Hi! Come on in and have a seat. Say hello to Rocket, my new Psychic Sniffer. Oh, don’t worry. He won’t bite you. In fact, he barely notices you’re there. You’re on a plane of existence he doesn’t really care about. That’s why he appears to be just laying there, fast asleep. You see, he’s tuned to the far future. He’s a specially-trained dog whose sole focus is to pick up psychic vibrations. Ah, that’s a very good question. Why indeed is Rocket not going completely berserk, given his proximity to me and my cracked crystal ball? You’d expect my awesome powers to fry him on the spot, wouldn’t you? See, that’s the beauty of it. A Psychic Sniffer is taught to tune out the vibrations of its owner. I’ve been visiting Rocket every week since he was a puppy, waiting for the day when he could finally join me here in my parlor and protect me from psychic interlopers who may wish to lock horns with me unawares. As you may know, I am very vulnerable when divining the future. As I commune with The Infinite, my mind is wide open and susceptible to attack from my enemies. A simple psionic jab to my cerebral cortex would render me a lifelong vegetable. That’s where Rocket comes in. Consider him a bird dog for psychic energy. If you were, say, possessed of unearthly power of your own, he would already be on his feet, revealing to me in his secret dog manner that you were somebody I needed to reckon with. At that point, it’s my decision: take you out with a mental blast of my own or simply escort you to the door and physically wrestle you out of my building. What’s that? Oh, no, I’ve not had to take any such drastic measures as yet. Psychic powerhouses like myself are truly rare. I haven’t really expected Rocket to be able to Sniff much, but it’s nice to know he’s there for me in an emergency. All right! Enough about my psychic security blanket! Let’s discuss the next episode of Survivor. That’s what you’re here for. If I gaze deeply into my cracked crystal ball, I can just begin to see the letters forming this week’s title swirling together and forming words. It’s
Nerf Cakes In Shaped Cups
It’s late evening in the Islands of Fire. At Lopevi Camp, the remaining six tribe members are seated around the campfire after an emotionally grueling Tribal Council. Sarge is closest to the fire, poking it with a long stick as he rests his cheek on a raised knee. “I have to admit,” he sighs. “I already miss The Milkman.”
“Me, too,” John says, glancing around at the five older men.
Chris grins sadly as he looks down at his toes. “Remember that time we found a paper clip on the beach, and he wound up using some of the tape from the first aid kit and some other odds and ends he found around camp so he could build us a radio that would pick up baseball games being broadcast from America?”
Sarge chuckles. “Yeah, that was pretty great,” he says. “Or the time he lashed together some bamboo into a lighter-than-air glider we could all take turns flying around in?” He laughs softly, then his face hardens into a mask of displeasure and malcontent. “I still say he wasn’t a milkman, though,” he says. “What kind of milkman knows how to do stuff like that?”
Chad glances over at Sarge. “Well, he probably had a lot of time on his hands. I bet it didn’t take him long to make his rounds.”
Sarge twists his lips into a smirk of disbelief. “Yeah, maybe,” he says in an unconvinced tone. “What do you think, Rory?” Silence. “Rory? Rory? Hey, Rory? Rory?”
Rory is kneeling on one knee near the fire, grinning excitedly as he plays with a sand crab.
“Rory!” Sarge calls.
Rory’s head snaps around, a vague smile still playing about his lips. “Did somebody just call me?” he asks. “I’ll have some fish.”
Sarge grits his teeth and closes his eyes. “We’re not having dinner right now, Rory. We took care of that before Tribal Council.”
“Then why are you bothering me?” Rory asks before returning his full attention to the crab.
Sarge groans and claps his head to his hands. “Just one more person, and then you get yours, Rory,” he mumbles.
“Hey!” John exclaims. “I’m sitting right here! Do you have to point out I’m next?”
Chad shrugs. “Well, you are,” he says matter-of-factly. “What’s the point of hiding anything? We lose, you go. It’s that simple.”
“But what about him?!” John complains, pointing at Rory, who’s now giggling to himself and jogging down the beach in the dark while pursuing the frightened crab.
“What about him?” Chris says. “He was one of the original five. Once an alliance, always an alliance, man. That’s like Survivor 101. Everybody knows that.”
“But that’s not Survivor!” John explodes. “Whatever happened to backstabbing and conniving? Whatever happened to betrayal? These are values I thought really meant something on this show, and it’s why I signed up. All this mindless camaraderie, this thoughtless adherence to ‘your word,’ as you call it. It’s just bad for the game, and if you expect me to just sit idly by and let you ruin Survivor with your predictable and boring play, well, you might as well vote me out now because I don’t want any part of it.”
