’ll go check for Tree Mail.” He shuffles away.

Christy watches him go and shakes her head. “Poor, sad little nerd,” she says before heading back to camp with the firewood.

When Rob returns to camp, he announces that it’s time to head out for the Reward Challenge. He tips his head back and takes a deep breath, in preparation for summoning Butch and Matthew. Before he can speak, however, the pair step out from behind a tree. Butch looks woozy and very confused. “Ready to go?” Matthew asks. “Let’s head out.”

The group arrives at Challenge Beach to find Jeff standing before a miniature craps table. He has a manila envelope tucked under one arm. “Come on in, guys!” he calls, waving his other arm in a welcoming fashion. “Gather around the table, please. Great. Hey, can everyone see OK? Yes? How about if I throw sand in your eyes like this?” He drops the envelope and sprays everyone with a huge handful of sand. The Survivors cough and spit and wipe at their eyes. “You guys really need to stay on your toes,” he laughs, wiping the tears out of his own eyes. “You should always be expecting me to attack you, especially with just eight days left and my patience with you running thin. Remember: I don’t like any of you, really.” The Survivors glare at him venomously but say nothing.

“OK, today’s Reward Challenge is going to be settled entirely by luck. We’re throwing in the towel as far as devising a Challenge that Matthew won’t completely dominate. We considered shocking him with a Taser stun gun prior to the Challenge, but we couldn’t decide if that would just give him more strength. We might try it late at night sometime, just for fun.” He grins at Matthew, who stares at Jeff blankly, like a shark. “At any rate, here’s how the Challenge will work. You will each get one six-sided die. Each number represents one of you. On my go, everybody will roll a die on the craps table. We’ll record how many times each person’s number comes up, then we’ll repeat the whole procedure six times. The person whose number comes up the most frequently is the winner. Everybody understand?” The Survivors are all caught in the middle of giant yawns, but they manage to nod to indicate comprehension. “OK, don’t answer this,” Jeff continues, “but wanna know what you’re playing for?” Without waiting for an answer, he forges ahead. “The winner of this Challenge gets to see a relative from home. What do you think of that?” The group cheers enthusiastically.

“All right, everyone!” Heidi says. “Here’s your chance to be nice for a change. Let’s let Jenna win, OK?”

Jeff looks into the sky and shakes his head as he hands out the dice. “Matthew, you’re 1. Butch, you’re 2. Christy is 3. Jenna is 4. Heidi is 5. And Rob, you’re 6. Survivors ready? Go!”

The dice clatter into the craps table and bounce around wildly before finally settling. “Six ones!” Jeff cries, then jerks his head up to stare across the table at Matthew, who’s whistling and inspecting his fingernails intently. Jeff unclips a walkie-talkie from his belt and speaks quickly into it. “Security, I need someone to get out here and bind the freak’s hands behind his back.”

Instantly, the ground behind Matthew erupts in a shower of sand, and a burly man climbs out of the hole. He roughly pulls Matthew’s arms behind him and ties them together, wrist to elbow, using several loops of a large piece of rope. This can be very uncomfortable if you’re not accustomed to having your elbows touch each other behind your back. Matthew doesn’t even wince. Instead, he stares intently at the craps table.

“OK, second roll,” Jeff says. “Matthew, I’ll roll for you. Survivors ready? Go!” After the dice rattle into position, Jeff calls out the results. “Six more ones!” His lips press together in a thin line, and he nods to the security guy standing behind Matthew. Instantly, the security guy pops a dark hood over Matthew’s head and fastens it in the back with a padlock. “Third roll,” Jeff announces. “Go!” When the dice stop, Jeff shrieks in frustration before hurdling the table and wrestling Matthew to the ground. Matthew’s cloaked skull cracks into a rock on the ground, and his body relaxes into unconsciousness. Jeff slowly climbs to his feet and wipes the sweat from his cheeks, chin, and nose. His hair is out of position for the first time ever in Survivor history. The other players gasp. “All right,” Jeff growls. “Let’s finish this thing. I declare the first three rolls invalid. Survivors ready? Go!”

The remainder of the Challenge continues normally, and in the end, Jenna’s #4 comes up one more time than the unconscious Matthew’s #1. She nods serenely, as if she knew all along that she’d win. “I’d like to see my family member now,” she says.

“Sure thing,” Jeff says. “Just a second.” He grins widely as he leans down and scoops up the fallen manila envelope. He opens the envelope and peers inside, riffling through its contents with one hand. “Aha!” he finally says. “Here we go.” He pulls out an 8x10 glossy photo of a boy who appears to be about twelve years of age. “That is your cousin, isn’t it?” he asks.

Jenna nods tensely, sensing something’s not quite right about this situation.

Jeff looks at his watch. “OK, you get 30 seconds to look at his picture, starting...now! I told you you’d get a chance to see a family member.”

Jenna stares dumbly at the picture. Heidi cries tears of joy for her friend. “Time!” Jeff shouts, slipping the picture into the envelope. “All right, everyone. You can head on back to camp. See you at the Immunity Challenge tomorrow.” He turns and skips merrily into the forest.

The burly security guard frees Matthew from his hood and bindings, then dives headfirst back into the hole from which he emerged. The others help Matthew to his feet and trudge home.

Next day, the group returns to Challenge Beach for the Immunity Challenge. The craps table is gone, of course, but in its place is a giant black tower. It’s hexagonal in shape and has six parallel catwalks spiraling around its outer walls from top to bottom. Jeff is standing at its base, examining the top of the structure through a pair of high-powered binoculars. As the Survivors approach, he hangs the binoculars on his neck and whistles. “Whew! That is one seriously huge tower, people,” he comments gravely. “Is anyone afraid of heights?” A hand or two edges slowly into the air, causing Jeff to throw his head back and roar in laughter. “Oh, this should be fun then. First thing’s first. Rob, gimme that.” He grabs the Immunity Necklace and yanks it off Rob’s neck in standard bad-guy-steals-the-amulet-for-himself fashion. Rob rubs the back of his neck as Jeff describes the Challenge.