“Good,” Chris says absently. “’cause you’re next.”
The following morning, over at Yasur Camp, the women are awakened by the soothing sound of bamboo being repeatedly whacked by a machete. “Hey,” Twila says groggily. “Who’s doing my job for me?” She silently counts all the women in the shelter and quickly realizes that all seven are present.
“So…who’s chopping wood?” Ami asks.
Each woman grabs something heavy and substantial before creeping out to the campsite to investigate the now-silent intruder. Stepping out from behind a tree a few yards from the fire, Twila raises a smallish stump over her head and shouts, “Yargh!”
She startles a Vanuatu tribesman, who whirls and lops off the upper half of the stump with a single swipe of his machete. He instantly relaxes after that and gazes at the stunned woman in pleased recognition.
“Da!” Leann says excitedly as she steps out from behind the tree herself. “How nice to see you!”
Da’s face clouds over in confusion, and he shakes his head several times. As the remainder of the women step into the clearing, he points to Leann, then points to his own head and shakes it again while frowning.
“I don’t think he recognizes you, young woman,” Scout says. “I must say, I’ve forgotten your name, as well, even though I have seen you around off and on for the past several days so I don’t think you’re a camera operator.” She raises an eyebrow. “Are you?”
“Hey, come on!” Twila snaps. “Enough chit-chat. This isn’t The Strange Ladies on the Beach Hour! We’ll figure out who this woman is later. For now, we need to see why Da is here. It’s gotta be important.”
“He built us a hammock!” Lisa gushes as she looks behind Da where a crude bamboo mat is hanging from the tree by two sturdy vines.
“First in! First in!” Eliza cries, dashing to the front of the group and standing beside the hammock. “I want to be the one who gives it a test ride!” She sits on the edge of the hammock, then swings her legs around and leans back. Instantly, the mat slips out of the vines on each end, and Eliza slams to the ground, the bamboo part beneath her.
Da shakes his head and makes a gesture of putting his two fists side by side and then pulling them both away from one another. “Oh,” Scout says. “I think he’s saying he hadn’t finished with the knots.” Eliza moans from the ground.
“What’s he really here for, I wonder?” Ami says, crossing her arms and cocking her head to one side.
Da removes a rolled-up scroll from some previously hidden part of his body and hands it to her to read.
“All right, it’s a poem,” she says urgently. “We’ve got a poem here, people. Let’s see.”
It’s time to wander into the woods.
Pack a bag with all your stuff.
There’s no Reward so you won’t get goods.
Oh, yeah. Don’t forget your buff.
Ami looks up from her reading. “These poems are terrible!” she says. “Where do they find these people?” She looks back at the scroll. “Oh, there’s a note handwritten at the bottom of the page. ‘Follow Da.’” She shrugs. “All right, folks. Grab your gear, and let’s go. And somebody shut Eliza up and get her moving again.”
Before long, the group arrives at a secret clearing in the geographic center of the island. The men have not arrived yet, but Jeff is there, standing behind a card table with several small boxes and cups on it. “What happened to you?” he asks Eliza as she limps onto her mat.
“Oh, it was awful!” she exclaims. “It reminds me of this time when I was 8, and I fell off my bike, and this boy Joey was there, who was cute, even though I didn’t know it at the time. He became a doctor, you know. Married this girl I couldn’t stand when she and I were in high school. We were in the same English class, and she was so vain. Always had to have her hair a certain way, or she’d get upset. I used to put freshly-sharpened pencils in her hair, just to see if she’d notice.”
As she goes on, Jeff looks helplessly at the other women. “Is she always like this?” he asks, an edge of near-panic creeping into his voice.
“Pretty much,” Lisa nods.
“Oh, you poor, poor women,” he mutters. “How do you stop her?!”
“You don’t, really,” Scout says. “Although I have a feeling slapping her would work pretty well.”
The men arrive at that point and take their places on the mat.
“Now he used to play water polo,” Eliza continues. “So I always thought he was pretty neat, even if he never seemed to hear what I was saying half the time. I guess I have a weakness for water polo guys.”
“OK!” Jeff says loudly, cutting Eliza off. “Let’s get this little activity started, huh? What do you say?”
“But Jeff!” Eliza whines. “I was telling you why I’m limping!”
“You know what?” Jeff says. “I don’t care anymore. To be honest, I never did. I was just being polite, and I should know better. Being polite never gets you anywhere in life, people. Remember that. Polite folks get stomped by everyone else. Every time.”
In the stunned, uncomfortable silence that follows, no Survivor dares speak for fear of transforming Jeff’s general wrath into a more focused brand of fury.
After a few seconds, Jeff stops seething long enough to speak again. “All right, let’s get it going. I need everybody to come up here one at a time. When you get here, give me your buff and take a handful of crackers from these boxes. Go back to your mat and wait for further instructions.”
“What’s this all about, anyway?” Bubba asks.
“Nope!” Jeff roars. “Can’t tell you. Just remember what your poem said, all right?”
“Yeah, speaking of, what was with that poem?” Ami asks. “It was so pathetic!”
“What do you mean?” Jeff says. “It rhymed in not one but two places, AND each set of rhyming lines had exactly the same number of syllables. That’s superb poetry, if I do say so myself.”
Ami snorts. “YOU wrote it?” she laughs.
Jeff blushes furiously. “I didn’t say that,” he says. “It was this...friend of mine.” He clears his throat. “Anyway, we’re not here to critique the poetry.” He hoists up two glass pitchers, one in each hand. “On my left,” Jeff says, “Bud Light. On my right, Mountain Dew. And to the one of you who can eat the most saltine crackers go the spoils. Whoever eats the most crackers wins both pitchers and can share the contents with any number of people, including none. This is an individual Challenge. Worth playing for?”
“Rrrah!” the Survivors exclaim nebulously.
“OK, as you run out, just come up here and grab some more. I want you guys filling up on these saltines.” He raises one arm. “Survivors ready? Go!”
A resounding ka-roinch sound echoes through the clearing as the Survivors chomp simultaneously on their crackers. They shove them in by the handful, wolfing down the first salty treats they’ve tasted in almost two weeks. “Maaaufgawd, delicious!” Sarge exults as he crams five more crackers into his mouth. “Fankoo, Joff.” He sprays crumbs wildly as he speaks.
“Don’t talk!” Jeff yells. “Eat, eat! Keep shoveling ‘em in! Quickly, quickly, quickly!”
The Survivors begin to slow down as the effect of gobbling down double-handfuls of saltines in the scorching hot sun begins to take its toll. Several people are glassy-eyed, their jaws munching reflexively on the chewy mounds of moist crackers in their mouths.
“Water?” John croaks.
“Oh, I think not,” Jeff says, pouring himself a cup of beer from one of the pitchers.
“Hey!” Chad exclaims. “Not fair! That’s our Reward!”
Jeff throws back his head and laughs throatily. “You guys never listen to anything I say, do you?” he asks. “I said to listen to the poem. What did the poem say?”
“Something about bringing our buff,” Chris says. “And you’ve already got those.”
“What else?” Jeff says.
“No goods,” Eliza mumbles, her eyelids drooping from the heat and accelerated dehydration.
“Right,” Jeff says. “And?”
“No Reward,” Chris groans.
“That’s exactly right,” Jeff says. “You see, you should’ve listened to me.”
“So what are we doing?” Scout says.
“Well,” Jeff says, sipping his beer slowly. “At this point, I’m just waiting to see which of you pass out in what order.”
“What?!” Sarge shouts.
“That’s right,” Jeff says. “It’s time for...The Big Shuffle! Here’s how it’s going to work. You’ll stand out here in the searing hot sun as your body grinds through all those saltines. Inevitably, you’ll all collapse to the deck. In the order you fall, I’ll drop a new buff on you. I’ll alternate, starting with Yasur. When you come to, you’ll know what tribe you’re on, and you can head back to camp with them. Everybody understand?”
“That’s kind of cruel, isn’t it?” Scout asks drowsily.
“Hey,” Jeff says, raising his hands. “I’m not the one who just gorged myself on saltine crackers! Don’t talk to me about cruelty.” At that moment, Eliza’s eyes roll back in her head and she slumps to the ground. Jeff grabs a cup from the table and lopes to Eliza’s side. “First,” he says, “We must prove she’s really unconscious.” He throws the contents of the cup in her face. Water splashes dramatically, but Eliza does not move. “We have our first Yasur!” he yells, dropping a yellow buff on her face.
Next to fall is Scout, then Rory. They are assigned to Lopevi and Yasur, respectively. Ultimately, the last two standing are Sarge and Twila. A half-hour passes as the two stare at each other. Jeff sits in the shade, sipping Bud Light. “Shall I fetch you more crackers?” he calls out, too loudly.
“No, that won’t be necessary,” Twila says. “He’s about to fall.”