“Immunity. Back up for grabs. Today, you’ll all be racing each other to the top of this magnificent tower. You’ll each line up at the base of one of the metal ramps that wind around the outside of the tower. On my go, you’ll head up the ramp until you encounter a gate. There’s a gate at each story of the tower, five in all. The gates are magnetically locked and can only be opened by entering the correct 2-digit code on the keypad next to the gate handle. At each story, however, one of you will be restricted from passing through the gate. The last person to decipher the passcode on each level will be shut out from advancing. Their gate will become electrified, and – believe me – you will not want to touch the gate after that. Whoever successfully passes through the final gate will win Immunity, and I will meet you on top of the tower to award you the Immunity Necklace. Everyone understand? All right then. Everybody pick a lane. Survivors ready? Go!”

The six Survivors race up the metal catwalk to the top of the first floor of the tower, where the first gate awaits. They begin wildly punching two-digit numbers on the keypad. Heidi, who is counting by 11’s, enters 22. A light over her gate flashes green, and the gate swings open. Immediately, Matthew puts a hand to his temple and closes his eyes in fierce concentration. An instant later, he enters 22 and passes through the gate. Christy and Jenna are next through the gates. Jeff, who has somehow made his way to the roof of the six-story structure, yells down, “It’s down to Butch and Rob! One of them won’t make it to the next level!” Almost immediately, Butch’s green light goes on. Rob’s gate pulses a brilliant bluish-white, and Rob, whose hand was resting on the gate as he worked the keypad, shoots backwards ten feet in a majestic arc. “Ooo, ouch!” Jeff calls out. “Keep your hands off those gates, folks!”

At the next level, Heidi and Matthew are first through the gates again. Butch overtakes the remaining two women by correctly guessing 50 for the passcode. By the time Jenna finally figures out her passcode, Heidi is already through the third gate, followed closely by Matthew. Christy stands behind her second gate, fuming as the gate hums menacingly in front of her. “Christy’s out!” Jeff yells. “Butch has a big lead on Jenna for the third gate. Heidi and Matthew are way out in front!”

The ramps are much steeper near the top of the tower. Heidi and Matthew are on hands and knees, crawling up the ramp as fast as they can. Back at Gate #3, Butch and Jenna are gasping from the exertion of running. Jenna is leaning on her gate for support as she punches in possible passcodes. Suddenly, though, Butch’s green light flashes on and his gate pops open. Jenna is abruptly propelled into the side of the tower by the pulse of electricity from her gate. She ricochets off the wall and crumples to the floor in a ball, then rolls all the way down the curved ramp to the second gate, where she finally comes to rest. “That’ll do it for Jenna!” Jeff yells. “We’re down to three!”

Matthew slips as he approaches the fourth gates, sliding several yards down the ramp before he gets himself under control. Heidi reaches the fourth gate and continues her phenomenal streak of luck by successfully entering 78 on the second try when 69 doesn’t work. Matthew now knows the passcode, but he’s still some distance away from the gate. When he finally reaches the gate, Heidi is working furiously on the fifth and final gate. Matthew quickly enters 78 and passes through the open gate. Butch, far below, isn’t even close enough to have his hair stand up, let alone be electrocuted. “Just two left!” Jeff cries. “Heidi or Matthew!”

Sensing defeat, Matthew quickly turns himself into a cloud of grayish smoke and flies up the ramp. When he arrives at the gate, he decides to squeeze through the bars and claim victory by reaching Jeff first. Just as he begins to pass through the gate, though, Heidi’s green light comes on. At the same moment, Matthew’s gate sparks to life with a tremendous flash of blinding blue electricity. The gray cloud splits in two, and each half sinks to the floor on either side of the glowing gate. “Immunity to Heidi!” Jeff shouts as he fastens the Immunity Necklace around her neck. “And...something strange may have happened to Matt.”

The gray clouds solidify into Matthew’s upper and lower body. His face flushes red, and he grits his teeth. “Well. This is awkward,” he murmurs. “Can we turn off the electricity so I can get myself together? Please?” He pulls his torso down the ramp to the gate, which stops humming and pops open when he arrives. He swings his trunk around so it roughly aligns with his severed hips and legs. Then the entire middle half of his body briefly turns to smoke again before re-coalescing into a fully-formed Matthew. “Let’s just pretend we didn’t see that, OK, guys?” he asks Jeff and Heidi, who are suddenly holding one another and staring in fear at Matthew. They nod emphatically and wait for him to stand up and walk back down the ramp before letting go of one other and finally remembering to breathe.

The next evening at Tribal Council, Jenna is voted out 4-2. Instead of grabbing her torch and bringing it to Jeff, though, she bursts into tears. “But I want to stay!” she whines. “Can’t somebody else go besides me?”

“Well, that would be completely unprecedented,” Jeff says softly. “But if it’s OK with Christy for her to go instead of you, I think we can arrange something.” He pauses, then laughs evilly. “Give me a break, Princess. Bring me your torch NOW! You’re outta here!”

The visions have faded, and, unfortunately, I must bid you a hasty farewell. I see that I have run out of Cheez-Its once again and will need to make another speed run to the Quickie Mart. Please come back next week. I’ll try to have enough snacks for you.

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

Now that you've read the precap, make your own prediction in the Survivor Boot Poll. And don’t forget to check out our three-part “Survivor Perspectives” series: Missed Opportunities, Seven Deadly Sins, and Contendas.