“I most certainly am no - ” Sarge says before toppling face first into the sand.
“Sarge is once again a Lopevi!” Jeff calls. “And Twila returns to Yasur.” He hands out the appropriate buffs. “All right. When everyone wakes up, you can head back to camp. You’ll probably want to drink some water at that time.” He pours the last of the beer into a cup and wanders off into the trees, singing tunelessly as he goes.
Next day, the new tribes convene at Challenge Beach for the Immunity Challenge. The new Yasur tribe consists of Eliza, Rory, John, Lisa, Chad, Leann, and Twila. Lopevi is comprised of Scout, Chris, Julie, Ami, Bubba, and Sarge. Jeff strides between the mats and turns to face the group. “I must say it is a sad sight to see you all standing erect once again,” he says. “It was neat seeing you all on the ground with your eyes closed. A dream come true for me, really.” He sighs deeply, his eyes drifting off in remembrance. “Anyway, let’s get started with today’s Immunity Challenge,” he says. “This is a standard, super-complex, does-he-really-give-the-rules-only-once? type of Challenge. It will put all your Survivor skills to the test. At the core of the contest, of course, is a puzzle that must be solved. You know, like we always make you do. This puzzle will be 3-D in nature, however. And you’ll be making the pieces. First thing you do is start a fire under your kiln. Get it going nice and hot Then run around on the beach and round up all the Nerf balls you can find in your tribal colors.” He holds up a yellow Nerf football as an example. “These are the building blocks of your 3-D cube puzzle,” he says. “But you’ll need to shape them first. How do you do that? You get ‘em wet, then you mash ‘em up into little cakes. Finally, cram them into these specially designed cups. Wedge them in there nice and tight, then quick-fire them in your kiln. When they’re hard, pull them out, tap them out of the cups and put your puzzle together. First tribe to successfully assemble their cube wins Immunity. So...Nerf cakes in shaped cups,” he says, turning to smile into the camera. “Everybody understand?” The Survivors nod. “Who’s sitting out for Yasur?”
“Scout,” the women reply automatically.
“Oh, wait. That won’t work this time,” Twila says. “Eliza will sit out.”
Eliza scowls, then shrugs, then walks off, telling herself a story.
Meanwhile, Jeff has initiated the Challenge and both tribes are hard at work building a fire. As soon as each one has a roaring, crackling, feels-like-Christmas fire going, they’re off scooping up Nerf balls from the beach. It proves to be rather difficult to jam them into the shaped cups, even when soaking wet. With Sarge’s straining assistance, however, Lopevi takes the early lead. Soon, all their pieces are cooking in the kiln, which is obviously really big, in order to accommodate all the pieces.
“Come on!” Jeff yells in Lisa’s ear. “You’re still in this, Yasur! Move! Move!” She frowns and rubs her ear as he walks away smugly.
The little bell on the kiln rings and Lopevi yanks out their sizzling-hot super-firm puzzle pieces. They tap them carefully out of their shaped cup molds.
“Stand back!” yells Bubba. “I rule at puzzles!”
As he sets about randomly poking the pieces together, Yasur’s bell rings. Once the pieces are out, they quickly pull together a battle plan and begin clicking everything in place.
“Uh, we’ve got a problem here, Bub,” says Sarge, peeking over his shoulder at the opposition. “Better hustle it up.”
“I need to concentrate!” Bubba exclaims. “Silence, please!”
Jeff creeps up behind him and leans in the direction of his ear. “Come on, Lopevi!” he roars. “Don’t give up!”
Bubba shrieks and dives to the dirt, clawing at his ear.
“Got it!” John calls, holding up a perfect yellow cube.
“Yasur wins Immunity!” Jeff exclaims, his hands waving wildly in the air. “Good job, you guys. See?” he says to Lisa. “I told you not to give up!” He grins, then turns to Lopevi. “I’ll see you guys at Tribal Council tomorrow night,” he says. “And I bet I know who’s going home.” He stares pointedly at Bubba.
He is wrong, however. The next night, the tribe votes unanimously to boot the Sarge. “This can’t be happening!” he exclaims as his torch is snuffed. “I had everything under control. The Sarge was in charge. Now who’s going to yell at Rory?”
“We’ll delegate it, Sarge,” Chris says. “About face, soldier. Dismissed.”
And the visions are gone. I’m sorry Rocket never woke up that entire time. I assume you he really is alive. Maybe next time you can bring him a dog biscuit. I bet he’ll at least wag his tail for you then.